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January 6, 1997

Targeted K-12 programs needed to help more Latinos prepare for UC admission, new study finds

Members of a University of California task force charged with developing strategies to get more Latino students "in the pipeline" toward higher education have issued a new report that concludes that the university must work closely with public schools to help prepare Latino students for college. The study also found that parents can play an important role in encouraging their children to go to college--if they are brought into the process.

Those policy recommendations, and profiles of some of the successful projects that inspired them, are contained in a report published by the Latino Eligibility Task Force titled Strategic Interventions in Education: Expanding the Latina/Latino Pipeline. The statewide task force was established in 1992 to generate concrete ideas about how to increase the number of Latino high school graduates who are eligible to attend the University of California.

The report follows several years of collaborative study by UC researchers, community leaders, and educators at the K-12 and community college levels to identify factors that affect Latino eligibility, and it comes none too soon, says task force research director Aida Hurtado (photo).

"This school year marks the first time that the majority of students in the public school system in California are not white," says Hurtado, a professor of psychology at UCSC. "As the most prestigious public university in the world, the University of California has a big role to play in getting those students into the higher-education pipeline. Right now it's not even a pipeline, it's more like a funnel."

Only 3.9 percent of Latino graduates of public high schools were eligible to attend the University of California in 1990, compared to an overall eligibility rate of 12.3 percent.

Other conclusions in the report are that outreach efforts should begin as early as possible, including at the elementary school level; outreach should involve parents, and programs should be conducted in English and Spanish; programs must be sensitive to gender differences and the diverse needs of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds; projects should benefit multiple constituencies, including students, parents, and university researchers and students; efforts should involve institutions, rather than just individuals, to help generate enthusiasm and share the satisfaction of success; and intense interpersonal interactions seem to work the best for Latino students.

"Most Latino students come from homes with immigrant parents, many of whom don't speak English and didn't attend high school themselves. Most of our outreach information doesn't flow to these groups," says Hurtado, noting that only two UC campuses (UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz) have produced Spanish-language admissions materials. "We need to get the whole family involved early on, and we need to provide outreach materials in Spanish, because we can't count on the parents to know how the system works."

"Our eligibility requirements really begin in the middle school years. If kids don't begin taking algebra in eighth grade, there's a very high likelihood they won't meet our admission requirements," says Hurtado. "That's why it's important to reach so far back."

Flexible programs that can be adapted to different environments will be key to UC's success, says Hurtado. "You can't design policy programs for all Latino populations," she says. "There's so much regional variation within the state that a program for inner-city Los Angeles is going to look very different from the program in Watsonville, which is primarily a rural agricultural area with lots of farmworker families. And the same is true for girls and boys--we will have to tailor programs to their different needs."

Two of the successful programs described in the report are:

-- The Kids Investigating and Discovering Science (KIDS) program developed at UC Irvine, which provides an intensive university-based summer "science camp" and "follow through" at elementary and middle schools. The challenging curriculum includes topics such as evolution, planetary motion, electricity and magnetism, velocity, and acceleration, and participants probe "real-world" problems like water pollution, weather patterns, and solid-waste management. Scientific concepts are presented in Spanish and English, and parent participation is encouraged by conducting programs for families in Spanish.

-- La Clase Magica is a bilingual after-school program for elementary school students that is supported by UC San Diego and a local community institution, St. Leo's Mission. Youngsters and their parents collaborate with adults--mostly UCSD undergraduates--on computer games and telecommunication activities that develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. A twenty-room maze that students and adults explore together provides a "fantasy world" that mixes play and learning.

Replicating these programs and some of their concepts will help "open up the pipeline" for Latinos, but the need for change doesn't end there, says Hurtado. The major difference between Latino and white students once they enroll at a UC campus is the time it takes them to graduate, says Hurtado. Sixty-five percent of Latino students graduate within six years, compared to 75 percent of white students who graduate within six years. The primary difference is economic, says Hurtado, with more Latino students working their way through school and relying heavily on financial aid.

Latino faculty members are also in short supply, comprising only 289 of UC's 6,834 faculty members; there are only 16 Chicana/Latina full professors in the UC system. "Once they get into UC, Latino students need extra counseling and extra support," says Hurtado. "The university as a whole will need retooling to deal with this new student population."

The task force's report represents the fruit of a successful collaboration between UC faculty researchers and K-12 teachers, says Hurtado: "We're addressing a social problem together, and both sides are able to use their expertise."

The task force, which is chaired by Eugene Garcia, dean of the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley, is conducting a benchmark study of 1,400 California high school graduates from the ten schools that graduate the largest number of Latinos. That study has followed students for two years after graduation and will give researchers insights into the choices the students make--including whether or not to enroll at a UC campus.

The task force will make recommendations to UC's Office of the President, says Hurtado, noting that the UC Regents' 1995 decision to eliminate the use of race and gender in UC admissions has direct bearing on the project. "We're looking at how UC will maintain diversity within the context of new and changing policies," she added. "We're taking a proactive approach."

--Jennifer McNulty

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