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Today’s introduction comes from Jennifer Medina, a national correspondent based in Los Angeles.
Janet Napolitano, the University of California president, faced a room of seniors at West Adams Preparatory High School in Los Angeles and tried to sell them on a simple idea: they could make it to one of the system’s prestigious campuses.
“You can have a successful college experience at any one of our campuses,” Ms. Napolitano said. “We want you to come.”
This fall, the campus is starting an intensive effort to offer financial and academic counseling to students who represent the first generation in their families to attend college. The program will connect them to faculty members who were also first-generation students — there are roughly 900 such faculty members across the system’s 10 campuses.
There is a tremendous need for outreach to first-generation college students, who are much less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree than students whose parents attended college, said Julie Ajinkya, the vice president of applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. According to a study by the group, about 18 percent of first-generation college students earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to 44 percent of other students.
“We’re at last seeing institutions really think about not just college admission but college completion,” Ms. Ajinkya said.
Roughly 42 percent of undergraduates throughout the University of California are first-generation students. The percentages vary widely among the campuses — more than 70 percent at U.C. Merced compared to about 28 percent at Berkeley.
According to an internal study, University of California campuses have a significantly higher proportion of first-generation students than other selective public universities and more than the national average of four-year colleges.
There are signs that such students can struggle — about 57 percent of students who began in a U.C. school in 2012 graduated in four years, compared to about 69 percent of students overall.
The system has come under criticism in the past for not doing enough to attract low-income students and students of color. And as the country re-examines the use of affirmative action in higher education, the University of California is one example of what happens when race is no longer considered a factor in admissions — a persistent gap remains between the number of black and Latino students graduating from high school and those who are going on to the U.C. system.
“We have to tell them they are welcome and they can do well,” Ms. Napolitano said after the event in Los Angeles. “That is what the system is about.”
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