SAN MARCOS — Students from low-income, farm-working families are less likely to make it to college.
And even if they do reach higher education, their graduation rates are lower than the rest of the population.
In hopes of addressing this problem, CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program) was established in 2002 at Cal State San Marcos, the only college in San Diego County to offer the federal program.
CAMP serves 45 students at CSUSM. The program helps with the pre-college transition, and once classes begin, CAMP closely monitors its undergrads’ progress. To enroll, students must be a citizen or U.S. resident, an incoming freshman, come from an agricultural background and meet CSUSM academic standards.
The university was recently given a $425,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education for the program. The grant is expected to be renewed for an additional five years and total $2.1 million, according to Minerva Gonzalez, CAMP’s director. As well as educational assistance, students receive financial aid.
Gonzalez said those from migrant and seasonal farm-working families are at a disadvantage compared to most freshmen attending college, particularly because many don’t receive a steady education.
“Their parents relocate often to follow different crops throughout their young lives,” Gonzalez said. “Many of these students are uprooted a lot during their upbringings, continuously disrupting their educations.”
Another issue, Gonzalez said, is that students from agricultural families are expected to provide for their families while they attend college.
“With low-income farming families, there’s a view that says their sons or daughters need to work full-time or close to it to help their families while they’re going to school,” Gonzalez said. “That creates a burden.”
Gonzalez said the students and parents who are a part of the CAMP have to sign a contract that spells out “reasonable expectations and work hours” for students.
High school students who are a potential fit for CAMP are given information about the program as early as ninth or 10th grade, Minerva said. Most CSUSM students in the program come from San Diego County, Riverside County and Imperial Valley County.
CAMP launched nationally nearly 40 years ago. Unique to CSUSM’s CAMP, students have the opportunity to become paid tutors at nearby high schools, giving them “more pride and a stake in the community,” Gonzalez believes.
76 percent of Cal State San Marcos freshmen ultimately graduate, while CSUSM CAMP’s rate is 90 percent, according to Gonzalez. The higher success rate is due in part to a five-week summer course CAMP students must complete prior to beginning their freshman year, Gonzalez said. During the summer course, students become familiar with the campus, take part in team-building exercises and socialize with other incoming undergrads.
Gonzalez said CAMP starts before freshman year because it sets the tone for students’ time in college.
“It builds a network for the next four years,” Gonzalez said. “If they’re having trouble in sophomore year, then it can be too late.”
The summer course also teaches students time management, job interviewing, how to prepare a resume and other skills.
Fallbrook resident Anayeli Sanchez, a soon-to-be freshman and who is the first in her family to attend college, first heard about CAMP in high school. She just finished the summer course.
“I think time management was the biggest thing I learned,” she said. “I have a better idea of how to budget my time when school gets busy.”
Sanchez said she’s nervous for the upcoming school year, but noted she feels more confident knowing she’s already met some students from a similar background.
And she added: “Just because a lot students in the program are migrants doesn’t mean we’re not patriotic Americans. We’re normal teenagers.”
Currently a graduate student at Harvard studying biomedical sciences, CSUSM alum Karina Gonzalez said CAMP helped her when she was an undergrad.
“Being connected with so many like-minded people was key,” Gonzalez said. “I always had a few people I could turn to if I was having trouble in a class.”
For more information, visit csusm.edu/camp.