March 4, 2005

California Needs New Master Plan for Education

Latino Education Leaders to Urge Legislature for change; will lobby for introduction of bill that would award grants to undocumented students

San Francisco, CA – In efforts to decrease the underrepresentation of Hispanics in community colleges and universities in California, Latino Education leaders will urge the State Legislature for changes in the Master Plan for Education and a chance for undocumented students to receive government grants to attend institutions of higher education.

The call for action comes a week after the Chicano/Latino Intersegmental Convocation meeting was held in San Francisco, which attracted educators and students from throughout California.

Delores Huerta (center) and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis discuss the issues with an unidentified man.

“It became very clear to us how necessary it is to create an organization that focuses solely on the issues affecting the Latino student population of California,” said Gonzalo Rojas, campus administrator at San Diego State University. “We want to bring the voice and the sentiments of the students to the Congress, to the State Legislature, and to the community as a whole.”

Research shows that Latinos saw their share of high school graduates increase from 29% in 1993, to 34% in 2002. And even though Latinos comprise the fastest growing ethnic group in California in all three sectors of public higher education, they continue to be underrepresented. Their enrollment share in 2002 reached 27% at community colleges, 21% at the California State University system, and only 13% at the University of California system. The percentage of Latino students in graduate programs is even lower.

During the meeting in San Francisco, educators from the University of California and California State University systems, and community colleges said they were in the process of drafting an agenda that would focus on the creation of a new Master Plan. Organizers believe a credible and neutral organization should examine the current Master Plan for Education, and make the necessary revisions to address the needs of all students in California. The trend of underrepresentation of Latino students has consistently grown, leaving thousands of students out of the classrooms.

“While the basic tenets of universal access, equity, and affordability continue to be critical guiding constructs, it is clear that the current reality or context to implement these mandates, has changed significantly,” said Rojas.

The current Master Plan, drafted in the 1960’s, allowed the top tier of high school students in California, admission to the state university systems, either UC or CSU, as well as promising a smooth transfer for community colleges. With huge budget deficits, tuition hikes, proposed cuts, and inadequate academic preparation in grades K-12, the fulfillment of the Master Plan has all but disintegrated. For the first time, students were turned away from institutions of higher learning last year.

Additionally, the group plans to oppose Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to suspend Proposition 98, saying a link between pre-school preparation and educational access and success, is of vital importance.

“California is the sixth largest world economy, yet it is 40th in the nation on per pupil spending,” added Rojas. “There are communities that are better off than others, cut we also know that in some of our poor communalities, there are very bright students, but don’t have the same instruction and resources. “The five growth industries in California require a postsecondary education, and Latinos therefore will be left out of the ability to compete in these arenas, if we don’t address the problems that exist early on.”

The group will also lobby the State Legislature to come up with a bill that will allow undocumented students to receive financial aid. This would broaden the scope of the law AB540, signed in 2001 by former governor Gray Davis, which allows undocumented students who have attended a California high school for three or more years to qualify of in-state student fees.

“What holds many students back from attending college, even those that are documented, is financial troubles. We need a financial support system for students that have done everything to advance their education, buy yet can’t go to college because of lack of personal wealth,” said Rojas.

In 2002, the Legislature rejected a bill that intended to give financial aid to undocumented students, granted they met income and achievement guidelines.

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