When early academic outreach programs were first created and took aim at reaching out to students of color, the initial idea was to inspire and motivate students to prepare for college in a general way.
However, with a greater emphasis on higher grades and higher SAT scores, and in response to stiffer competition and admission standards which are becoming more selective, the focus has shifted.
The new trend, according to Juan Lara, associate director of undergraduate admissions and director of the Educational-Opportunity Program at the University of California at Irvine, is to concentrate on career goals, as opposed to programs that simply provide basic information. In other words, to create curriculum-based programs which cater to the specific academic or career interests of students.
“This new trend may sound like tracking…and it is. But that’s what’s been going on all along,” says Lara, adding that students of color have traditionally been placed on the wrong track. While some professionals in the field may disagree with Lara, all agree that precollegiate programs work. After thirty years, they contend, the bad ones have ceased to exist and the good ones–the ones that have tested well in regards to elevating achievement levels–remain.
Robert Willis, director of Maryland’s Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) program and the affirmative action officer at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, says, “All programs that motivate, assist and prepare students, provide a model.”
“One thing we all have to realize is that minorities and women are still under-represented in the workplace. As such, there is still a need to strengthen the whole pipeline–from early outreach, to enrollment, retention and graduation,” says Willis. Despite the under-representation, says Willis, “We’ve done a good job getting students to college, but now we need to go another step.”
The MESA Model Created in 1970 in Oakland, MESA is credited with being a model math, science and engineering program. Eight states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) currently participate, : and at a recent meeting of the state directors, the organization formally became known as MESA-USA.
In California, MESA boasts that 80 percent of its graduates go to a college the fall after they graduate. That is compared to 57 percent of all students in the state. It also boasts that approximately 80 percent of all under-represented students who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering at the twenty-three institutions where MESA is situated are MESA students. Additionally, the retention rates for African American and Mexican American engineering MESA students are 64 and 57 percent, respectively.
The retention rates for non-MESA African American and Mexican American engineering students are 13 and 21 percent, respectively. With all eyes on California’s anti-affirmative action Proposition 209–which calls for dismantling race-, ethnic-and sex-based affirmative action programs — many early outreach professionals around the country are looking for direction.
“Many professionals around the country are expecting a tidal wave of 209s,” says Mike Aldaco, executive director of the University of California’s (UC) MESA program. In the rhetoric over Proposition 209, virtually all sides agree that if race-, ethnic-and sex-based college admissions programs are done away with, it means that the task of increasing the pool of students. Of color and other under-represented students will have to fall upon early outreach programs. And although the proposition is still tied up in the courts, a 1995 UC Regent’s resolution approved the dismantling of race-, ethnic- and sex-based admissions programs.
Outreach professionals are also looking for ways to counter severe budget cutbacks in an era of “smaller government.” Although California’s Republican I governor, Pete Wilson, has earmarked an l additional $1 million dollars for early outreach for the state, the amount is not nearly enough, says Aldaco. MESA is counting on the support of legislators to get a larger increase.
However, MESA and other early outreach programs aren’t counting solely on government. A great part of MESA’s success is its relations with industry, says Aldaco. But the corporate community is not giving handouts. Their participation in programs such as MESA is not simply about corporate responsibility.
“They’re not philanthropists. They support MESA because it’s a good investment,” says Aldaco, who adds that given the state’s demographics, MESA’s corporate sponsors are, in effect, growing and training their future work force. In California, Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans comprise 38 percent, 11 percent and 6 percent of the state’s high school graduates.
MESA also has a program to train corporate managers on how to recruit under-represented individuals, says Aldaco, who adds, “They have to create a diverse workforce because their customerforce has changed. And to do this, they need to understand their [workforce’s] culture.” Mike Beasley, IBM executive and chairman of the board of California’s MESA program, concurs with Aldaco.
“If companies see a population growing, but not the pool of applicants, someone will predict a problem,” says Beasely. “Even if a company is not socially conscious, the company will have to fix the problem. Corporations invest in program, producing from our pipeline.”
Because of their proven success, many Irony colleges and universities: have emulated MESA and similar programs–programs which focus primarily :on math, science, engineering and health careers and which target African American, Mexican American, Latino and American Indian students. What early outreach professionals have noticed is that while attention has been placed in those academic areas–areas in which students of color have traditionally not been well represented–the same kind of emphasis has not taken place in other fields, according to Lara, an administrator who has been in this field for thirty years.
That is now changing, notes Lara, who predicts that the new focus will be programs which are specific and curriculum-based. In the future, Lara expects that we will be seeing more programs that emphasize fields such as writing, English, literature, education, philosophy, political science, the humanities, law, and other such topics.
As an example, he points to UC-Irvine’s Saturday academy, which emphasizes the humanities, writing and literature. “That’s the future of outreach,” he says. It no longer suffices to give students information about college. Even students at the worst schools know about college and what it takes to go to college, says Lara, who believes that to increase the pool of under-represented students, another strategy will be required.
“We’re at a crossroads,” says Lara, noting that although MESA meets its goals of recruiting under-represented students, people of color are still vastly under-represented at colleges and universities.
For example, out of 70,000 incoming freshmen at the University of California, only 3,000 are Latinos. “We should have 8,000 to 9,000 per year,” he says, explaining the reason why he believes that early outreach programs have to shift their focus and emphasis. But not all professionals agree that this approach is best for young students.
Arturo Sierra, director of the University of New Mexico’s College Enrichment Program, says that while creating programs that are curriculum-specific may be a trend, it may not necessarily be best for students.
He believes that the objective of precollegiate programs should be to produce well-rounded and well-educated individuals. He also feels that it is not healthy to track children at the age of twelve because students, even those already in college, change their minds often before settling upon career choices.
“Personally, I don’t think that’s a good approach,” says Sierra. “You have to give students the opportunity to develop the fine arts. Some students don’t know they have that kind of talent–for art, poetry, writing, pottery. They have to be exposed to that. If they don’t like it, fine. But you have to allow their creativity to grow.”
From his experience of working in early outreach in Iowa since 1984, Sierra says that programs need to teach a social conscience. Many schools still expect students to hide their history and culture.
That is one reason why many students get discouraged in middle school and high school, he said. The purpose of teaching a social conscience is to produce professionals who will give back to their community–teachers who will give of themselves after school, nurses and doctors who will provide free health services, and attorneys who will take pro bono cases.
The programs, according to Sierra, should create professionals that will make a difference, not just produce employees for Fortune 500 companies. Michael Duran, statewide director of early academic outreach at the University of Arizona, says that while MESA is a math and science program, the directors nationwide recognize the importance of giving students a well-rounded education.
“When we bring students to campus, we attempt to socialize them and give them a broad exposure,” says Duran, who explained that the exposure includes taking them to art programs and improving their English skills. “We expect them to work well as part of a team, and to write and speak well.”
Other programs with which Duran works include: Academic Preparation for Excellence, the Testskills Program, and the Algebridge Program. These programs teach students how to be better test-takers and promote students taking Algebra. “We want students to be well-prepared,” explains Duran, who adds that the solution to expanding the pool of college-eligible students is to expand the number of programs–particularly those which teach students how to pass the standardized tests.
Renne Gonzalez, acting director of educational collaboratives for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), says that in the past, HACU operated a national precollegiate program, but that currently it operates only one small program in San Antonio. Gonzalez says that the minimum HACU should be doing is gathering data about such programs, because currently, there is no data available about such programs.
Similarly, a spokesperson for the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) states that their organization does not operate any precollegiate programs.
TRIO Unaffected by 209
Jose Hernandez, director of Talent Search and the College Board Program at Sonoma State University, notes that the TRIO programs are, in effect, a hedge against Proposition 209-type assaults on race-based programs because they are based on economic need–as opposed to race, ethnicity or sex.
“We don’t have to dance with 209. That’s the strength of the TRIO programs that they’re based on income,” says Hernandez. In TRIO programs, 75 percent of all students have to be low-income and first generation college students. As a result, Proposition 209 and similar types legislation have brought no pressure to bear upon the TRIO programs, which include: Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, Educational Opportunity Centers and the Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement–programs which have graduated more than 2 million students.
While many people assume that the largest group of students who utilize the services of the TRIO programs are people of color, the reverse is true. Forty-two percent of all TRIO students are white, 35 percent are African American, 15 percent are Hispanic, 4 percent Native American, and 4 percent are Asian American. Additionally, 16,000 students are disabled.
The TRIO programs boast success at all levels. For instance, students in Upward Bound are four times more likely to graduate from college than students from similar backgrounds who did not participate in TRIO. The reason TRIO programs are successful, says Hernandez, is that, “We fight the poverty of the mind and the spirit. We prepare them for the American Dream.”
Commenting on the trend of early outreach programs becoming curriculum-based, Hernandez says he’s not sure that’s the right approach: “It’s a short-change, we want well-rounded individuals–a total human being.”
Problems Course #384
A program that is also unique arid: exists at the University of New Mexico is a class within tile African American Studies Program called, Problems Course #394.
Part of the c lass includes mentorship of elementary school students. Collegians provide a combination of mentoring, tutoring and general support services for students and teachers at a local school Although programs such as this exist in student or outreach services at most universities throughout the country, this class is part of an academic program.
“That was the original idea of African American studies,” says Shiame Okunor, director of the African American Studies program. “We were supposed do academic work and community service.”
College students have the option of being part of the mentorship program or doing research on a community problem. Most opt for mentorship, says Okunor. The institution’s administration is exploring expansion of the concept to other academic departments, according to Okunor, who adds that the idea of requiring mentorship for all students, particularly within ethnic studies would be a great idea nationwide.
“The program allows children to look up to college students and it de-mystifies college,” he says. “They see it as a nice place to go.”
El Puente Program
An example of a model early outreach program that emphasizes social responsibility, Sierra says, is the El Puente Raza Youth Leadership Institute in New Mexico.
Miguel Acosta, the director of El Puente (The Bridge), says that the program is not a precollegiate program. Rather, it is a community-based leadership program that stresses leadership and development among individuals in the eighth through twelfth grades. However, almost all of the students who are recruited into El Puente go on to college.
The statewide non-profit program, in its fifth year, has approximately 100 members. It is not affiliated with any university and is run by the students themselves. Most of the activities center on leadership development. For example, in 1995, students of the program decided on their own to attend the Oct 12, 1996 Latino march on Washington–and proceeded to raise the money themselves.
El Puente, unlike other programs, does not require students to submit letters of recommendation or have solid academic abilities to be accepted into the program.
“If you want to participate and are willing to share in work, you’re eligible,” says Acosta, noting that many of the students are in and out of canes. “We don’t paint a beautiful picture. We tell them exactly how it is in life and teach them how to survive life. We emphasize that the struggle is as important as the goal.”
ASPIRA Advocates Subgrouping Rosie Torre, director of public policy for ASPIRA, a national Puerto Rican youth leadership organization, says that experience has taught her organization that being lumped in as a minority group or a “Hispanic” group is not good enough for the purposes of addressing the specific needs of specific communities.
As an: example, she cites Puerto Ricans’ who, she says, suffer from the worst socio-educational-economic conditions in society. Torre believes that unless educational programs which are designed for Hispanics are redesigned with Puerto Ricans specifically in mind, the needs of Puerto Ricans students will be ignored every time. That is the purpose of ASPIRA, which serves 20,000 students annually, according to Torre, who suggests that any group with a specific need must create its own programs, otherwise they will be sub-sumed by larger umbrella groups. Torre says her group–and others–have long sought data on Puerto Ricans from the federal and state governments, but to no avail.
“We’ve been made `Hispanics.’ We need to disaggregate the data by subgroup. Otherwise the needs of the subgroups will not be met,” she says, adding that government bureaucrats rationalize that money being handed out to minorities or to `Hispanics’ is good enough.
Additionally, Torre points out that programs designed for Afro-Caribbean Latinos are also “very lacking.”
Help for Native Americans
Laura Kalafus, an official of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), says that students who have attended at least three AISES summer programs show a 90 percent graduation rate in high school, compared to 52 percent for American Indians nationally. And of those high school graduates, 50 percent are currently enrolled in higher education, compared to 17 percent of American Indians nationally.
Suzanne Benally, executive director of AISES says that for a program to work, it must be culturally sensitive. “Educational programs developed for students and teachers need to recognize the culture, community, lived histories and experiences that students come from. Programs need to address student learning in a way in which the content, curriculum and pedagogical processes are congruent, supportive of and advance those world views, values and beliefs,” says Benally.
“The AISES education programs seek to strengthen indigenous ways of knowing, and integrate this knowledge with meaningful and relevant programs which strengthen participation in science and mathematics,” adds Benally.
Looking at the Big Picture Manuel Gomez, assistant ice chancellor of academic affairs at UC-Irvine and a member of the UC Early Outreach Task Force, says that to understand what is happening in the field of early outreach around the country, one has to step back and look at the bigger picture and understand the racial climate of the United States of the past few years.
The church burnings, the attacks against immigrants and bilingual education, and the war against affirmative action are all signals that there is a larger problem in society, says Gomez. “It’s a struggle over the political identity of the United States and there are no easy answers,” says Gomez, who adds that educational institutions have an important role in this debate. For him, this is what the crisis in the direction of early outreach is about. According to him, educational institutions are supposed to be leading the fight to provide equal opportunity for all. “It’s a special role,” he says.
As a result of Proposition 209, Gomez says the UC Task Force is compelled to find alternative ways to keep the university open to all — and the $1 million proposed by Gov. Wilson is not nearly enough. The task force was scheduled to release its report in February, but Gomez says that will be delayed because of the intervention of the courts in the implementation of Proposition 209.
It is Gomez’s opinion that: “If our society–if universities–ever seek to identify themselves on the basis of exclusion, that’s when America dies.”
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