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'Remove barriers to college access': Latine students discuss transfer journeys to UC Berkeley

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JOSEPH CASEY | SENIOR STAFF

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OCTOBER 12, 2022

In recent years, Latinx and Chicanx students have made up a greater percentage of UC Berkeley’s transfer admit classes than its freshman admit classes — in the 2022-2023 cycle, nearly 30% of all admitted Latinx and Chicanx students were transfers.

Campus senior John Cornejo, a Latine student who transferred in 2021 from Diablo Valley College, is part of the 27% of transfer students who identify as Latinx or Chicanx admitted that year.

“Growing up with my mom, she was my motivator and would ask me about my grades. She wanted me to go to college,” Cornejo said. “But I didn’t have the grades to get into Berkeley. When I got into community college I finally did feel motivated because I was taking classes I was interested in.

Cornejo grew up in Concord and lived there his whole life. As a child of diasporic parents from Mexico and El Salvador, his mother worked side jobs such as cleaning houses. On the weekdays, she would work in party organization services, where Cornejo and his siblings would help her. His father worked in construction.

Cornejo said moving around a lot made it more difficult for him to make friends in school; his social anxiety also contributed to him taking fewer Advanced Placement classes. Cornejo said he felt that going to a four-year college after high school would have been very different from going to a community college because of the resources that community colleges provide to first generation students.

However, being placed in the campus transfer student dorms helped Cornejo with his transition to UC Berkeley. Being a first-generation college student, Cornejo said Student Support Services helped him along his academic journey after transferring and also provided one-on-one counseling.

African American, Native American, Chicanx and Latinx students are currently a higher proportion of the transfer student population than freshman students, according to Lorena Valdez, director of campus Transfer Student Programs and Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence. In the most recent admissions cycle, 25% of transfer admits were Latinx and Chicanx, compared to 22% of freshman admits.

Despite this gap in admissions, the graduation rate for Latinx and Chicanx students admitted as transfers versus as freshmen has been minimal in recent years — around 5%.

Currently, there are several initiatives and programs on campus to provide support for transfer students, particularly Latine transfer students.

The Center for Educational Partnerships, or CEP, works with community college students, their families and their educators to provide access to higher education, according to Yvette Flores, the interim assistant vice chancellor for educational partnerships at CEP.

CEP has worked for 40 years to serve low-income, first-generation, undocumented and historically underrepresented students, Flores added.

“Our eleven CEP programs provide direct service to students and families, professional development for educators and community partners, and engagement with K-12 schools/districts, community colleges, and other higher education partners in systemic work to remove barriers to college access for students,” Flores said in an email.

Other offerings include yield events in Spanish and English for families of admitted UC Berkeley students and motivational conferences that specifically target Latine students in programs such as Puente and Advancing Latinx Achievement & Success.

More than 75,000 students are directly served by CEP across California, and approximately 52% of these students identify as Latinx, according to the UC Berkeley CEP website.

The Starting Point Mentorship Program, or SPMP, is one of the many programs the campus Transfer Student Center overlooks, focusing on creating bonds between eligible community college students and UC Berkeley student mentors, according to Valdez.

“Increasing transfer student access to educational opportunities that lead to successful educational outcomes (e.g., college completion, smoother first semester transition, higher GPA’s, greater campus engagement and inclusion, graduate education, etc) is at the core of the (Transfer Student Center’s) work,” Valdez said in an email.

Valdez added that another organization, the PoderOso Initiative, is in the works as a collaborative effort between campus CEP, Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence and undergraduate admissions.

The program focuses on students that participate in Puente, a high school program that increases the college-going rates of thousands of California students, according to Valdez.

“We are committed to the experience of recruiting and retaining students in their first year,” Valdez said in the email. “The model was built specifically to address, not just increasing access to Berkeley, but ensuring that students are supported in their first year to have an experience grounded in thriving and not just surviving.”

UC Office of the President spokesperson Erika Cervantes noted that the UC has found an increase of admission rates for Latinx freshman students each year since 2011.

According to Cervantes, Latinx students have made up the largest ethnic group of admitted California freshmen to the UC over the past two years. In the most recent admissions cycle, 37.3% of admitted freshmen were Latinx.

Cristy Olivares, a senior transfer student, transferred to UC Berkeley in 2021 from Santa Rosa Junior College. Olivares said she participated in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program in high school and felt that she needed to go to a four-year university “no matter what.”

However, Olivares also believed that her high school grades would not be sufficient for a UC.

Olivares said her transition from a community college to UC Berkeley was a smooth one, however, due to communities she found through clubs such as the Latin American Leadership Society and SPMP.

“I feel like since I did go to community college, I know a bit more. The classes I’ve taken, I’ve already been taught what I am taking, so it feels nice.” Olivares said. “In general it’s up to the student in high school to see if they are ready for a four year or community college and if they are ready to go then they should take the next step.”

Contact Luis Saldana at 

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OCTOBER 12, 2022