OCEANSIDE — MiraCosta College held an invitational college fair on Oct. 24 that encouraged Latino students to set their sights on higher education, and the career opportunities a college degree or certificate brings.
Many of the speakers at the Barrio Empowerment Through Education College Fair walked in students’ shoes, and faced similar challenges.
Keynote speaker Dr. Arcela Nunez-Alvarez, research director of the National Latino Research Center at California State University, San Marcos, told students her story of crossing the border from Mexico to the United States on foot with her mother and five sisters. She said when they got to the U.S. her family lived in a small trailer with her uncle who worked as a field laborer. Despite demanding conditions her mother signed the girls up for school, and instilled in them the necessity to attend college.
“We were low income, and we really had to apply ourselves to do well and excel academically to gain scholarships and financial aid,” Alvarez said.
Even after entering college challenges continued.
“There were students who could write better than me, speak better than me, who had more resources,” Alvarez said. “There were struggles to overcome on a daily basis.”
Alvarez said resilience and family support pulled her through, and enabled her to be the first person in her family to graduate from a university. She said she now feels a responsibility to encourage other Latinos to do the same.
“Every single one of us has the potential,” Alvarez said.
“The benefits of education are not just individual,” she added. “There are gains for the family and entire community. They have major contributions to make.”
In her research at the National Latino Research Center Alvarez found Latinos are the fastest-growing population in the U.S., but the number of Latino professionals does not match the demographics.
Alvarez said recent data shows that local Latino high school graduates have only completed 27 to 70 percent of predatory classes required to attend college, with Vista Unified School District graduates ranking among the least prepared.
“There is a huge disparity in the level of preparation,” Alvarez said. “They are not completing the coursework they need.”
Alvarez added some students attend community college to catch up, but many do not go on to transfer to a four-year university.
“They’re not getting through the system (of education),” Alvarez said.
The message of the college fair was that Latino students belong in college, and there is built-in support for them.
“It’s new territory for them,” George McNeil, MiraCosta College trustee, said. “They don’t understand it’s financially feasible. Community college is doable. It’s a place for everyone.”
High school students were fed breakfast and lunch on campus, and attended pre-selected workshops that ranged from Latino culture, to keys to college success and how to obtain a social security card through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival.
The day culminated in an opportunity to speak to representatives from area colleges and universities.
“It’s a complete day for them,” McNeil said. “They move around the school a lot. All the presenters are college professors. There is a workshop with a panel of college students who speak about what college is like.”
During the college fair El Camino High School junior Rosaisela Reyes said her goal is to become a dermatologist.
“I need to keep my grades up to be accepted to a good college,” Reyes said. “It takes seven years of study in Mexico and 10 years in the U.S.”
Fellow students attending the fair expressed a mix of selected career paths, and undecided plans after high school.
This is the second year MiraCosta College has held the invitational college fair for Oceanside Unified School District students. Plans are to expand the fair next year and invite Latino students from Carlsbad Unified and San Dieguito School Districts.