LOS ANGELES – University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano met with ethnic media from Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and Indigenous communities during a press roundtable to dialogue about how to expand their enrollment in the UC colleges and universities.
The dialogue at the Britt House on November 10 was hosted by Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, a collaboration of ethnic media in the United States.
The UC system is working through media to inform parents and students of funding resources available to them. Napolitano, former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the goal is to increase enrollment by 5000 next year, 10,000 cumulatively over the next three years, the number of California undergraduate students at the university. That includes freshmen and transfer students.
The changes are right, especially since there’s a huge demand for a UC education, she said. In addition, the state legislature has provided some funding, and UC is making other adjustments in its internal to ensure students get a quality education, she said. UC Regents were expected to render their decision on her plan at press time.
“I think that our goal is to make sure that California students know that this is their university, and that they have a home at the University of California,” Napolitano stated.
She addressed concerns of a widespread perception that only rich children can afford to go to UC. She’s been on a campaign to shatter that myth, especially during this current enrollment period which closes on November 30, she said.
Napolitano provided reporters and editors with statistics about UC that really blow a hole through some of the myths, she stated.
“One perception is that students cannot afford to attend the University of California, and over half of our California students in fact pay no tuition at the university. Any California student from a family that makes less than $80,000 a year pays no tuition … but there’s also substantial financial aid for students who are either from families that make more than that, but also in also in addition to tuition, you have housing and food and those sorts of things to help with that,” Napolitano detailed.
The Sentinel wanted to know, in part, what Napolitano identified coming into UC as problems or barriers for Black enrollment numbers, and her recommendations for increasing their numbers.
“The African American enrollment went down after Prop. 209 passed, and efforts that have been made to try to deal with that, whatever, have not been successful,” Napolitano explained. In 1996, California businessman Ward Connerly engineered the passage of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action by state and local agencies.
“One of the things I’ve perceived and have been told is that too many African American young people don’t believe they can either attend a UC or think it’s too expensive,” Napolitano replied.
Even though UC knows Blacks are academically capable, have shown all the aptitude to attend, they don’t apply, so the school can’t accept them.
“And then you get into this vicious cycle where then students don’t apply because they don’t see enough African American students there, right. And so how do we break through that,” Napolitano continued.
One way she identified is UC being more proactive in its outreach efforts to identify students in the 8th and 9th grades, rather than waiting until students apply. It’s also designing campus outreach programs for such students to get campus environment experience and other resources to help turn the tide.
Larry Aubry, Sentinel columnist and long time education advocate, opined it’s almost like the system was not designed for Black and Latino children in many ways. He recommended building a relationship and partnership with the local school districts and UC. He also urged public schools to beef up their efforts to get more information to parents.
“It’s almost like our kids are looked at episodically, not on a sustained basis, so if something happens, no one remembers, and then it goes away. And part of that is the community’s responsibility … but on the other hand, the system holds the responsibility,” Aubry said.
Overall, Napolitano said, she believes race and ethnicity, which UC is precluded by law from evaluating when considering admissions, should not be the only criteria for admission.
“I think we should, because I think your community is part of who you are, and we’re trying to get a diverse student body, all income levels, etc., but nonetheless we can’t and we don’t,” Napolitano said.
“What we can do, however, is reach into communities that we don’t see strong application numbers from. We don’t see strong numbers of students taking the right classes in high school, and really try to drill down and outreach proactively to those communities,” she added.