Public College System of Education: Is it Really for Everybody?

By: Sophia Melissa Caraballo Pineiro

“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility,” said President Bill Clinton during a speech in September 8, 1994. Education has become a major part of our society in Puerto Rico, but as the years pass, the access to higher education becomes more difficult to reach. Financial funding, family and peer support, and even the emotional and mental stability of a student can affect their desire to enter and graduate from college. Public education has become almost unreachable for those who are at a disadvantage.

According to the Public Service Commission of Puerto Rico, more than 70% of the students that are admitted into the island’s public university system come from private schools. There is an unbalance in the student population. In over nine years, the number of college students that graduated from private high schools has increased in over 12%. This is due to the fact that private school students have a better preparation when it comes to grades, financial and familial support than those coming from a public high school, said Dr. Lissette Rolón, professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. Aside from being a professor, Dr. Rolón has dedicated her time to helping economically disadvantaged students be accepted into the university with a team of students in the Centro Universitario para el Acceso.

Dr. Lissette Rolón, professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, who has dedicated her time to helping disadvantaged students.

Dr. Lissette Rolón, professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, who has dedicated her time to helping disadvantaged students.

One of the main factors that differentiate a student who graduated from a public high school from one that graduated from a private high school is the financial stability.

Dr. Rolón commented that most of the students that go to a public high school come from a low income household. They are not able to afford a private and supposedly better high school education and in consequence, they cannot afford to attend college. This was the case for Edrick Alvarado, a second year theoretical physics student at UPRM. Coming from public housing and a one-parent household, Alvarado could not afford his dorm lodging, tuition, or even the materials that he needed for his classes. He was disillusioned, but he was able to apply to various financial helps that aided him in paying for his education. Even though most students are accepted into the public system of college education, many are not able to stay due to the economic struggles. Jason Rodríguez Grafal, a writer for La Perla del Sur, interviewed David Báez-Dávila, Acting Executive Director of the Education Council of Puerto Rico, who said that only 41% of the students in the public system of college education finish their degree in six years of less.

Those 41% of the students that graduate from the public system in time are mostly students that come from private high schools. This type of student is always considered to be financially steady. Verónica Iravedra, fourth year civil engineering student, graduated from a private high school in Bayamón; her parents have always been economically stable. As a result, she never had any problems when it came to paying for her tuition, dorm housing, or anything else that she might have needed. Even though the public university system was originally meant to be accessible to the low class population, it has become a university for the middle and high class population, said Dr. Rolón.

Family and peer support is also a factor that affects a student’s desire to join college. Chris Foley, Director of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Admissions, wrote in the spring of 2008 an article that parent involvement can help with a students’ success in college.

Often is the case that when a student comes from a low income family, they are first generation college students. It is not that they do not have the support from their family, but it is that the families do not know how to really support them when they do not understand what the student is going through, said Dr. Bernadette Delgado, psychology professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. A public school student, like Alvarado, will often find themselves confused and lost with the several adjustments that college requires. Most of the time, they will have no guidance from a close relative and will go through a much harder time. In other cases, a student that comes from a private high school, most of the time, has had someone in their close family who has graduated from college. This person will be able to guide them through the application process, how to manage time, how to adjust in a different environment, and many other things. The lack or presence of family support can either break or make a student during their college years.

As a consequence of many stressed induced factors, a student may go through different emotional or mental struggles that may affect their performance before and during college. Even though these issues are not exclusive to each type of student, students that graduated from a specific type of high school go through similar problems.

When in college, students of all social classes can develop anxiety or depression and may find different ways as to coping with these issues. Dr. Delgado told that even though she cannot differentiate the students that went to certain high schools, she can notice a specific pattern with each of them. A student that came from a private high school could develop anxiety due to the fact that they need to readjust their lifestyle to one that has to suit their new time frame. They may find themselves alone, desperate because they are not achieving the grades that they were used to, or anxious because they are not living up to their parents’ expectations. A public high school student may be more preoccupied in making their parents proud of their achievements, of having to live up to the standards of their fellow classmates, and the low self-esteem that if they fail, it is because of their upbringing. They may feel hopeless because they believe to be going through more struggles than a classmate who is part of the middle or high social class.

A study conducted by the American College Health Association showed that over 50% of the students in universities suffered from anxiety caused by academic, financial and family difficulties. While 30% has developed depression since entering college.

Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

If the public college system continues its current rate of acceptance, the student population will be composed of only private high school graduates. No longer will the public system be open for all of the social classes, it will be for those who are economically stable enough to pay for a private high school education.

The CUA has written over eight volumes explaining the struggles and difficulties that disadvantaged students go through before and during college.

The CUA has written over eight volumes explaining the struggles and difficulties that disadvantaged students go through before and during college.

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