UC aims to increase awareness of university affordability, accessibility with Achieve UC program

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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The UC Office of the President has scheduled 50 visits to sites throughout California this spring to increase awareness of the affordability and accessibility of the University of California.

The program, called Achieve UC, seeks to inspire more students statewide to apply to the UC system and provide them with the practical guidance and resources. During the fall, UC President Janet Napolitano visited about 10 sites to brief students on application requirements and financial aid.

“We don’t want anyone to refrain from applying to the UC because they think they cannot afford it,” said UC spokesperson Steve Montiel.

Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, a director of the Oakland Unified School District’s Board of Education, greatly appreciated Napolitano’s recently announced pledge to increase Oakland’s college graduation rates. Hinton-Hodge said her main focus now is providing Oakland students with the resources they need to feel prepared to apply to the UC system. Hinton-Hodge said she believes that the university’s dedication to this issue will require both the UC system and the Oakland school district to be more aware of high school students and their backgrounds.

“It’s one thing to make a promise, but it’s a whole different thing to actually support it,” she said.

According to Hinton-Hodge, the district hopes to prepare students earlier in their high school careers for college applications by consistently checking literacy levels and graduation rates, and creating link-learning programs to help put students on career-oriented pathways.

“I think the UC is in a great place in terms of recognizing their own issues regarding diversity,” Hinton-Hodge said. “This partnership makes us both better.”

Oakland High School junior Darius Aikens, a student director on the school district board, said he has seen disparities among students of different backgrounds in terms of knowledge and information they have about UC applications.

Aikens’ hope is to raise more awareness in the broader student community by creating more bridge programs — or preparatory courses — for students who are interested in higher education.

Berkeley High School college adviser Angela Price said the crux of inequity in terms of access to the UC system in lower-income families comes from the presence of standardized testing as a key factor in the application process. Price added that Berkeley High generally does well in terms of preparing students for UC admissions but that she believes testing as a component of the application process is skewed because many high schoolers do not have the resources to prepare for the test.

“California needs to think about keeping CollegeBoard off the table,” Price said.

Price, who has been an adviser at Berkeley High for eight years, said she has helped students gain admission to reputable schools around the nation that have left testing out of their admissions process, but she added that many Berkeley High students are invested in the UC system.

“These kids have held in their heart a UC admission for a long time,” Price said. “If the UC was just as committed to these kids as these kids are to them, you would see an incredible change.”

According to Liz Halimah, UCOP Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Engagement, UC admissions practices “comprehensive review.” She added that testing is not the sole criteria for admission to the UC system — rather, admissions officers are looking for an “intellectual spark and rigorous course load.”

Halimah reported that the university has already seen an increase in the volume of applications this year — especially in Chicano/Latino applications and transfer applications — as a response to the Achieve UC program.

“There’s a lot of press out there saying how the UC is no longer as affordable and accessible as it used to be,” Halimah said. “We wanted to spread the word that the UC is accessible. If you study hard and meet the requirements, the UC is attainable.”

Harini Shyamsundar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.