The renewed experience of going back to college, after almost six years of working full-time at a newspaper in Los Angeles has turned me into a pragmatic student of media issues with an even keener eye when it comes to classrooms’ ethnic makeup. Perhaps even worse than in 1997, I’ve noticed the lack of minority students in today’s classrooms. I believe we live in hard and uncertain times, particularly when it comes to job opportunities and work stability.
I’ve talked to former co-workers still afraid their jobs may get slashed, as happened to mine in 2001. When it comes to giving pink slips, the newer employees with less seniority usually get the ax these days. Corporate heads may say the recession is over, but lax job creation in Los Angeles and other big cities, as well as rapid turnout rates, especially in sales and marketing media departments, prove them wrong.
However, these matters should not be reflected in students’ school enrollment and performance. But as far as Latinos are concerned, I find it’s hard to separate work from daily life, particularly when many students still emerge from low-income backgrounds. At CSUN, we have Latinos from Arleta, Van Nuys, Pacoima, North Hollywood, Ventura County and some parts of central Los Angeles, whose families need their income to make ends meet.
Being able to afford tuition and having time to prepare class assignments, readings and homework is crucial to having a shot at decent grades. Many Latinos and other minority students who attend CSUN need to work at least 20 hours per week and still carry academic loads upwards of 15 units. It’s possible to receive state and federal grants to cover the cost of full-time tuition, but sometimes books and supplies are not included unless the person takes out a loan. When it comes down to getting healthcare coverage and making monthly rent or mortgage payments for those whose families are struggling to be part of “the American Dream,” there seems nowhere else to turn besides regular work for Latinos.
The financial burden becomes even rougher for Latinos, as many don’t really embrace the concept of the on-campus living experience. Also, the Los Angeles Times reported on March 2004 there are still huge cultural gaps that preclude Latinos from moving to on-campus housing. Yet, because many Latinos prefer to live at home instead, it’s said by counseling pundits that they either don’t pay as much attention to school as they should, or don’t think a bachelor’s degree is a good barometer to overcome social inequities.
I am enrolled in three upper division classes this semester, and in these classes, it seems that barely one-third of all students are minorities. In one class paired with my graduate studies work, there are some students from Latin America and the Middle East who I think add a healthy and needed mix to what should be more diverse classrooms. They enrich class discussions and promote fresh and new approaches to issues in the news media. But when it comes to Mexican-Americans, there is still a noticeable absence of their presence in class.
In this class, I figured that out of 30 students, only nine are minorities, excluding international students. The rest seem to be suburban, white middle-class, some whom are outspokenly pro-American, regardless of class content and the presence of the other international students. Some of the minority students are bound to get good grades, particularly two Latinas who speak and participate on a regular basis. But there are times when all those students do is chat with the students behind them, or complain about class concepts, or criticize the way the teacher instructs the group.
Unlike University of California campuses, CSUN is considered a “non-selective institution.” Yet, only 30 percent of Latino freshmen enrolled here receive bachelor’s degrees after six years, whereas in the UC system, 69 percent of minorities, including African Americans and American Indians, receive degrees after five to six years, as reported by the L.A. Times.
Still, I believe a better effort must be made to recruit and retain more minority students in the CSU system. CSUN should make it easier for these students to live in on-campus housing at much more affordable rates. The Student Outreach and Recruitment Services office and Student Housing both have said those students who live in university-rented rooms have better academic experiences, namely because of the resources made available to them. Perhaps one way to encourage more minority students to live on-campus would be to lower loan-interest rates for poor students who need to work to provide for their families.
It’s important to offer higher education that ensures and provides exposure to social issues beyond the classrooms. Since it takes about six years to receive a bachelor’s degree nowadays, more full-time staff recruiters are needed in the Student Outreach and Recruitment. Budget cutbacks in the department have not allowed for the replacement of three individuals who recently left. The university should also schedule more recruitment visits to local high schools beyond the school’s 10-mile radius “limit” to inform and entice students to visit and enroll in this university.
Otherwise, yet another generation of possible university students may be lost.
Jose Santana is a senior journalism major.