Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Fulfilling Their Potential

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Fulfilling Their Potential

Article excerpt


Most of them came here as "A" students, earning grade-point averages of 4.0 or above and high SAT scores. They are the finest of the state's high school graduates: Only those who finish in the top one-eighth of students around the state qualify to attend the University of California, and the Berkeley campus takes only a fraction of them. This year's Berkeley freshmen were selected from a record 36,000 applications.

But getting in is only part of the battle. The competition continues after students are admitted. The coursework is demanding -- especially for students whose high schools didn't prepare them for rigorous coursework and for those whose parents didn't attend college.

As the top tier in California's higher education system, UC's eight undergraduate campuses eschew remedial education, leaving that job to community colleges and to California State University, the state's other four-year institution. Nevertheless, each UC campus offers a wealth of programs for students who need extra help with their coursework. The programs range from one-on-one tutoring to labs and workshops that complement lecture classes.

"The pedagogy of our programs is to work with students not on surviving, but on excelling," says Adolfo Bermeo, associate vice provost for student diversity at UCLA.

"We don't use the word `underprepared,'" says Dr. Barbara Davis, Berkeley's assistant vice chancellor for student life and educational development. "We have a philosophy of recognizing that students come in with a wide variety of needs and we have a wide array of services to meet those needs."

At Berkeley, many of those services are concentrated at the Student Learning Center, a unit born in 1973 primarily to serve minority and low-income students during affirmative action's heyday. Similar centers exist on other campuses, including the ones in Davis and Riverside.

Though not styled as a retention program, SLC Assistant Director Luisa Giulianetti says, "I definitely think it works to that end -- both because of the academic services and the more effective aspect of the center. People come here to study because they've made friends here. This university can be really impersonal. We shrink the size of the university for a lot of students. We try to create a community of scholars."

That may explain why the centers are so popular among students. Consider UC Riverside, where the Learning Center is funded by student fees doled out by a student committee. Students were so supportive of the center that a few years ago they dedicated more than $3 million to add a third floor to a structure the university was building already. The new structure replaced ran-down trailers that the Riverside center had been using for years.

The centers have grown since their early days. At UC Davis, Learning Skills Center director Virginia Martucci says her center has quadrupled in the 24 years she has been running it. They have expanded their offerings as well as their audience -- particularly since UC abolished affirmative action and enrollment patterns changed.

Under the race-blind regime, the proportion of African American and Latino students, groups considered underrepresented within the UC system, has held steady on some campuses, such as Riverside, where they make up about 29 percent of students. Their numbers, however, have plummeted at the more selective Berkeley campus, where they constitute less than 15 percent of entering freshmen.

The centers tend to reach out to the entire campus community, though they are particularly concerned with attracting at-risk students, such as those "first generation" students whose parents didn't attend college.

Without affirmative action, certain programs within the centers have witnessed large demographic changes. …

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