For Some, Hurdles Keep a Diploma Out of Reach
Times Staff Writer
April 4, 2006


A conference at UCLA focuses on ways to keep Latino students from falling through multiple cracks in the 'educational pipeline.'
By Arin Gencer
From the Los Angeles Times

In the spring of 1968, thousands of Mexican American students walked out of East Los Angeles high schools in protest. They called for equal treatment in education, bilingual instruction, courses that acknowledged their cultural heritage and smaller classes in their overcrowded schools.

Almost 40 years later, observed participants at a recent UCLA conference on
Latinos in education, little has changed. Latino students are still falling
through multiple cracks in the "educational pipeline," they said.

Citing research based on the 2000 federal census, they said that slightly more
than 50% of Latino students finish high school, 10% graduate from college and 4%
obtain an advanced degree. By comparison, 84% of white students get their high
school diplomas, with 26% graduating from college and about 10% earning advanced

The problems discussed at the conference were not new. Nor, in some cases, were
the solutions.

But the sheer numbers now affected, particularly in Los Angeles and California,
demand attention, said Daniel Solorzano, a professor in UCLA's Chicano Studies
Research Center.

"The pipeline is still hemorrhaging Latino students," said Patricia Gandara,,
one of the participants and an education professor at UC Davis.

Latinos made up 72.8% of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District,
and 46.8% of students statewide, in the 2004-05 school year.

Hurdles at every level of public education increasingly equate to obstacles for
Latino students.

The all-day summit at the UCLA Faculty Center last month served as a collective
brainstorming session to remove those hurdles.

It was also a call to action, meant to inspire a sense of urgency about issues
often relegated to academic studies, said Sylvia Hurtado, director of the
university's Higher Education Research Institute.

Dozens of education experts and representatives from the UC, California State
University and California Community College systems shared their research and
experiences, then sought public-policy solutions to the challenges for Latino
students, from kindergarten through postgraduate studies.

A recurring theme emerged: At almost every stage, the experts said, Latino
students lacked both information needed to navigate the pipeline and a
college-going culture that encouraged them to reach its end.

"The earlier you introduce the option of college, the stronger the possibility
that they will attend college," said Dolores Delgado Bernal, an education
professor at the University of Utah.

Higher education must be integrated into students' school experience and their
personal lives, she added, to foster a sense that every child has university

"Nobody's preparing these kids for what they need to do because of that absence
of a culture" of college-going, Gandara said.

Teachers and counselors in every tier of education must be trained so they can
better guide Latino students to and through college, said Tara Yosso, a Chicano
studies professor at UC Santa Barbara.

The situation appeared especially bleak at the community college level, where
about 30% of Latino high school graduates enroll, according to the California
Postsecondary Education Commission.

Students often don't know which courses they need to transfer from community
college, said Linda Hagedorn, an education professor at the University of
Florida in Gainesville.

Faculty members are rarely equipped to help them either. At some schools, the
student-counselor ratio is as high as 2000 to 1, she added, which exacerbates
the difficulty of reaching everyone.

"It's just really difficult for students to take the initiative to go to the
counselors and say, 'What courses do I need to transfer out?' " said Marilyn
Gonzalez, 26, a UCLA senior who attended the conference. "They're never trained
to take that initiative."

Gonzalez, who transferred from East Los Angeles College, said she is
hard-pressed to remember teachers or counselors, in high school or community
college, who urged her to aim for a four-year institution.

Instead, she was driven to pursue a degree with the birth of her son, at age 19,
and the realization that someone's well-being depended on her.

"It's about making sure that we make the connection, and not waiting for
students to make the connection," said Alfred Herrera, director of UCLA's Center
for Community College Partnerships, which works to develop a motivation to
transfer in students even before they start their community-college studies.
"It's really about showing the students . that they can belong to an institution
like this."

Establishing benchmarks along the usually long journey through community college
also could help, Hagedorn said.

One Santa Monica College student in the audience, who identified herself as
undocumented, questioned the point of spending money to get a degree, especially
when she couldn't use it.

"What is the motivation to transfer?" she asked. Other students expressed
similar sentiments about the need to support the undocumented.

Herrera looked over the rows of educators and academics and directly at the
student, who stood toward the back of the room.

"If you don't have a degree, you're not going to go anywhere," Herrera said. "If
you don't become an educated part of this society, then your voice is never
going to be heard." But Hurtado said that even those Latinos who empower
themselves and stride onto college campuses frequently feel alienated,
perceiving a racially hostile environment or an administration and staff members
inattentive to student concerns. "When there's low Hispanic enrollment on
campus, there's a sense that this place is not for me," Hurtado said.

Encountering even one teacher who shows interest in them can ease that
adjustment, Hurtado said, as can classes on race and ethnic issues.

The idea for the conference originated nearly three years ago during a community
forum, said Chon Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.

The meeting brought together education, public-policy and public-health
professors, as well as representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense
and Educational Fund and Jose Huizar, then a Los Angeles school board member.

"We realized people don't necessarily know each other even though they were
leaders" in their field, Noriega said.

Noriega said organizers would like to make the conference an annual event,
perhaps focusing next year on community colleges, a part of the pipeline that
gets little attention.

"Change takes a long time," Herrera said.