Barriers for Berkeley City College’s Largest Community
Latino Leadership Cultural Club at Club Rush, September 2017. Photo Credit: Edgar J Rosales
According to the Fact Book listed on the Peralta Community College District’s website, the Hispanic/Latinx community at Berkeley City College has been the highest-enrolled ethnic group of the student population since fall of 2015. One might expect that this fact would correlate with the highest transfer rate; however, California State University’s online analytics regarding “Community College Transfer by Concentration, Ethnicity, Gender, and Campus Origin” reveal that the community’s transfer demographics have not changed significantly in the past year. Although a significant portion of the student population, the Latinx sector has only recently been able to keep up with other ethnic groups in terms of transfers and graduations.
To put it in perspective, the Hispanic community is trailing their Caucasian counterparts in state schools by eight transfer students and in University of California colleges by twenty-one transfers as of fall 2016, according to both CSU and UC databases. Given that the difference in population size of these two groups is about two thousand students in favor of the Latinx community, the transfer rate should be much higher than any other.
The first time I was exposed to this information was during the fall of 2016 in Peralta Association of Chicanx/Latinx de Aztlan (PACLA) committee meeting. Consisting of Hispanic students, professors, deans, and staff from all four Peralta campuses, the primary goal is to increase this community’s transfer rate. With this in mind, The BCC Voice went in-depth on the reasons for this trend and what the schools could do in order to close this gap. After interviewing multiple students and staff as well as examining “The State of Higher Education: The Latino Report,” which was given to me by the President of BCC, Dr. Rowena Tomaneng, I found that the most consistent attribute was inadequate support for Latinx students either at home or in school. According to a 2015 report by advocacy group The Campaign for College Opportunity, “levels of parents’ education and income are the biggest determinants [of] whether students successfully obtain a college degree.”
Many families do not or cannot encourage young adults to pursue higher education due to their lack of economic funds. The Campaign for College Opportunity’s report also mentions how Latinx parents are less likely to have a college degree than any other ethnic group, which is a factor as to why parents struggle to support their children’s college endeavors.
“The support is there but my family does not have the resources, either financially or academically, to maintain that support,” emphasized Jafet Oidor, a second-semester Computer Science student at BCC. This financial burden can give students the perception that college is a luxury, suitable only for families who can actually afford it, rather than as a necessity to build job skills and network.
Another contributing factor is that Latinx students view institutions like Berkeley City College, which does not have a high population of Spanish-speaking staff, as a more challenging school at which to get an education.
“I believe having staff who are Latinos is helpful for us students that English is not our first language,” says Ricardo Mora, a Political Science student. “I feel that I would be able to communicate better…which would make me more confident,” Mora surmises. Having a more diverse staff that represents the school’s actual population would benefit students in overcoming insecurities and give them role models of a similar background to guide them through their academic career.
In spring 2017, Berkeley City College was finally acknowledged as a “Hispanic-Serving Institution,” or HSI. Schools holding HSI status are entitled to access certain grants and funding for programs benefiting the institution and its Hispanic population, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). One specific objective BCC is pursuing: an increase in the amount of Latinx staff and academic/student services to improve this demographic’s transfer rate.
BCC recently applied for an HSI grant with the purpose of paving a pathway for students who are considering a career as educators. The program would allow for the shadowing of professors and mentor guidance for educators-in-training. Such a solution could help the transfer rates for trailing groups and the push for a more diverse staff. Grants and programs that are provided by entities similar to HSI could allow more Latinx students to graduate and improve their chances of job placement, so they can give back to their local communities.