A week of celebratory events, set to conclude Wednesday, April 27, has recognized the latest wave of high school seniors admitted to the University of California system through university partnerships with underserved schools along the Central Coast.
UC Santa Barbara’s Early Academic Outreach Program invited student honorees and their families to participate in its series of “UC Success Nights,” along with local elected officials, UCSB faculty members, alumni and current undergraduates. The ceremonies spanned high schools from Santa Maria to Oxnard and beyond.
EAOP determines whether a school is “underserved” based on its Academic Performance Index (API) score, which is measured by the percentage of students who pass the California Standardized Test (CST) and California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). API rankings range between one and ten, and the EAOP almost exclusively targets schools that score a five or below. Often within that selection are first-generation minority students and students from low-income families (and many who can be classified as both).
Lower-income students are less likely to go to college compared to their higher-income peers, as demonstrated by studies that show lower-income families as less frequently exposed to the college world, and therefore more likely to be left in the dark when it comes to opportunities for higher education.
Though EAOP has served regional K-12 schools for four decades, it started to focus its attention on college admissions and application rates after the passing of California Proposition 209, according to EAOP Director Britt Ortiz. The legislation effectively ended use of affirmative action programs, and thereafter the percentage of lower-income students applying to college began to steadily decreased.
EAOP began to combat this decline by applying the “cohort model” in high schools, which targets the highest echelon of students at a given school. “With the cohort model we see about 25 to 35 students per grade, and we guide these students — shepherd them — all the way up to the start of their first year of college,” Ortiz said.
The model had its advantages, like an increased emphasis on personal attention and guidance for students, but drawbacks as well. Perhaps the largest disadvantage was that a relatively small number of students received this added attention.
As time progressed, the cohort model gave way to the “whole school” approach which, as the name implies, focuses more broadly on a whole school at once. Rather than taking the top bunch of students and elevating them further, the whole school approach seeks to increase the awareness and understanding of the entire student body, often through programs like EAOP and high school-coordinated events.
Though much of EAOP’s outreach occurs in high schools, Ortiz noted the importance of understanding that the program is all about academic preparation and not designed for campus-specific recruitment. College readiness programs have occasionally come under fire, accused by opponents of existing only to arbitrarily increase applications for a particular campus.
“With the increasing competition for admissions it is a real academic achievement to be admitted to any campus in the system,” Ortiz told the UCSB Current. “So many of our students are first-generation and come from under-resourced backgrounds. Their hard work and overcoming various challenges and obstacles is absolutely worth honoring.”