By Jamal E. Mazyck
WASHINGTON ― In an effort to bolster student achievement and degree completion among underrepresented students, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, California State University (CSU), has focused on a series of enrollment and retention initiatives.
As of fall 2012, the 23 campus system educates 437,000 students and employs 44,000 faculty and staff. Chancellor Dr. Timothy P. White said he is dedicated to ensuring that students have the skills needed to not just get into college but to successfully matriculate and graduate. In an interview with Diverse, White said that, “through education, disadvantaged students have a chance to do more for their families and communities.”
In February, the African American Initiative (AAI) has been in full swing coordinating its eighth annual CSU Super Sunday event where trustees, campus presidents, alumni, students as well as the chancellor visit predominantly African-American churches throughout the state. Black students made up only 4.8 percent of the student body as of 2012, down from 6 percent in 2010. The goal is to give youth and their families, information on admissions, financial aid and face-time with system representatives. In his first year as chancellor, White felt that this tradition needed to not only continue but to expand.
“The turnout at the churches has increased by over 9 percent,” White said.
Initiatives for other underrepresented groups have also been successful. Overall, CSU campuses received their largest number of undergraduate applications to date for fall 2014 of more than 760,000. Five of those campuses—Fullerton, Long Beach, Northridge, San Diego and San Luis Obispo—each received more than 50,000 applications for admission. The recent recruitment efforts have contributed to the amount of minorities that are accepted.
On February 15, Cal Poly Pomona hosted a college expo for students from underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The expo was part of the AAPI initiative’s “Journey to Success” program that provides families, students and community leaders with college prep information. In addition to socioeconomic barriers, there are language obstacles to consider, and events like this help “many parents with difficulty understanding the U.S. educational system and how it operates,” said president of CSU East Bay and CSU AAPI Initiative chair Dr. Leroy Morishita in a previous statement.
Another annual event, which was held last October at CSU Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), was the “Es El Momento” Education Fair, where the Latino community gain access to career-building programs and higher education information in partnership with Univision Los Angeles affiliate KMEX. CSU Senior Director of External Relations Jorge Haynes was also on hand to discuss the multi-year effort that aligns with other diversity initiatives that Chancellor White and the CSU system deem significant.
“Our commitment to the success of Latino students adds to the diversity spectrum.” said Haynes.
One-third of CSU undergraduates are in the first generation of their family to attend college. Born in Argentina, immigrated to Canada and then to California, White is keenly aware of the challenges first-generation students face and the odds of successfully matriculating since he is also the first to go to college in his family.
“Immigration reform is a necessary part of the immigration process,” White said. “However a student presents themselves to us, it is then up to us to educate them.” White also cites education as the “antidote to issues that plague us as a society.”
The nonresident undocumented CSU student population consists of 4.5 percent of enrollment last fall, totaling 19,826 students.
The CSU system also has initiatives with goals of strengthening the number of students from Tribal Nations where several campuses have created partnerships that nurture and enhance the relationships between Native American communities and the university. Haynes said that programs like this also add to how diversity is defined within the framework of higher education and should continue to grow. One that he mentioned launched in 2007, the CSU San Marcos Tribal Communities Initiative, “has increased the Native American population effectively but even more can be done.”
Although 57 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded in the CSU system are granted to California’s Hispanic students and 46 percent granted to African-American students, Chancellor White is concerned about bridging the gap to completion.
“In order to do that, we must know who our students are as individuals and address the socialization of students, which is just as important as academic success,” White said. “Part of this entails encouraging working on campus as much as possible so that, once they are recruited, they have more incentive to stay in and graduate.”
“We need to change the rhetoric when we talk about access. Once in, we need to ensure that underrepresented students, in particular, get out as well.”
At the recent State of the CSU address, White announced that $50 million would be used to help bolster student achievement and degree completion. Part of the money would go toward hiring more tenure-track faculty.
“Search committees need to be diverse as well,” White noted.