SAPEP: Is California investing in an equitable future?

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Currently, the California state legislature is considering what to do with its one-time budget surplus. We, the Office of the External Affairs Vice President, along with the UC Student Association, believe the state should invest $20 million of that surplus in the UC system’s own Student Academic Preparedness and Educational Partnership programs, or SAPEP.

This election season witnessed the proposal of Proposition 16 (a ballot initiative made to repeal Prop. 209), which would have reinstated affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and, most importantly, admissions throughout California public universities. Unfortunately, the measure failed to pass, leaving many wondering what the future for students of color will look like.

Prop. 209 (the ballot initiative that banned affirmative action in California) left the student population decimated when it came to diversity, dropping the enrollment of historically disenfranchised communities (students who are Black, Latinx, American Indian or Pacific Islander) from 20% in 1995 to as little as 15% by 1998 when the legislation had been fully adopted.

In an effort to quell these inevitable effects of ending affirmative action, a task force was formed to figure out how to help educationally underrepresented communities. In 1997, a four-pronged approach was suggested. This approach sought to expand student-centered programs, create partnerships with underperforming high schools/community colleges with local UC campuses, further informational outreach on programs available to high school and community college students and create a research and evaluation team at the UC system level to oversee the progress of these outreach programs. This later became known as SAPEP.

SAPEP was specifically designed to support the marginalized communities most affected by Prop. 209 by reinstituting equity and ensuring that education is equally attainable for all. That’s why more than 77% of the students served by SAPEP programs are from underrepresented communities, including Black/African American, Latinx/Chicanx and Native American populations. SAPEP also works to improve the academic preparedness of these same communities. For the Early Academic Outreach Program, or EAOP, in particular, from 2004 to 2018, there was an increase from 74% to 79% percent of the A-G course sequence with a grade of C or better in each K-12 course.

Within these programs, underrepresented high schools and community colleges partner with UC campuses to prepare students for admission and success within the UC system and beyond. SAPEP programs help to enhance students’ academic experiences throughout their K-12 academic settings, developing their cognition skills while also providing preparation, opportunities and pathways to complete A-G course requirements. For those participating in SAPEP programs while attending community college, the goal shifts to transferring as a critical component. Community college SAPEP students are given specialized counselors and tutoring and are partnered with mentors throughout the community in order to enhance their chances for admission.

Furthermore, the benefits of SAPEP programs offer long-term involvement and support to students. Once they enter into a four-year university, undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate in the Graduate and Professional School Programs, or GPSP, which offers high-achieving students who happen to be economically disadvantaged a chance to participate in critical research experiences and develop professional relationships that can help prepare them for careers as academics, researchers, specialists, practitioners and all-around leaders.

Programs such as these make a world of difference: For thousands of students who will be the first in their family to attend college or come from marginalized communities, SAPEP programs provide an invaluable pathway to higher education by empowering students and providing them with much-needed support.

Yet despite all the benefits SAPEP offers to marginalized communities, California’s budgeting for these programs has been drastically cut through the years. The combined UC system and California budget for SAPEP programs began at $85 million back in 2001. Today, SAPEP funding has been cut by more than 70%, leaving funds at a mere $24 million. Despite the “progressive” label often assigned to California, these cuts prove that there is still a great distance to go before we truly achieve equity in the state.

This budget cycle, the UC Student Association is imploring the legislature to increase the SAPEP budget by $20 million. These funds will be used to recover and strengthen pathways for equitable college access. The proposed amount would restore many of the disinvestment cuts made to SAPEP programs over the past 10 years.

The path that currently exists for K-12 and higher education students is more than a reversal of the progressive funding trend in the past; it is a rejection of the promise for a brighter future through higher education. This promise will continue to be shallow unless the drastic decrease of the SAPEP budget is replaced with new and improved funding.

Students in lower socioeconomic areas, first-generation college-bound individuals and especially students of color rely on these programs as a way to help them attain higher education that might otherwise seem nearly impossible. SAPEP programs help to make that impossibility a reality. Numbers don’t lie — Prop. 209 decimated the diversity within our campuses. SAPEP programs have shown a continual increase in retention and success rates among marginalized communities. As one of the only states with a ban on affirmative action, it is our responsibility to make up for the lack of diversity in our universities. If we believe that education really is a priority, then join us in urging the state to invest $20 million into SAPEP programs and ultimately, into all of our futures.

Please contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more information.

Jolene Gazmen is an External Affairs Vice President State Department associate, transfer student and first-generation student-parent.
Jimmy Nguyen is an External Affairs Vice President State Department associate and first-generation student.
Minh Anh Van is an External Affairs Vice President State Department associate, transfer student and first-generation student.