Graduation rates among black students at the University of California, Santa Barbara showed a 9.3 percent increase — more than twice the average increase for all universities sampled — over the past decade, according to a study published in March by The Education Trust.
Of the 232 public four-year universities surveyed between 2003 and 2013, UCSB was included among 52 institutions that witnessed both a rate increase of more than nine percentage points and a reduction in the graduation rate gap between black and white students.
The nonprofit’s study, second in its Rising Tide series, cautions readers against overemphasizing these statistics as indicators of change. Only 47 percent of the universities sampled showed shrinkage in the rate gap between their black and white students. Despite its progress, UCSB still maintains a gap of almost 11 percent between its white and black graduation rates.
Through outreach and mentorship — two factors The Education Trust highlights as key to closing these graduation gaps — members of underrepresented communities and their allies continue to forge inroads toward increased equality on campus.
“It is challenging to be a part of two underrepresented communities,” said Aleeti Miller, a member of Black Student Union and third-year language, culture and society major who is the first in her family to attend college. “And although circumstances may not be ideal, we are fortunate on this campus to have the ability to enact changes that we believe will help progress in our respective communities.”
The Educational Opportunity Program, which provides counseling and additional academic services to hundreds of first-generation students (many of whom also represent campus minorities), is one of many resources on campus that both Miller and the study point to as factors in UCSB’s success. The McNair Scholars Program has also been influential in supporting underrepresented students with hopes to pursue a doctoral degree, through paid summer research positions and mentorship by professors in qualifying students’ major fields.
“I was initially hesitant to apply,” said fourth-year sociology major Imani Burris. “Since joining the program, though, the mentors and directors have instilled in me the confidence to conduct meaningful research, while guiding my passion in a way that has adequately prepared me for graduate school.”
Most important, though, as the Rising Tide studies state, are efforts made by universities to reach underrepresented youth well before they set foot on campus.
San Diego State University — ranked at the top of all universities sampled with a 30 percent increase in black graduation rates — attributes its success to outreach programs that target underrepresented students as early as seventh grade.
Independent, student-run organizations at UCSB are seeking to do the same. The 17th annual College Link Outreach Program (CLOP), to be hosted by UCSB Hermanos Unidos and Sigma Alpha Zeta chapters from April 21 to April 23, is expected to reach 16 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, from Watsonville to the San Fernando Valley.
“CLOP provided us with so many resources, including financial aid and information on how to cover college tuition,” said CLOP Co-Coordinator Oswaldo Lopez, a fourth-year sociology major and former CLOP beneficiary. “These were things that my family always knew was a problem and said, ‘We can’t pay for this. We need you to work for a bit, and then you can go to college.’ It wasn’t until I attended CLOP that realized I had a chance.”
With just 120 spots available, this year’s CLOP received over 600 applications from high schools with some of the highest dropout rates in Los Angeles County. According to third-year political science major and CLOP Co-Coordinator Jackie Barraza, CLOP tries to target students who are at risk of falling through the cracks.
“Our program is different from most outreaches just because for most programs, if the student has a higher GPA they’re more likely to accept them,“ Barraza said. “In reality, though, the kids with higher GPAs need less motivation than the ones with lower ones, so we encourage students to apply to our program even if they have a 0.0.”
The three-day program, which offers writing workshops, financial advice and social events, among other activities and services, gives encouragement and support to students who wouldn’t otherwise have it, Lopez said. CLOP team leaders continue to follow up with program participants and offer guidance throughout the college application process. Barraza even reported that one past attendee recently received her acceptance to UC Berkeley.
CLOP leaders are in the process of compiling more precise data on the program’s results, but the impact, they agree, is something to be proud of.
“I do believe this is the type of program that extends to success beyond just getting into college,” Lopez said. “If we had the funding to take more than 120, we’d do it in a heartbeat.”