By Gary Warth
Some San Diego High School students may be reconsidering their future after a visit from UC San Diego officials Wednesday.
“We’re all here because we believe in you,” UC San Diego Chancellor of Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez told 660 students packed into the school gym. “We’re here because we believe in your dreams.”
UC San Diego representatives have visited one or two local high school campuses annually for the past four years to encourage students to seek higher education. Among other things, they inform the students about financial aid and other opportunities that help make attending the university possible for low-income applicants.
Such pep talks may become more frequent in the future. UC President Janet Napolitano recently announced that the university system was ramping up its efforts to increase the number of underrepresented student populations at its campuses.
The pilot program “Achieve UC” was launched four years ago as a way of recruiting populations who are underrepresented in the system, particularly African Americans and Latinos.
Rafael Hernandez, director of the Early Academic Outreach Program at UC San Diego, said Achieve UC events have been held at Gompers High, Castle Park High, Clairemont High, Mission Bay High and Southwest High.
Plans to expand the program still are in the works, but more events are expected to be created to meet the expansion goals.
The program reached 12,000 students last year, and Napolitano has said she hopes to expand the reach to 60,000 more students this spring by holding events at churches, career fairs and other venues.
The message Wednesday was that UC schools are affordable through financial aid, and plenty of help is available for those who seek it.
Among the speakers on Wednesday was San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, a 1998 graduate of San Diego High.
“I worked hard, and the teachers here were tremendous,” he said, relating to students about growing up in the neighborhood as the son of two minimum-wage workers.
“It’s my story and your story,” said Alvarez, a San Diego State University alum.
Before Alvarez’s talk, students watched a video of Napolitano, who told them of the UC’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, a financial aid program that pays all tuition costs of qualified California students whose parents earn less than $80,000 annually.
Anthony Lopez, a San Diego High and UC San Diego alumnus, told students that he once was homeless but had managed to enroll in the university through the help and encouragement of friends and people at his school.
“It’s doable,” he said.
African Americans made up 5.9 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 2014, but only 4.3 percent of those admitted to UC’s freshman class and 2 percent admitted to UC San Diego’s freshman class that fall.
Latinos were 47 percent of California’s high school graduates in 2014, but only 28.9 percent of those admitted to UC and only 15 percent of those admitted to UC San Diego.
Kris Davis, director of admissions for UC San Diego, told San Diego High students that applying for a university can be intimidating, but she assured them that they could be accepted if they stayed on track with the right classes and got financial aid.
UC San Diego Director of Financial Aid Vonda Garcia said 70 percent of students at the university receive some sort of student aid, which can pay for tuition and living expenses.
Hernandez said the Achieve UC program was launched four years ago after university officials noticed a spike in the number of applications from one high school after the UC president at the time visited the campus.