Ensuring Higher Education for the Disadvantaged

By-Jonathan Mejias

Four years ago, young Edrick Alvarado, showed up at an office in the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, where he had been told he could get some tutoring. As an eighth grader, he wouldn’t have imagined how far he could get until he discovered how people can achieve their goals if given appropriate tools and treatment at the right time.

It was his grandmother, a student counselor in the Inmaculada Concepción Academy, who told him about a new tutoring program addressed to students from public housing in Mayagüez. His mother as well, always pressured him to study because she didn’t want him to be a dropout like her.

Alvarado, a first year physics student at the UPRM, remembers today that he first sought help in the UPRM came in 2009 because he wanted desperately to be admitted in CROEM (Centro Residencial de Oportunidades Educativas de Mayagüez, in Spanish).

Three years later he’s accomplished much more than that. At 17, Alvarado has not only been in two different internships but has also participated in a science and engineering competition in the United States. Moreover, he is a member of the Particle Physics Organization in the UPRM and is already taking the second part of calculus in his first year of college.

Erick Alvarado, wants to continue graduate studies in biophysics or medical physics after completing his bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics in the UPRM.

Erick Alvarado, wants to continue graduate studies in biophysics or medical physics after completing his bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics in the UPRM.

It all began in the Centro para el Acceso Universitario (Center for Universitary Access, CUA), a UPRM initiative whose primary goal is to improve student’s access to college and to conduct and publish research about the different types of obstacles that exist for students with limited resources in Mayagüez.

Like a bird returning to its nest, Alvarado came again to the place where it all began, the CUA, but this time as a math tutor. “I’m in the CUA because I’m grateful for the work they have done with me and also because I want to help other kids to achieve their goals,” he said.

“I definitely came in the right time, to the right place. They treated me like I was capable of doing everything, regardless of the place I came from. They pushed me towards the road to success.”

The CUA is aware of, and raises awareness about the inequalities that exist between the education system and the lower classes. That’s why it chose to address its services to a specific population of the city. CUA coordinators emphasize that they are not favoring one sector of the city but ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities.

As a matter of fact, Mayagüez has around 18 public residential facilities with more than 3,500 apartments, which constitutes around the 12 percent of the total of residences of the city.

Research conducted in the center shows that between 1990 and 2006, only 106 students from public housing in Mayagüez could enter the UPRM. In contrast, during the same period a whole private school provided 1057 students to the university.

Its seems that many socioeconomic factors such as parent education, income, lifestyle and the environment in which students develop have a direct influence in aspiring college students.

The CUA is trying to make a change by keeping under its guidance about 120 students from intermediate and high school. Their mission is to contribute to develop college aspirations, to increase the number of admissions of students in the UPR system and increase retention as well as graduation rates of those students.

After school hours, intermediate and high school students gather in Celis 106 to begin their tutoring guidance. Fortunately, some of them will be receiving their admission letters to begin their new journey in the UPR.

After school hours, intermediate and high school students gather in Celis 106 to begin their tutoring guidance. Fortunately, some of them will be receiving their admission letters to begin their new journey in the UPR.

There are currently around 50 people working in different areas of the center which include mentoring, research, reviews for College Board and tutoring for the students. Some of the collaborators came from public housing and they know perfectly how hard life is for them, while others are just learning from this new experience.

Many people have the assumption that people from public housing are all dark skinned, nevertheless, the CUA prove them wrong by giving service not only to black or dark skinned people, but also white and blue eyed color students.

“I was biased, I thought that I would meet students of color and now I realize that being disadvantaged doesn’t have to do anything with skin color,” said Adelis Pérez, history student in the UPRM.

“In Puerto Rico, there are a lot of inequalities not because of races but because of the social classes.”

Other research conducted in the CUA confirms that there is a correlation between the family income and the proficiency in certain school subjects. For example, between 2005 and 2007, around 65 percent of the students admitted in the UPRM, whose income were $7,449 or less per year, had to take remedial course in math because of their deficiency.

College entrance exam scores and achievement tests show that most students aren’t prepared for college because of the education they received during school years.

The Puerto Rican Tests of Academic Achievement (Pruebas Puertorriqueñas de Aprovechamiento Académico, in Spanish) whose purpose is to evaluate student’s academic achievement in different educational subjects, have shown that during the academic year of 2011- 2012, students from public schools obtained a proficiency of 46.86 percent in Spanish, 41.81 percent in English and 29.46 percent in math.

The CUA also discovered that between 1990 and 2006, students who came from public housing didn’t have the required GPA and College Board score to be admitted in engineering and sciences programs. Meanwhile, students whose income were $50,000 or above had better punctuations and more options.

According to a questionnaire made by the Oficina de Investigación y Planificación (Institutional Planning Office) in the UPRM, around 121 of the students admitted in Mayagüez Campus during 2009, responded that they intended to change their mayor. The most requested fields were mechanical engineering with 17 percent and biology with 13 percent of the total of students.

Another particularity that seems to be affecting student’s access to college is the lack of counseling and preparation before applying to the university.

Although the Department of Education of Puerto Rico claims to have programs such as Title I (Título I, in Spanish) designed to reinforce student’s performance in classrooms, these facts proved that these kind of programs can’t find the path beyond words.

Dr. Lissette Rolón Collazo, director of the CUA, said that public education in Puerto Rico needs to make some arrangements to improve their inefficiencies. She suggests that above all they should review the contents of the student’s curriculum and adjust them to the realities of the students as well of the country, and of course the conditions and interests of the universities.

“I don’t think every student has to be in the university but I strongly believe that every student should have the opportunity and the option to be in the university,” said Rolón, professor, editor and director of the CUA.

“I don’t think every student has to be in the university but I strongly believe that every student should have the opportunity and the option to be in the university,” said Rolón, professor, editor and director of the CUA.

Fortunately, students may feel economic relief as Rafael Román, secretary of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, recently announced that next academic year all public schools students will be able to take the College Board test for free.

However, one of the biggest obstacles for disadvantage students is the lack of support and encouragement that they receive from the people who surround them. A lot of times they are tagged because of the place they come from without giving them the opportunity to prove their capabilities.

“Ensuring these high school students, particularly minority students, access to college is critical not only for the student’s success, but to economic success, for they are the future of the country and education is the road to empowerment,” said Rolón.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: