UC Forges New Partnership to Advance Student Diversity

UC Forges New Partnership to Advance Student Diversity

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PASADENA, Ca. -- In the wake of a two-year campaign that generated increases in the number of African Americans and other students of color on its campuses, the University of California and the Boys & Girls Club of America have launched an outreach partnership that could become a new model for building additional diversity pipelines on statewide and national levels.

Under the pilot program, UC will provide academic counseling, host campus visits and promote college-readiness programs for Boys & Girls Clubs that serve students in many low-income communities in three California cities. It will pair the Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena with UCLA, the San Francisco club with UC San Francisco and the Merced club with UC Merced in a bid reach about 6,000 club members in those cities. If it’s successful, UC hopes to expand the program throughout its ten-campus system.

The initiative is an expansion of a two-year UC effort to provide more admissions opportunities for Californians – particularly students of color. Speaking in Pasadena at a September 28 press conference on the new program, UC Board of Regents Chairwoman Monica Lozano said recent outreach programs have had an impact. She noted that historically under-represented groups account for 37 percent of the current freshman class at UC, calling it the “most diverse" in the university system’s history.

"We're encouraged by the outcomes of our efforts this year, but there's much more work to be done,” she said. “Our collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America will make it possible for more youngsters to get the information and guidance that will prepare them for a UC education."

If successful, the partnership could establish a national model for linking community-based youth services organizations and state university systems to advance college readiness in communities of color, according to Damon Williams, senior vice president for training and youth services at the Boys and Girls Club of America. Speaking at the press conference, Williams said that a “replicable, scalable model” could be created, by taking an “evidence-based, data-driven approach” to establishing objectives and evaluation methods.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which serves about 4 million young people at 4,200 clubs nationwide, have comparable partnerships with some individual universities in other parts of the country. However, the UC initiative is its first partnership with an entire university system. It is also significant because the UC has very high academic standards, Williams said.

The partnership is needed to encourage more students in low-income areas to take the advanced placement classes, honors courses and the standardized tests required to qualify for UC admission, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, who recently helped secure more state funding for college readiness programs at under-resourced schools. Speaking at the press conference, he said the additional funding will help level the admissions playing field.

“In too many cases, the students’ zip codes, their parents’ tax bracket or, quite frankly, the hue of their skin or their legal status or the language they speak is the difference between admission to a university or rejection,” said de León, who characterized college access as a key to economic growth in California.

The UC system has been under pressure to increase the number of underrepresented minorities, especially African Americans and Latinos. However, Proposition 209 – enacted in 1996 – forbids the state’s public universities from using affirmative action in admissions policies to create more diverse campuses.

The two-year expansion in community outreach to communities of color was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano, who has led the school system since 2013. Latino enrollment has increased in recent years and now accounts for about 22 percent of UC undergraduates, compared to 24 percent for whites and 35 percent for Asian Americans. However, until recently, blacks accounted for only 4 percent of undergraduates.

UC outreach in African American communities is beginning to pay dividends, according to Napolitano. 

Speaking at a Los Angeles news briefing hosted by New America Media several hours after the UC partnership event concluded, Napolitano said UC has begun to generate more applications from students of color partly by launching a campaign that is dispelling the notion that tuition is too expensive for students from low and moderate-income families.

“About 55 percent of UC students pay no (tuition) fees and half our students graduate with no debt,” she said, emphasizing the “affordability” message.

That message and other outreach helped generate the first increase in black admissions since 2009, a surge of about 30 percent in the 2015 freshman class compared to the previous year, Napolitano said. As a result, total black enrollment rose from 4 percent to about 5 percent she said.

“I’m delighted that the numbers went up…but it’s still too low,” she said.

Napolitano said the partnership with the Boys & Girls Club will help UC identify other effective strategies for increasing student diversity.

“It’s a pilot that will help determine what works,” she said.