Reflections from the Dream Success Center

Jason highlighted key moments in his life—his few memories of South Korea, his journey to the United States, earning admission to college, etc., and now, he sat in my office coping with a question neither I, nor most other staff or faculty at CSU Long Beach would ever have to face for ourselves.

What does it mean to be undocumented?

Brought to California as a child, Jason struggled with the daunting reality of a soon-to-be expired visa. Technically, as he explained, he would have to return to South Korea, but he wanted to remain in California, where he had spent most of his life. His story is but one example of the approximately 75,000 undocumented higher education students who are caught within, between, and outside policies that significantly shape the lived experiences of college students.

Not all students’ stories are the same. This was a key takeaway of my time serving as Coordinator of the Dream Success Center at CSU Long Beach. The center served as a one-stop shop for all matters pertaining to undocumented students on campus: in-state tuition (AB 540), state financial aid (California Dream Act), studying abroad as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, scholarship information, healthcare resources, referrals to non-profit organizations for legal advice, and much more. While all students were in one way or another significantly impacted by their legal status (or lack of), it is undeniable that their experiences were not the same. Some faced significantly more challenges.

As a professional, it can be quite frustrating to want to help students but find it impossible to do so. For example, students that came to the United States at an older age than their fellow Dreamers may not meet entry requirements for DACA and may be ineligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid because they did not accumulate enough time enrolled in a California high school. Despite my best efforts, there is almost nothing I can do to help these students pay thousands and thousands of dollars for college when they are ineligible for aid. It was not uncommon for these students to take several semesters off from school to save for tuition and fees, and to spend well over four years in college as a result. Read More

Here’s What California Can Do to Support Undocumented Students

Undocumented students have encountered unique challenges in pursuing higher education for years. These difficulties have been heightened by uncertainty in federal immigration policy and the stress it puts on students and families. Below are the stories of several brave students who are fighting to break through barriers due to their undocumented status, and even trying to keep doors open for other undocumented students walking in their footsteps. These stories not only demonstrate the tenacity, persistence, and strength of these individual Dreamers, but also highlight the common threats to their success that California policymakers and educators can address to ensure that every student has an opportunity to pursue their college dreams.

This August, the California legislature sent two bills advancing support for undocumented students, Assembly Bills 1895 (Calderon) and 2477 (Rubio), to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. AB 1895 would ensure that undocumented students have access to income-based repayment for the Dream Loans offered to them, which would provide them with the same affordable means of repayment that their peers can access for federal student loans. AB 2477 would guarantee that undocumented students at the California State University have access to “Dreamer Resource Liaisons” knowledgeable about the programs and services available to them.

Read the student stories below and click here to sign on to our petition calling on Governor Brown to stand with undocumented students by signing AB 1895 and AB 2477.

Rene Amel Peralta, UC Irvine Alumni

“My sister and I were just two kids, born into poverty, born into a broken home. We were born to fail. But we risked everything to change our lives. At the age of 6, I had already began working my first full-time job in Mexico just to survive. By the time I was 13, my sister and I decided to abandon our only parent to cross the border into the U.S. to escape the poverty and violence we were exposed to every day. Unfortunately, our hardships would not cease to exist. Without papers, schooling or the ability to speak English, we worked full time in whatever jobs we could find in the underground economy — dry cleaning, construction, food service, domestic help — working for below minimum wage and often in poor conditions.

At 17, in a last-ditch effort to improve our lives, we contacted a family friend in California, Brian Roge Fonteyn. Brian took us in, invested in our future by contributing his own money so my sister and I could attend classes at Mt. San Antonio community college in Walnut. For both my sister and I, this was our first experience with formal schooling. I enrolled in the most remedial courses I could find. It would take 6 years, a lot of energy and determination to achieve excellent grades in my schoolwork and earn two associate degrees in math and science. Read More

What the Expanded ‘Degree with a Guarantee’ Program Means for Students – and All Californians

“This pathway can and will make the difference for thousands of students pursuing their college and career dreams.”

By Kristen Soares, President AICCU

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend a college or university that best meets their educational goals and unique learning needs. That’s why the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) has partnered with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to open up a guaranteed transfer pathway for community college students to complete their degree at an independent California institution.

I want to thank Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and his team for their collaboration and leadership over the course of the year to expand the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway to our private institutions. This pathway can and will make the difference for thousands of students pursuing their college and career dreams.
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If Not Now, When? The Time for a Student-Centered Funding Formula is Now

The Governor’s plan to transform the current community college funding model to a student-centered formula, for the first time in contemporary history of California’s community colleges, recognizes a reality West Hills has endured for nearly 86 years: rural districts serving large populations of disadvantaged students require more resources to help them to the completion finish line. At our rural Central Valley colleges in Coalinga, Lemoore, and Firebaugh, we take 100% of everybody in our 3,500 square mile district, where nearly 80% of our population lives at or below the poverty line, unemployment is high, and skills attainment is low.

A student-centered funding formula is the long overdue solution for rural districts that incur considerably more expenses to assist our most vulnerable students in reaching the finish line. The current funding formula is based largely on the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled – with no explicit fiscal incentives for colleges to support low-income populations and support their success. As an example, the regional Strong Workforce program was designed to do ‘more and better Career and Technical Education (CTE)’. Our share, based on enrollment, was up to five times less than neighboring urban districts. How can I grow CTE programs when I receive one-fifth the allocation provided to large colleges? How am I to respond to identified needs of business and industry with specialized, high-cost workforce training programs, let alone drive regional economies to enhance rural economic development initiatives? Why do we value selectivity over social mobility?

Although our colleges have done admirable work providing broad access, too few students who enter the system ultimately achieve their educational goals. Half of students fail to complete a certificate or degree after six years, with the rates for those historically underrepresented in higher education – especially low-income students and students of color – even more concerning and with gaps across regions of the state. The Central Valley is the epicenter of that conversation, which is very frustrating for our district because we have unwavering confidence that our students can achieve their goals if ample resources and services are in place to ensure that outcome. And, it’s not that our disadvantaged students cannot achieve their educational attainment goal; I know our students can if we recognize to do so requires more resources than realized with current funding models. I have often said the enrollment-based funding formula is why poor communities stay poor.

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Students Say California’s Legislature Should #InvestinSuccess

Students enroll in college with a belief that they will one day cross the graduation stage. How we fund community colleges should reflect the reality that students want more than access to campuses — they want to transfer, earn a certificate or degree, and leave college prepared to succeed in their careers. Yet too many students fail to complete college due to barriers including a broken remedial education system, a transfer maze, and a lack of guidance that significantly increases the time to a degree.

Governor Brown’s 2018-19 Budget realizes the urgency to ensure better student outcomes by proposing an ambitious new funding formula for California Community Colleges that encourages colleges to make progress and improve student outcomes. The proposal is historic in that it puts student success on par with student access.

Students are speaking up in support! Read the stories below to see what students are saying about the Governor’s proposal.

Alaye Sanders, Cosumnes River College

“Hi, my name is Alaye Sanders and I am currently in my second year at Cosumnes River College. So far, I regret to say I’ve experienced a myriad of structural obstacles. I was confused about how difficult it was to navigate and find resources to help me.  I was alarmed at how confused the counselors were when it came to pointing me in the right direction. The CRC mission statement clearly states, “CRC promotes teaching and learning excellence through diverse educational opportunities, varied instructional and effective student services.” But how effective is a toolbox that none can find?

This experience was different from high school, I was able to graduate from Valley High School with the help of a college prep program called “Improve Your Tomorrow” (IYT), which specifically targets students who look like me – young black and brown men. A  goal clearly detailed in their mission statement, we proudly incorporated into our “IYT Creed” that we chanted during every session. It’s thanks to programs like IYT that enable students like me to succeed.

This is why I support a funding formula that is student focused and encourages institutions to support student sustainability and improvement. While the subcommittee decision has already been made, I believe it’s important for the student’s voices to be heard.

Thank you for hearing me out.”

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