UC Irvine’s Rare Distinction: It’s an Elite Research University That’s a Haven for Latinos

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2017

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UC Irvine may seem an unlikely haven for Latino students. The campus is located in what used to be a largely white Republican community, home now to so many Asians that people joke that UCI stands for University of Chinese Immigrants.

But the Irvine campus is now the most popular UC choice for Latino freshmen applicants, topping longtime leader UCLA for the first time last fall. And last month the campus won federal recognition for serving Latinos—a still-rare distinction among elite research universities.

In all, 492 campuses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been designated Hispanic Serving Institutions, which allows them to apply for about $100 million annually in federal research grants. To qualify, the campus student population must be 25% Latino, with more than half financially needy.

In California, nearly all Cal State campuses, at least half of California Community Colleges and half of UC campuses have received the recognition. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the only HSI campuses among the 62 members of the Assn. of American Universities—an elite network of public and private research universities that includes the Ivy League, UC, Stanford and USC.

Just three of the nation’s 100 universities with the largest federal research portfolios are HSI campuses—UC Irvine ranking second to a specialized cancer center at the University of Texas, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents 1,600 colleges and universities.

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For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s graduating class this year are first-generation college students.

UC Irvine, Gillman said, is not only admitting more Latino students but also helping them succeed. Eight of 10 freshmen who entered in 2010-11 graduated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just below Asians. Graduation rates for transfer students are even higher.

Success took time. The campus began laying the groundwork in 1983, when it created the Santa Ana Partnership with local schools, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton to improve college-going rates in the area. It intensified the efforts after state voters in 1996 passed Proposition 209 banning race-based affirmative action, said Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, executive director of the Center for Educational Partnerships.

The center serves 12,000 largely low-income students a year, three-fourths of them Latino, with programs to prepare them for college and help them succeed. {snip}

About 85% of high school students who work with the center complete the college prep coursework required for UC and Cal State, compared with the statewide average of 43%, Reyes-Tuccio said. {snip}

Several Latino students said they chose UC Irvine because of generous financial aid and proximity to their families in surrounding cities. But many said they experienced culture shock moving from largely Latino neighborhoods and schools to the university, where only a quarter of students share their ethnic background.

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