CSUN’s diverse campus counters education gap

Alison Geller

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Although the 2010 U.S. Census reported the national percentage of students obtaining college degrees has steadily increased along with the ever-present racial gap, the CSUN campus is an exception to the statistic.

Bettina Huber, the director of Institutional Research at CSUN wrote a report on the “Undergraduate Persistence at Cal State Northridge During the Last Decade” which outlines the strides CSUN students have made towards getting their degrees.

“First time freshmen graduating from CSUN during the 2000s have considerably improved their persistence to degree, with traditionally underserved freshmen making particularly strong strides,” states Huber in her report.  “Upper division transfer students completing their studies during the first year of the decade displayed a high level of performance, with underserved and better served students performing equally well. This pattern has persisted during the rest of the decade.”

Senior Megan Roquemore, 22, political science major, said she believes the gap is narrowing at CSUN because of the diversity on campus.

“LA County in general is such a diverse county,” Roquemore said.  “This is a beneficial trend because it provides more diversity and life experience in the classroom.”

Freshman Eddie Chang, 18, computer engineering major, said he usually spends more time with people who are minorities and that he has noticed, living in the dorms, that he rarely sees that many white students.

“I think more people getting degrees, more minorities getting degrees, that helps everyone to be seen as equals,” said Chang,  who is a first-generation American.  His parents are from Korea.

David Wakefield, professor and chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Development, said what gives CSUN an advantage is its strong ethnic studies departments and the programs CSUN offers to students from underserved backgrounds.

CSUN’s ethnic studies departments include the Chicano/a Studies Department, the Pan-African Studies Department and the Asian-American Studies Department.

“Ethnic minority students have opportunities to develop a strong cultural identity, learn more about the meaning and significance of their ethnic group membership and their culture and cultural identity,” Wakefield said. “I think the fact that on the CSUN campus we have a number of programs that are designed to help facilitate minority students’ success may be one factor that’s narrowing the achievement gap here compared to the general population of colleges and universities.”

Programs like the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, target low-income, first-generation college students.

According to Renee Moreno, associate professor with the Chicano/a studies department and director of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, the program is named after the rocket scientist who died in the Challenger space shuttle explosion. McNair went to school while Jim Crow laws were still in effect.   The new program is designed to help underserved students who wish to pursue a doctorate.

“The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase diversity in the professoriate,” Moreno said. “The end goal really is to get people to get their Ph.D.’s and get them in all fields.”

She added that the program is meant to capture and embody McNair’s spirit by “pushing the core values of giving access to underserved populations of people.”

CSUN is federally designated as a Spanish serving institution, Wakefield said.

“Given the percentage of Latino students on our campus, for some students I think that might create a sense of comfort and belonging,” Wakefield said.

Information available from the Institutional Research Department shows first time freshmen that received degrees in 2009/10 that identified themselves as Latino/a’s almost equaled the number of white students who received degrees.

As a first time freshman, Gerardo Guzman, 18,   mathematics major, was happy to hear that the graduation rate for first time Latino/a freshmen was close to that of white students.

“I feel that’s outstanding,” Guzman said.  “A lot of Hispanics are looked down upon for their poor jobs and all that.  The youth, the new generations are showing otherwise and CSUN helps allow that.  That makes me feel good and I’m sure makes a lot of Hispanics feel good because we need to rise to the top.”