Bridging the Gaps: Community-University Partnerships as a New Form of Social Policy

Bridging the Gaps: Community-University Partnerships as a New Form of Social Policy

Caroline Collins, Olga. A. Vásquez, James Bliesner
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-623-7.ch029
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The following case study chronicles the activities of a community-university partnership that supports the University of California, San Diego’s threefold mission of teaching, research, and service while directing educational resources to underrepresented communities. This partnership, instantiated in a research project widely known as La Clase Mágica, involves a broad spectrum of institutional units seeking to bridge the digital, cognitive, and employment gaps that exist between middle-class mainstream communities and those at the margins. The case study examines the project’s history and philosophy, theoretical framework, commitment to collaboration, assessment, and impact over the past two decades.
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The State of Education in California’s Underserved Populations: Why Intervention is Necessary

Countless minority, language-minority and low-income youth encounter various systemic and independent barriers that impede the quality of their P-12 public educational experiences, and these circumstances hinder many of these children from continuing on to higher education. This differential access of minority and low-income youth to postsecondary education begins long before they come of age (Chavez & Arrendondo, 2006). The gap begins in early childhood with a lower number of Latino and language-minority youth attending pre-school (NCLR, 2009; Rumberger & Tran, 2006) and continues up the educational ladder (Vásquez, 2007). In 2004, for example, Latino, African-American, and American Indian students represented only 44% of the state’s 343,484 graduating seniors; yet they constituted 74% of the 74,824 students who graduated from the state’s lowest performing high schools—i.e., the bottom 10-30% (Chavez & Arrendondo, 2006). These schools bore higher enrollments of students from lower socioeconomic statuses, as 60% of their students were eligible for free or reduced lunch and only 18% represented families with at least one parent possessing a college or professional level education. Compounding this situation is the fact that fewer numbers of fully prepared teachers and levels of per-pupil funding exists in these schools as compared to higher performing campuses (Chavez & Arrendondo, 2006). In fact few, if any, of these schools are among the privileged 17% of California’s high schools that offer the complete A-G course selection1, one of the most important means of achieving competiveness for admission to the University of California (UC) and other top-tier higher education institutions (Chavez & Arrendondo, 2006 and Vásquez, 2008).

Though there have been increases in the number of minorities entering higher education in recent decades, a gap remains in college matriculation rates (Cook & Códova, 2006). The likelihood that this disparity will continue to grow without intervention is evident in several developments. First, the diminishing funding to P-12 schools (EdSource, 2010) continues to impact an education system that is already bearing increasing dropout rates (Lansberg, 2008). Second, the 1996 dismantling of Affirmative Action, a policy that considers race, gender, or ethnicity as a benefit, has made it more difficult to admit talented minority youth who had the misfortune of attending under-resourced schools. Third, increased tuition and the importing of highly elevated number of paying out-of-state and foreign students into California’s public universities will make it even harder for the state’s low-income youth to gain access to affordable public higher education.

The University of California acknowledges these challenges and charges itself to “serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits” (The University of California Academic Plan). In order to remit these long-term societal benefits to the largest degree possible, the UC system seeks to be accessible to diverse statewide populations. This distinct mission lends itself to a promising new form of intervention in which universities partner with underserved communities in order to meet the specific educational needs of under-represented populations while concurrently broadening the university’s reach.

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