LPFI Remembers State's Promise - B. Williams, Oakland Tribune
Below is the column by Oakland Tribune writer Byron Williams featuring SMASH:
LEGACY ADMISSION is a type of preference given by educational institutions to certain applicants on the basis of their familial relationship to alumni of that institution.
In what may be society's only accepted form of affirmative action, legacy admission became popularized after World War I in response to the immigrant influx. It is estimated that Ivy League institutions annually admit 10-15 percent of its freshmen class based on legacy.
Public institutions of higher learning in California have what I define as a "reverse legacy."
Just as the commonly held practice of legacy admissions can elevate an individual's college application based on genealogy, reverse legacy in California penalizes students for having a ZIP code within the state.
The appeal for out-of-state and international students for the University of California and California State University systems is a growing phenomenon based on declining revenues.
As a result, California's higher education systems, once the envy of the nation, that offered a coherent system of post secondary education focused on its residents, has been forced to make economic decisions that are antithetical to its Master Plan, originally adopted in 1960.
The groundbreaking document that led a collective commitment that there would be a place ready for every graduate is now the lore of yesteryear.
The impact of such considerations intensifies the difficulty for students who have the misfortune of attending what is regarded as an underperforming high school.
One organization committed to addressing this dilemma is the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI). Based in San Francisco, the mission of LPFI is to promote innovative approaches to fairness in higher education and the workplace.
Each year LPFI holds its Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH), which is a rigorous three-year, summer-enrichment program for low-income, underrepresented high school students of color in the Bay Area.
Beginning with students entering ninth grade LPFI takes students to the UC Berkeley campus, housing them in dormitories, taking courses on campus, providing them with the tangible as well as intangible aspects required to be a successful college student.
This alone is significant in that many of these students have never been on a college campus.
For five weeks, SMASH offers students roughly 12 hours per day of intensive training, plus field trips on weekends, preparing students for not only the challenges of pursuing a college education, but also instilling in them a sense of social responsibility through civic awareness, leadership, and critical thinking.
LPFI's results speak for themselves.
- 100 percent of SMASH scholars graduate from high school and enroll in college.
- 79 percent of SMASH graduates remain four years at a college or university.
- 98 percent of SMASH scholars complete all three years of the program.
Moreover, LPFI's success has led to expansion to Stanford and currently in discussions at other locations in California and throughout the country.
A popular criticism levied against LPFI is that it attracts only the cream of the crop. This would have more legitimacy if all things were equal.
But all things are not equal, and it possible that without LPFI there would be students who attend underperforming schools who might not have their dreams of a college education realized.
It is unlikely that the trend of recruiting out-of-state and international students by the UC and CSU systems for financial considerations will change in the near future.
Last week, as a result of a possible $1 billion reduction in state funds, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said that the university system must consider raising tuition by another 32 percent, as well as shutting off enrollment for next spring.
This reality will only increase the attractiveness of out-of-state and international students. That simply means it will become more difficult for California students to enroll in a system that at one time made them a priority.
This phenomenon will only be exacerbated in underperforming schools populated primarily by students of color. There is more than enough data demonstrating the benefits of a better-educated population.
But the will to invest in this crucial aspect of our social infrastructure has apparently evaporated. We are growing increasingly comfortable with the reverse legacy that plagues all California, but more so in communities of color.
Regardless of the reasons, California has reneged on the promise it once made to all Californians in pursuit of higher education. Fortunately, there are organizations like LPFI that have not only remembered that promise, but are committed to closing the glaring achievement gap for students of color.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Published May 14, 2011