30392 - Final Issue May 1 44 newsletter:Issue 44



30392 - Final Issue May 1 44 newsletter:Issue 44
University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States
Berkeley • Davis • Irvine • Los Angeles • Merced • Riverside • Santa Barbara • Santa Cruz • San Diego • San Francisco
© Copyright Paul Botello
Photo courtesy of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access & UC All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity
California and Mexico face different challenges in their education systems. In
this issue of the UC MEXUS News, higher education experts working in California and
Mexico address the issues facing students and educators in the 21st century. In addition,
recipients of UC MEXUS funding talk about their work as it relates to education.
Higher education
faces new challenges
in 21st century
MEXICO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
THE U.S. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
he beginning of the 21st century has
marked a renewed search for educaROBERTO
tional models that improve students’
SÁNCHEZacademic skills so that they can meet the
demands of a rapidly changing society in
an era of globalization. This situation is
especially important in higher education,
which can play a major role in defining better strategies for economic growth and social wellbeing. Indeed, international consensus increasingly underscores the need to rethink higher
education in light of the dramatic economic, social, political, cultural
and environmental changes society has experienced in recent decades.
AT UC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
NEW SUCCESSES . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
& ESL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
- COLE & MIJANGOS . . . . . 17
- ALONSO & ZENTELLA . . . 19
HIGHER EDUCATION . . . . . . 21
FRONT COVER: The front cover
illustration, from the 1995 mural
Shared Hope in the Esperanza
Elementary School playground in Los
Angeles, is reproduced by permission
of the artist Paul Botello. His work
can be seen at: www.lamurals.org/
MuralistPages/BotelloP.html The original photograph appeared in the
California Educational Opportunity
Report 2006: Roadblocks to College,
published by the UCLA Institute for
Democracy, Education and Access
(UCLA /IDEA) & UC All Campus
Consortium on Research for Diversity
New approaches in the higher educational systems of Mexico and
the United States have often focused on their economic contributions to
society by emphasizing the creation of a workforce that can respond
more effectively to labor market changes created by the dynamics in the
domestic and global economies. Higher education’s contribution to economic growth is one of its critical functions, but it would be remiss to
neglect the social dimension of education, and its role in fostering
social cohesion. Thus, future students will become not only agents of
economic growth but also members of extended social networks defining future societal development.
The University of California has been exploring these new
approaches to education. A recent report by the University of California
Commission on General Education in the 21st Century emphasizes the
need to rethink the way we prepare our students for their role in society.
The report highlights the contributions of general education to disciplinary education through the appreciation of social responsibility and
civic engagement, whether local or global. It also stresses the importance of four areas in contemporary civic education that prepare students to respond better to increasingly diverse and changing domestic
and international societies: access to information about civic society,
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sorting and evaluating that information, appreciation of
democratic values, and civic experience.1
UC MEXUS supports innovative research and binational collaborations that contribute to these areas. This
issue of our newsletter presents Mexican and UC perspectives on higher education in the 21st century and
includes results from some of the education projects
that our programs have supported.
Two invited contributions by Manuel Gil Antón from
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and John Aubrey
Douglass from UC Berkeley highlight the challenges
higher education systems face in Mexico and the United
States. Both pieces stress the importance of higher education for society and the challenges to improve access
to higher education in the two countries. In particular,
Antón emphasizes the importance of seeking out new
approaches to education that focus on students’ lifelong
Charles Bazerman, from UC Santa Barbara, provides
an insightful perspective with respect to language support for academic writing and publication. His academic
activities and research are designed to support Mexican
students and scholars for whom English is a second language so that they can learn to write, argue and reason in
a different academic culture.
The binational collaboration between Michael Cole
from UC San Diego and Juan Carlos Mijangos Noh from
the Escuela Normal Rodolfo Menéndez de la Peña in
Yucatán was initially designed to examine primary education among Mayan-speaking children. The research had
an unexpected development as the project activities created an extended network of researchers and students with
dynamic communication through video-conferences. This
network, in turn, generated new projects involving
researchers from other universities in Mexico and the
United States.
1 General Education in the 21st Century: A Report of the University of
Guillermo Alonso Meneses from El Colegio de la
Frontera Norte and Ana Celia Zentella from UC San
Diego focused their binational project on language identity and ideology among Tijuana students going to
school in San Diego. The project stressed the importance of identifying linguistic anomalies common to
many Spanish language bilinguals that are subsequently
misinterpreted as grammatical errors by English-as-asecond-language teachers. The project will expand into
a study of a sociolinguistic ethnography in San Diego
high schools.
Hinda Seif is a former UC MEXUS dissertation grant
recipient from UC Davis who examined the struggle for
California’s in-state tuition law Assembly Bill 540 during her doctoral studies. Her dissertation fieldwork
explored the ways that California legislators, educators
and communities asserted the state membership of their
immigrant high school students after the passage of
Proposition 187. In this piece, she looks at the advances
of undocumented immigrant high school students nationwide in gaining access to higher education. Her research
and subsequent investigation provides a better understanding of the barriers undocumented students still face
in fulfilling their educational potential in California and
throughout the United States. Her article also examines
advances in legislation to support undocumented students and afford them access to higher education as residents rather than as foreign nationals. Seif now is an
assistant professor of anthropology, and women/gender
studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
The University of California targets education as a
priority mission. UC MEXUS intends to assist the
University in achieving the goals of this mission by fostering and expanding collaboration among UC faculty
and Mexican researchers in the area of education,
research and study. These collaborations are an ideal
venue by which to explore new ways of generating scientific knowledge and innovative educational approaches that will prepare students better for the challenges of
the 21st century.
California Commission on General Education, April 2007.
http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/publications.php?id=254 (accessed May 4,
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superior en México
en el siglo XXI
Los desafíos del futuro ya presente
Higher education
in 21st century
éxico sería imposible de entender
en nuestros días sin el enorme
esfuerzo educativo, sobre todo
público, que a lo largo de las décadas pasadas
fue llevado a cabo. Basta, quizá, un dato para
comprender su importancia: en 1960, lejano
desde la perspectiva de nuestra existencia individual, pero
“cercano" en la transformación de las sociedades desde la
larga duración, asistían a una escuela de educación superior el 3% de los jóvenes en edad de estudiar en ese nivel.
Hoy, la proporción ha crecido a cerca del 27% lo cual
implica una multiplicación por nueve, mucho mayor al
crecimiento poblacional en el periodo.
Como es lógico, este crecimiento notable (aunque menor
en una perspectiva comparada con otras naciones), ha implicado una cobertura universal en el primer tramo de la educación básica (seis años) el incremento de los muchachos
que ingresan a su segundo nivel, de tres años, y a la educación posbásica. Problemas de abandono de los estudios
ocurren en los dos siguientes periodos a la educación elemental, lo cual es un grave problema sin duda, pero la
demanda por estudios superiores ha crecido de manera
notable, de tal manera que si se hace un esfuerzo a fondo
en los niveles previos, en algunos años el país podría arribar a cotas cercanas al 30% en educación superior que los
expertos ya califican como cobertura amplia (universal),
más allá de la primera ola de masificación experimentada
sobre todo a partir de los años setenta.
El proceso educativo aún con fallas en sus resultados
cognitivos, como muestran los estudios nacionales y los
internacionales en que México participa, no se agota en la
medición de aprendizajes, sino que lleva consigo, también
aspectos de modernización en las relaciones sociales.
A mi juicio, los avances democráticos de los últimos
años, derivados de la construcción de una ciudadanía
mejor formada, tienen una relación importante con el
avance en la educación en todos los niveles.
¿Diversificación o segmentación?
Si centramos la mirada en la educación superior,
además de su crecimiento en cobertura, durante los últimos
decenios hemos sido testigos de un proceso de diversificación institucional: no existen hoy sólo más espacios, sino
diferentes tipos de instituciones públicas (Universidades e
Instituciones Federales, Estatales, Institutos Tecnológicos,
Universidades Tecnológicas, Politécnicas e Interculturales).
La participación del sector privado se ha tornado muy relevante: si en 1990 este conjunto de instituciones cubría
alrededor del 15% de la matrícula nacional, ahora atiende a
uno de cada tres estudiantes. A su vez, el conjunto de instituciones privadas está integrado por establecimientos de
larga data, con calidad reconocida y dirigidos a las elites
económicas y sociales; otros de calidad intermedia y, desde
la última década del siglo XX, un creciente conjunto de
instituciones particulares de "absorción de demanda." Pues
el sector público ha detenido su crecimiento en las instituciones más consolidadas, de tal manera que miles de estudiantes que no encuentran espacio en ellas, y no tienen
recursos para pagar las altísimas cuotas de las universidades privadas de elite, han encontrado en pequeños
establecimientos de educación superior privados un nicho
donde poder continuar sus estudios. Se afirma, con razón,
que muchos de ellos no tienen calidad suficiente, pero su
existencia numerosa contribuye a la cobertura conseguida.
La pregunta central ante esta multiplicación de
opciones es si estamos frente a un adecuado y necesario
proceso de diversificación institucional, o bien ante el
establecimiento de un sistema de educación superior segmentado. Esto es, con circuitos de primera clase en términos de calidad educativa y de las relaciones sociales que
se establecen en sus aulas–que sería el caso de las instituciones públicas y privadas consolidadas: por ejemplo la
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) en
un caso, y el Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores
de Monterrey (ITESM) en el otro–y espacios formativos
de calidad menor. No es lo mismo diversificar opciones de
estudio con misiones y destinos futuros variables (que en
principio sería pertinente) que construir una especie de sistema de "castas educativas," sin posibilidad de tránsito
entre ellas y que conducen a destinos laborales, y de calidad de vida, incomparables. Creo que esto último es lo que
ha predominado.
La relación entre la educación superior
y el desarrollo económico
Hace ya muchos años, el sociólogo francés J.C. Passeron
expresó de una manera muy clara la relación entre la escuela
superior y la esfera económica: "La universidad, si trabaja
bien y cuenta con calidad, puede hacer que el hijo de un
obrero o campesino tenga la capacidad de ser gerente de una
empresa, o un destacado ingeniero; lo que no puede hacer la
escuela es el espacio laboral para que este estudiante se
desarrolle: eso es cuestión de la economía." Y tiene razón.
Consideremos algunos datos de la realidad económica
actual en México: desde hace al menos veinte años,
México sufre las consecuencias de una crisis estructural,
debido, entre otras cosas, al predominio de reformas neo
liberales que, apostando a la reducción de las responsabilidades estatales a favor del mercado, han producido, de
manera aguda, dos fenómenos: el crecimiento del sector
informal (entre 2000 y 2004, 1.3 millones de personas se
han incorporado a este medio de subsistencia, precario,
que ya suma, según cifras oficiales, 11.2 millones como
parte de la población económicamente activa) y, por otro
lado la migración: mientras en 1980 cerca de 40 mil mexicanos cruzaban la frontera con Estados Unidos cada año
para buscar mejores condiciones de vida, en 2005 esta
cifra ha crecido a cerca de medio millón de conciudadanos
anualmente: esto significa que en los últimos seis años,
dos millones de personas han emigrado, y dentro de este
enorme grupo, es creciente la población que se desplaza
con credenciales educativas más altas que antes.
En los últimos seis años, para dar cuenta de las cifras
más recientes, nuestro país requirió de la producción de al
menos cuatro millones de empleos o espacios en la participación económica con el fin de dar cabida a los jóvenes
que iniciarían su vida laboral. ¿Qué ha ocurrido en realidad? Que la producción de empleos en ese periodo fue de
tan sólo 475 mil, es decir, el 12 por ciento de lo necesario.
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Si a esto añadimos que 40 millones de mexicanos
viven en condiciones de pobreza, y de ellos la mitad en
pobreza extrema, podemos concluir que por más que las
instituciones educativas se esfuercen por mejorar su calidad, el destino laboral y de calidad de vida de sus egresaros no depende, de manera central, de la eficacia en el
aprendizaje, sino de un proceso distinto para los "incluidos" en el México moderno, minoritario, en alto contraste
con los "excluidos" por sus condiciones de origen social.
No es exagerado afirmar que, de continuar la situación de
crisis en el empleo, y debido a la ausencia de una política
de desarrollo económico inclusivo, que rebase la perspectiva de un país maquilador con base en los bajos salarios, el
"éxito" posterior a los estudios depende más del estrato
social de procedencia que de la experiencia educativa.
¿Sociedad del conocimiento?
¿Aprender a aprender durante toda la vida?
Se afirma, con buenos argumentos generales, que el proceso de globalización implica una fuerte dosis de conocimiento avanzado aplicado al desarrollo económico. Para
ello, el papel de la educación terciaria es fundamental.
Aunque he tratado de mostrar las limitaciones estructurales
que enfrenta el país, es también necesario aceptar que en
una buena parte de las instituciones–¿la mayoría?–los procesos educativos descansan en formas de enseñanza y
aprendizaje obsoletas, propias, sin exagerar, de inicios del
siglo XX. Se sigue, en términos mayoritarios, poniendo el
centro de atención en los enseñantes, y no en los aprendices.
En otras palabras, se ha apostado a la mejoría de las credenciales de los académicos–doctorados al vapor, indicadores
simples que "pretenden" similitud con las instituciones de
fama internacional–sin que esto tenga, necesariamente,
relación con la capacidad de los maestros para generar
espacios de aprendizaje adecuados a los estudiantes.
Me temo que en lugar de un movimiento fuerte hacia la
sociedad del conocimiento, la nación tiende al desconocimiento de la relevancia del cambio de enfoque educativo
que orienta sus actividades al aprendizaje continuo de sus
alumnos. El discurso de las autoridades es uno aprender a
aprender pero la práctica no muestra resultados claros al
respecto. Predominan en las aulas las estrategias de "dictado" de contenidos, conferencias del profesor, exámenes que
evalúan la retención de lo dicho en clase, sin entender que
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ahora atendemos, por un lado, a generaciones que inauguran
su condición de universitarios con precarias condiciones de
capital cultural en la familia, y por el otro, a un conjunto de
jóvenes que, en su vida diaria, están más en contacto con
sistemas audiovisuales e interactivos que con los viejos
modelos memorísticos.
A pesar de las restricciones del modelo de desarrollo
ya indicadas, las escuelas superiores han de mejorar sustancialmente sus estrategias de aprendizaje. Algo se ha
avanzado, hay que ser justos, pero el cambio de fondo aún
espera a ser generalizado.
La segmentación en los circuitos educativos en cuanto
a su calidad y modernización no aseguran, desde luego,
que todos los estudiantes estén preparados para enfrentar
los retos que se presentan en el mundo laboral, y vital, del
cambio de época que vive el mundo y del cual no está aislado México. La reforma de fondo en la educación superior mexicana está pendiente, debido, quizá, en buena medida a una apuesta por el cambio de indicadores formales, en
lugar de concentrarse en el análisis y cambio paulatino,
pero urgente, de las prácticas educativas.
A pesar de ello, los más de dos millones que actualmente estudian en la educación superior, cuentan con condiciones, variables es cierto, pero reales, de adaptarse a las
nuevas circunstancias. Por cuestiones demográficas que han
llevado al país a que el grupo de edad que más crecerá en
los próximos años sea el correspondiente a los que deberían
tener acceso a la educación media (posterior a la básica
obligatoria por mandato constitucional) y a la superior, más
de 10 millones de jóvenes están excluidos de esta oportunidad. Si con estudios avanzados la situación no es
halagüeña, sin ellos la exclusión en los códigos de la modernidad es casi segura.
La desigualdad social, añadida a la desigualdad educativa se convierten en un problema sistémico para el país.
Es un problema ético, no cabe la menor duda, pero también
práctico: el futuro de la nación no puede ser comparable al
de otras sociedades, como Corea o Irlanda, sin un plan de
desarrollo económico que requiera, como el agua en el
desierto, la contribución de conocimiento avanzado. Hoy es
mucho más fácil obtener un empleo como abogado–profesión altamente demandada y con signos de saturación en el
mercado–que como doctor en física o en biología molecular.
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No son pocos los estudiantes mexicanos que cursan estudios
de posgrado en el extranjero que, ante la falta de oportunidades en el mercado académico nacional–saturado por
ausencia de planes de retiro digno o carencia de nuevos
puestos–y la ausencia de posibilidades de aplicación de su
saber en la industria, deciden quedarse fuera del país. ¿Fuga
de cerebros? Creo que algo peor: desperdicio de talento que
con alto costo inició su desarrollo en nuestras fronteras,
pero no encuentra en ellas un destino productivo al culminar sus fases formativas al más alto nivel, ya sea dentro del
país o fuera de él.
Algunos retos para el porvenir
Sin pretender ser exhaustivo, anotaré ciertos retos que
me parecen cruciales para mejorar la educación superior y
su relación con la esfera económica:
Urge contar con un modelo de desarrollo que incluya
una política industrial impulsada por el Estado, pues por
la pura "mano invisible" del mercado la inercia al bajo
componente de conocimiento avanzado persistirá.
Mejorar sustancialmente la calidad de los ciclos
educativos previos, en conjunción con políticas inteligentes
para reducir la enorme y vergonzosa desigualdad social
que los condiciona de manera aguda.
A través de procesos muy serios de acreditación,
impulsados por las autoridades, pero llevados a cabo por
instancias independientes con fuerte participación social,
conducir al cierre de las brechas en la actual segmentación
de circuitos educativos.
Formar a los nuevos profesores bajo el paradigma de la
centralidad del aprendizaje continuo de los estudiantes, más
allá del simple y formal proceso actual de acumulación de
doctores que han de "publicar o perecer" para obtener ingresos
adicionales. Si la docencia sigue siendo una actividad menor,
sin importancia frente a la investigación (de dudosa calidad
en muchos casos) no se generarán las condiciones para la
renovación de una planta académica consciente de la nueva
época educativa, y que tendrá en sus manos la formación de
las nuevas generaciones de profesionales modernos, científicos y humanistas conscientes de su tiempo y circunstancia.
Premiar y apoyar, de manera decidida, la innovación
en la formación de los estudiantes, abiertos a los avances
en el mundo pero sin la simple imitación de sus aspectos
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Es urgente, entonces, el diseño de un proceso de
reforma en el ámbito educativo superior. Si por ahora no
encuentra eco en el programa de desarrollo del país, cuando éste exista, requerirá otro tipo de egresado: el que sepa
ponderar y criticar el conocimiento adquirido, que sepa
aprender a lo largo de su vida y contribuya, de manera
decidida, a la consolidación de la democracia, el desarrollo
ambiental sustentable y la lucha constante, por reducir, o
eliminar, las condiciones de desigualdad social que afectan
no sólo a la educación, sino a la salud y, para decirlo de
manera sintética, a la calidad de vida de los mexicanos.
No son ni pocos ni fáciles estos retos, sólo imprescindibles.
Manuel Gil Antón
Manuel Gil Antón has been a sociology professor at the
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad
Azcapotzalco, for more than 25 years. His area of specialization is the sociology of Mexican universities. He
has been a member of the President’s Office Advisory
Board for 15 years and presidential adviser on academia
since 2001. A prolific author and renowned academic, he
can be reached at [email protected]
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trends in Mexican scholarship.”
-- Roderic Ai Camp,Tulane University
Spring 2008
U.S. higher education advantage erodes
United States on both accounts.
omething troubling happened on
Here is a story that may place high on the list
the way to the U.S. becoming
of reasons for the rise and fall of postmodern
the sole superpower in the postempires. On many fronts, the United States has
Cold War era. While our military techmoved from the status of innovator and investor
nology and the size of our economy
to that of a complacent society in no mood to
grew in their collective political influsolve deep problems. Higher education is one of
ence on the larger world, a number of
those fronts. Although its elite institutions still
cracks appeared in the nation’s armor
perform well, few people actually attend them.
that today, and in the long-term, present
real drags on the international competiBeing number one
tiveness of America’s economy.
How do economists and historians explain the
America’s outstanding list of woes,
economic growth of nations and their
which includes a marked increase in the
comparable competitive positions? A consensus
divide between rich and poor, an oldhas emerged: one major factor is not just overall
school capitalistic and extremely expenrates of educational attainment, but the vibrancy
sive health care system that is severely
and maturity of their public and private higher
hurting the nation’s economic competieducation institutions.
tiveness (and, by the way, the health of its population), intranIn
Oxford’s renowned sociologist A. H. Halsey
sigent urban blight and crime, overcrowded prisons, and conwrote, “In the technological society, the system of higher
fusion over the current or future role of immigration, have
education no longer plays a passive role; it becomes a detereffectively buried signs of severe deterioration in the educaminant of economic development and hence stratification
tional system.
and other aspects of social structure.” At that time, it was
Instead, attention is focused on pressing financial woes,
including persistent federal budget deficits, a Social Security widely recognized that America had taken the lead among
the world’s nations in creating mass higher education, and in
Program in need of reform, a lopsided trade imbalance, and
the consequences of a long period of too-easy credit that are making universities and colleges a necessary component for
economic prosperity and social equality. The diversity of
contributing to a downturn in the U.S. economy. There are
institutional types (public and private, two- and four-year,
strong indicators that the United States and states like
vocational and liberal arts), their ubiquity, and their general
California have already entered a recession. State governaffordability existed in no other part of the world.
ments, the primary funding source for education in all its
As a result, and in concert with societal norms that tendpublic forms, are bracing for large cuts in government services, making any effort to resolve large socioeconomic prob- ed to ignore class distinctions and reward those with strong
work ethics, America gained the most productive labor force
lems even more difficult in the near term.
During this presidential election year, voters have zeroed and enjoyed an unparalleled level of socioeconomic mobiliin on these long- and short-term issues. But a major devel- ty among its population.
Broad access, high levels of productivity, the ability of
opment in a domestic area historically seen as a great
to bank credits and matriculate between institustrength is not on the radar in the United States, nor genertions, the diversity of institutional types, and the general
ally understood by international competitors: the relative
understanding of the social contract of universities (their
decline in the number of students gaining access to higher
greater purpose in society) are among the great strengths
education and getting a degree. This relative decline takes
of America’s pioneering higher education system.
into account the fact that other economically developed
nations have surpassed or are on a trajectory to surpass the
Spring 2008
Provost targets education
as UC research priority
he rapid pace
of change that
has typified
the dawn of the 21st
century is forcing the
University of
California to take a
hard look at its role
as a key instrument
of social change in
the state, according
to UC Provost and
Executive Vice
President Wyatt R.
Hume. As the need
to improve deterioUC PROVOST
rating California
schools and the
entire education system takes on greater
urgency, the University of California is increasingly
turning back to its original mission as a land-grant
university–an institution that fosters research in areas
of great need for the country and the state.
Hume believes that the University has a strong obligation to help address the challenge of building
strength in education at all levels for the sake of the
state’s future. To that end, he is taking its land-grant
mission as a blueprint for educating California youth
with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century.
Hume perceives an acute awareness of the urgency
of addressing the needs of all of the people of
California among schools of education systemwide. In
order to support them in this endeavor, Hume appointed UC Davis Dean of the School of Education Harold
Levine as associate vice provost to monitor educational research at UC and to help plan for the University’s
future contributions. He expects Levine to act as an
overseer helping the provost to consult more widely,
drawing on his own experience and advising on the
University’s assets and partnerships.
–Frances Fernandes
As noted, after a century of leading the world in higher
education participation rates, there are strong indications
that America’s advantage is waning. For now, the academic research enterprise remains relatively vibrant, although
there are important global shifts even here that are eroding
the U.S. advantage.
Although the United States still retains a lead in the
number of people with higher education experience and
degrees, at the younger age cohort a different story
emerges. On average, the post-secondary participation rate
for 18- to 24-year-olds is approximately 33%, according to
a 2005 study by the Education Commission of the States,
down from around 38% in 2000.
In contrast, within a comparative group of 29 countries
in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),1 many nations are approaching (and a few
have exceeded) a 50% participation rate in post-secondary
education in this younger age group. Most are enrolled in
programs that lead to a bachelor’s, in contrast to the United
States where nearly 50% are in two-year community colleges.
According to the 2007 OECD report, in a twelve-year period,
the United States has slipped from first to founteenth place in
national higher education participation rates.
In looking at the United States, there is always a need to
disaggregate. There is substantial variation among the 50
states. In 2002, Rhode Island had the highest rate of postsecondary educational participation at 48%; Alaska had the
lowest at 19%. California, Florida and Texas–states with
large and the fastest growing populations–had approximately 36%, 31% and 27% respectively of their younger students
attending some form of post-secondary education. In the
majority of states, these participation rates have flattened or
marginally declined over the last decade.
But in some states, such as California, access to higher
education for the traditional age cohort has declined significantly over the past two decades. In 1970, some 55% of
all public high school graduates in California moved
directly to tertiary education, among the highest rate in the
nation; in 2000, the rate was a mere 48%, with the vast
majority going into community colleges, most as part-time
students, and most destined never to attain a two-year, let
alone a bachelor’s degree.
1 Established in 1961, the 30-member organization brings together the govern-
ments of countries committed to democracy and a market economy. One of its
key missions is the collection and publication of data. www.oecd.org
Spring 2008
Since 2000, the college-going rate of high school graduates in California has declined further to an estimated
43%, according to one recent study, influenced in part by
the large number of high school dropouts and a new high
school exit exam. This has occurred in an economic environment in which demand for a labor pool with a postsecondary training and education is expanding. By the
year 2022, one in three new California jobs generated will
require an associate degree, bachelor’s or higher. Jobs
requiring higher education are already growing faster than
overall employment in the state.
Access versus graduation
A major reason for the U.S. lag is that the country
ranks only twentieth in secondary education graduate
rates among OECD nations. The U.S. Department of
Education reports that the graduation rate among secondary school students is close to 75%. However, there is evidence that this is optimistic. Some researchers say that the
number is closer to 65%, which would rank the U.S. a
dismal 24th within the OECD.
Despite the significantly low secondary graduation
rates, the United States is still relatively competitive in
access to higher education. This is because, as noted, a
large number of students enroll in two-year community
colleges where costs are low, but where attrition rates are
extremely high.
More students are part-time in the United States today
than in the past and more are in two-year colleges. The
wealthiest are in the four-year institutions, and students
from lower and even middle income families are now
more likely to attend a two-year college, less likely to
earn a bachelor’s degree, and take much longer to attain a
degree than in the past.
All these factors influence graduation rates. Compared
with other industrialized nations, the United States ranks
only 14th in the percentage of the population that enters
post-secondary education and then completes a bachelor’s
degree or higher–another category where the United
States once was number one.
It appears that this dismal picture is not a short-term
trend. Many Americans, and a growing number of minority and immigrant groups, are not getting their degrees.
As a result, the United States. is one of the few OECD
nations in which the older generation has achieved higher
tertiary education rates than the younger population.
A larger malady
Why the decline in the relative position of the U.S. in
higher education participation and, most importantly, in
degree completion rates?
Increasing college and universities fees, increased student debt burdens, and an overly complicated and inadequate financial aid model are part of the problem–but not
solely, as some like to argue. There are the larger social
and political difficulties posed by significant demographic
changes that include a large influx of immigrants with low
socio-economic status, a growing divide between the rich
and the poor, and the lack of attention and investment in
public education by lawmakers or significant concern by
various stakeholders, including businesses that rely on a
highly skilled and professional workforce.
California is a harbinger of the influence of globalization, including radical shifts in the demographic mix of
developed economies. In California, more than 50% of the
current population is either foreign born or has at least one
parent that is an immigrant. Many come to the United
States with education or professional skills, but even more
come from extreme poverty and with little formal education.
To make up for the deficit in college completion rates
(a good national benchmark for assessing the native pool
of talent vital for key economic sectors), the U.S. economy
has become increasingly reliant on importing talent to
make up for deficiencies in the production of scientists and
engineers. For example, California, the state with the highest concentration of high technology businesses in the
country, ranks among the bottom ten states in college completion rates among younger students. Yet it still ranks in
the top ten in the number of people with college degrees.
This U.S. model of importing talent may be unsustainable in its present form as global labor markets for highly
skilled people shift to other parts of the world. Prudent
public policy would be to make new investments in the
education of those already in the country, while continuing
to attract talent from abroad–not mutually exclusive goals.
The Centrality of Public Higher Education
It is no exaggeration to say that the socioeconomic health
and vitality of the United States relies to a large extent on
the future of the nation’s public universities and colleges,
where some 75% of all students are enrolled. America’s
population continues to grow, reaching 300 million in 2006,
with substantial growth projected over the next two decades.
An Education Commission of the States study estimates
that some 2.2 million additional students will enter accredited public and private colleges and universities between
2000 and 2015, if national participation rates hold steady.
Yet current rates of participation within the traditional
age cohort (18- to 24-year-olds) and older students (25
and older) are arguably too low. If participation rates
nationally were to reflect the best-performing states at
44% (lower than the targets of many OECD nations), the
result would be 10.3 million additional students in accredited post-secondary institutions by 2015. This large projected difference demonstrates how poorly many states are
doing in their participation rates.
Can the United States fully recognize and meet this
challenge of aggressively expanding higher education
access and graduation rates? While state governments have
had the greatest influence historically on the fate of their
public higher education institutions, when it comes to meeting national needs, there is a role for the federal govern-
ment. On their own, states generally lack a broader understanding or concern regarding the issue of national competitiveness and the larger problems of growing social and economic stratification.
Yet there are few signs that the country’s higher education leaders, let alone regional and national politicians,
grasp the gravity of the situation. Discussion on the problems of local schools, and stagnant or declining higher
education access and graduation rates, are balkanized
among the states, caught in a type of trench warfare over
resources and turf without a sense of seeing the forest for
the trees. The prognosis is not good unless the next presidential administration seeks a more expanded higher education agenda beyond marginal increases in student loans
and a fixation on costs, and not overall access and degree
production rates. If the United States continues to rest
upon its laurels, it hands a major and relatively new advantage to the EU and other economic competitors.
© Copyright John Aubrey Douglass
John Aubry Douglass
John Aubry Douglass is a senior research fellow at
the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher
Education, where he served as deputy director from
1999 to 2002. He is the author of The California Idea
& American Higher Education, Stanford University
Press, 2000. This article is adapted from his recent
book, The Conditions for Admission: Access, Equity
and the Social Contract of Public Universities,
Stanford University Press, 2007. He can be reached at
[email protected]
Additional information is available at
De la Cruz’s work with underrepresented students thrives
hen former International Academic
Programs Director Marlene de la Cruz
Molina left UC MEXUS for UC Irvine in
2004, she shifted her focus from binational programs to
California students. Since then, the Minority Science
Programs, where she is associate director, has thrived.
In 2005, the White House recognized the accomplishments of the Programs with its Award for
Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
Mentoring. In 2007, the UC Office of the President
invited de la Cruz to go to Washington to meet with
members of Congress to explain the value of programs
addressing the needs of underrepresented students.
The program partners with UC Irvine and the
National Institutes of Health in several initiatives to
engage underrepresented youth in the sciences before
they are turned off to schooling. De la Cruz works with
students who often lack role models for attending college, and whose teachers and counselors have few
resources to help them. The programs provide hands-on
research in labs at UC Irvine and abroad where de La
Cruz’s contacts with Universidad Nacional Autónoma
de Mexico (UNAM) have born fruit.
De la Cruz’s involvement with the program began
when she was a professor at UNAM, mentored visiting
students. Now she pairs students with UNAM
researchers, several of whom are recipients of UC
MEXUS-CONACYT Fellowships and Collaborative
Grants. Many of those partnerships have proven particularly fruitful, and the resulting student research projects
that have garnered state and national awards.
Spring 2008
Students need language support
to write for academic publications
duces an additional subset of skills–not so
eveloping support for students
much the bigger words or more complex
learning to write academic papers
sentences, but the understanding and lanin English–the lingua franca of
guage use that is tied to particular meanmost of the academic world–has become
ings, cultures, institutions and situations.
essential in almost every nation. Thus, my
When I interact with scholars from
specialty in academic writing in English
different countries, I often face just such
has enabled me to work with colleagues
issues: To fully understand my colfrom several countries in their quest to
leagues’ perspectives, I must familiarize
provide students and researchers with the
myself with their scholarly domain, unilinguistic skills for participating in the
versity and government policies, and proglobal knowledge economy.
UC Santa Barbara photo m
gram documents. I also must interact
I am currently working to establish
with administrators, not all of whom
such a support program with the school of
speak English.
languages faculty at Benemérita
These challenges may be mitigated
Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP).
somewhat in some sciences, where there
The goal is to enable both undergraduate
is an international lexicon and much of
and graduate students to produce quality
the reasoning is expressed through mathacademic work and to be credentialed as
ematics. On the other hand, more
English instructors in upper secondary
advanced material in many scientific and technical fields is
and higher education. My colleagues are hoping that our
primarily in English, so students must master difficult disUC MEXUS-supported project1 would provide a good
start for instilling effective English skills not only within ciplinary concepts while they are working with a language
that is not their own and in which they are unaccustomed
BUAP, but also on other Mexican campuses.
to thinking.
The challenges such programs must address extend
The humanities and social sciences, however, offer a
beyond the more traditional concerns of language instruction: grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This is not to down- different challenge since nuances of phrasing are of the
utmost importance. One needs a heightened understanding
play the basic language problem. It takes years to become
sufficiently proficient in a foreign language. It takes time to of both culture and language because knowledge lies in
cultural matters that may vary tremendously even in basic
become habituated with the basic skills required to pull
familiar words out of sound streams, parse at sight complex concepts. In our native language, we formulate concepts
using the network of distinctions and meanings that our
constructions so you know who is hitting whom, on whose
language offers and that match our entire cognitive develbehalf, and why; spontaneously recognize verb tenses and
opment. When I studied sociology as an undergraduate,
forms, make sense of idioms, and recognize distinctions
we talked about the organization of towns. But our conamong related words. Combined with the ability to reprocept of a town was a small U.S. town, not a pueblo. We
duce all these constructions and meanings, is the conficompared them to rural family farms, not to latifundia or
dence to interact fluently without being frozen by embarrassment and anxiety.
1 Charles Bazerman, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, UC Santa Barbara.
Nonetheless, communicating within academia introScientific publication in English for Spanish-speaking graduate students.
Spring 2008
haciendas. This demonstrates how closely tied sets of
meaning and reasoning in any field are to the language we
first learned them in.
Specific assumptions also accompany the organizational patterns of particular educational systems. The fact that
I took an undergraduate sociology course–and tasted a
number of majors in the sciences, social sciences and
humanities before entering English studies–is a peculiarity
of the American higher education system. U.S. students
often have two years of general education and can switch
majors even up to the point of graduation. This means that
there is often more tolerance of interdisciplinary reasoning in undergraduate papers and less expectation of disciplinary intensity than in systems where students enter the
university with a predetermined specialization. Such
diverse university cultures not only determine the kind,
number and nature of written assignments but also how
students learn to think and how they learn to write academically. Often the methods by which students are evaluated also differ. All these factors affect how researchers
approach written material and the kind of scholarly work
appearing within their nation’s journals.
Disciplinary cultures also vary–both in how the universe of knowledge is divided into disciplines and in how
each discipline proceeds in carrying out its business. In
U.S. higher education, my own area, the teaching of writing, has historically been associated with literary studies.
In other societies, however, first language writing tends
not to be taught in higher education, and second language
writing becomes the domain of applied linguistics.
Further, although literary culture is shared and discussed
internationally, the approach to each country’s literary culture, linguistics and scholarly practice differs greatly. Even
the expectations for articles and their organization may vary,
so that essays may appear to be of a distinctly different
genre. An essay that meaningfully and persuasively speaks
to pressing disciplinary questions in one country will not
necessarily do so in another, nor will its arguments and evidence necessarily be persuasive. UC MEXUS and similar
international academic cooperation programs provide wonderful opportunities to expand our visions and gain from our
differing perspectives and knowledge. The support needed
by students and scholars for whom English is a second language is crucial not only to provide for writing academic
English, but also to learn how to argue and reason within
distinctly different academic cultures so that all may bring
their voices to the international marketplace of ideas.
This work requires a high degree of individual consultation and mentoring by people who are knowledgeable
about the academic cultures for which students are writing
as well as the cultures they are writing in. We hope that
our first steps in designing such programs will lead to
models that fit within the context of Mexican universities
and education, while producing students who are academically bicultural.
M. Charles Bazerman
Manuel Charles Bazerman, a professor of education
at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, UC Santa
Barbara, was the recipient of a 2006 UC MEXUS
Faculty Grant, Scientific publication in English for
Spanish-speaking graduate students.
He specializes in the teaching of writing, writing in
the disciplines, the rhetoric of science and technology,
the history of literacy, genre theory, activity theory and
distance learning.
In July, Bazerman published The Handbook of
Research on Writing: History, Society, School,
Individual, Text (Routledge, 2007). This book brings
together the broad-ranging, interdisciplinary, multidi-
mensional strands of writing research, reflecting a wide
scope of international research activity.
Chapter authors come from such disciplines as
anthropology, archeology, typography, communication
studies, linguistics, journalism, sociology, rhetoric, composition, law, medicine, education, history and literacy
studies. The thirty-seven chapters are organized into five
sections: history of writing, writing in society, writing in
schooling, writing and the individual, and writing as text.
Information on the book is available at:
http://www.taylorandfrancis.com. Bazerman can be
reached at [email protected]
Spring 2008
Maya study fosters binational ties
n 2005, a Mexican educator and a UC
San Diego communications psychologist
launched a binational collaboration to
study primary education among Mayanspeaking children.
The UC MEXUS-CONACYT Collaborative Grant project, Elementary education,
culture and cognitive processes of the
Mayan children of Yucatan, Mexico, was
designed to investigate culture-sensitive
educational conditions in Yucatán and to
develop specific pedagogical interventions.
Mexican partner Juan Carlos Mijangos Noh,
a researcher from Escuela Normal Rodolfo
Menéndez de la Peña, Mérida, Yucatán, was
already studying the education of the indigenous population. For this project, Mijangos
Photo by Robert Lecusay
A research collaboration between Escuela Normal Rodolfo
Noh and his graduate student team were to
de la Peña and UC San Diego focused on Maya chilwork closely with a research team led by
dren in Chacsinkin. A house in the village is pictured above.
Michael Cole, a UCSD professor of communications and psychology, in designing and
implementing the study, and creating culturresearchers saw this as evidence that teachers were disally sensitive educational material to help improve school
connected and disinterested in the town.
performance in the target community of Chacsinkin.1
The Chacsinkin project had seemingly run aground.
But early in the project, it became apparent that Maya
However, the project was conceived with additional goals,
families in that community no longer were using the
enabling the researchers to continue their work in unanticiindigenous language and culture that Cole and Mijangos
pated directions. The investigators invited experienced
Noh sought to evaluate. Instead, parents and teachers
researchers John Lucy, Suzanne Gaskins and Luis Moll to
were focusing on mainstream Spanish. When Cole’s gradtake part as “advisors.”2 Both principal investigators also
uate student Robert Lecusay went to Chacsinkin to
sought to ensure that the work would continue beyond the
observe classes, he found teachers unwilling to cooperate
scope of the initial project by using it to prepare young
with him. The teachers “parachuted in” from more affluscholars in “the study of development, learning and the
ent communities, Cole said. Their discomfort with the
pedagogical science.”
local community and lack of respect for its culture was
From the outset, the researchers planned to use new
communicated to the children in a variety of subtle ways.
audio-visual technology to enhance the collaborative
They saw local people as culturally inferior and the chilexperience on both sides of the border. A sophisticated
dren were made to feel culturally inferior also. The
version of a webcam, a Polycom, was to be used for plan1 Chacsinkín is a village 104 kilometers southwest of Mérida.
Spring 2008
ning and discussions between the widely dispersed
research groups. In addition to Lucy and Gaskins, who
were working in a community close to Chacsinkin, graduate students working with Moll and other Universidad
Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) researchers were brought
into the discussions.
This expanded network required the coordination of
several institutions, facilities, technical personnel,
researchers and students across three time zones, two
nations and two languages. Cole research associate Virginia
Gordon saw multiple opportunities for discoordination,
some potentially catastrophic. UADY needed special permission from the Mexican government to bypass a firewall3
to connect with the U.S. universities through an Internetmediated videoconference. Added to these stumbling
blocks were power failures, audio problems, poor acoustics,
a scarcity of bilingual technicians and the timidity of graduate students. Yet Cole saw these apparent limitations as
benefits in disguise. “It’s a little bit awkward . . . the whole
turn-taking mechanism is slowed down. But that’s great
because everyone thinks before they speak, and they have
to work a little harder at understanding one another.”
The videoconferencing allowed participants to build a
new body of knowledge that spawned additional collaborations and established new ties among researchers and
students with overlapping interests. The project took on a
life of its own as researchers found ways in which they
could broaden its scope. Gordon saw that group understanding of the issue was greatly enhanced by comparing
the situation of Mayan speakers in Mexico with that of
Spanish speakers in the U.S. International/intercultural
dialogs of this kind could contribute to “higher order
learning.”4 Cross-national comparisons also helped
2 John Lucy, University of Chicago William Benton Professor, Department of
Comparative Human Development and Psychology, http://home.uchicago.
edu/~johnlucy and Susanne Gaskins of Northeastern University are experts
on Mayan language education and development. Professor of Education Luis
Moll, Department of Language, Reading and Culture, University of Arizona,
and associate dean for academic affairs for the College of Education, is an
expert in language, reading and culture.
3 Gordon, Virginia, Robert Lecusay, Michael Cole, Laboratory of
Comparative Human Cognition University of California, San Diego
“Multisite Videoconferencing between Developed and Developing Countries
to Build and Sustain Educational Research Collaborations,” a paper presented
at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association,
Chicago, IL, April, 2007.
4 Ibid.
researchers better understand the complexities of minority
ethnic group life within a dominant majority culture.
The situation in the Maya village had a direct parallel
in San Diego County. In part, the project had been
designed to compare to Cole’s extensive work with San
Diego elementary school children, which demonstrated
how cultural contexts condition cognitive processes.
Gordon had experienced dynamics similar to those occurring in Chacsinkin in her own work in San Diego. Gordon
and then-fellow graduate student Honorine Nacon
observed Latino parents at one San Diego school voting to
eliminate a bilingual Spanish program because they wanted their children to learn only English and be more integrated with the English-speaking community. There also,
Gordon observed that most of the teachers commuted from
more affluent areas and seemed eager to leave as soon as
their classroom duties were completed. In Arizona, where
Moll observed similar dynamics, he addressed the issue of
culturally disconnected middle-class teachers by showing
them how to incorporate “local funds of knowledge” into
the education experience. Teachers were exposed to the
local community where they spent time learning about the
specific skills and experience that local people could contribute to education.
Eventually, the audio-visual meetings enabled
researchers and students who were operating in the same
intellectual arena to become acquainted and set up face-toface meetings, and some of the discussions evolved into
new projects. In the town where the Chicago researchers
Lucy and Gaskins were working, parents strongly advocated
the practice of Mayan language and culture–unlike in
Chacsinkin. The researchers set up a meeting with Mijangos
Noh and his students, and remained in contact even after
the Cole-Mijangos Noh collaboration came to a close.
In addition, Moll’s graduate students and junior
researchers became energized by the discussion, and one
student decided to devote her doctoral dissertation to comparing home literacy in Arizona and Yucatán.
Mijangos Noh and Universidad de Yucatán student
Fabiola Romero Gamboa wrote a book, Mundos encontrados, análisis de la educación primaria indígena en las
comunidades en el Sur de Yucatán, about the experience
(Edicciones Pomares. 2006). An English-language version
is in the works.
Spring 2008
‘Spanglish’obscures students’ skill
tudents whose home and school lives
straddle the U.S.-Mexico border provide a
real-world lesson for California teachers,
according to researchers from Mexico and
In a 2004 study, supported by a UC MEXUSCONACYT Collaborative Grant, Guillermo
Alonso Meneses, a professor of population studies
at Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), and
Ana Celia Zentella, a linguist and professor of
ethnic studies at UC San Diego, interviewed 40
Tijuana students who attend school in San Diego.
Aiding in the work were Ana Maria Relaño
Pastor, a Spanish postdoctoral fellow, and students
from UCSD and COLEF. The researchers discovered that, although the students were completely
bilingual, their English and Spanish constructions
blended in ways that obscured their impressive
linguistic skills.
The project, Trans-fronterizos remapping the
border: language, identity and ideology among
Tijuana students in San Diego, took a multidisciplinary approach to studying the experience and
education of cross-border students. The researchers
interviewed equal numbers of male and female
students who had crossed the border to attend
school for at least three years. Some studied in
public schools and others in private schools. Most
were U.S. citizens whose families subsequently moved
back to Mexico.
The bilingual cross-border students provided a perfect opportunity for Alonso and Zentella to test the thesis
of noted linguist Uriel Weinreich, who claimed that
“ideal bilinguals” keep their languages completely separate. In fact, the researchers’ linguistic analysis of 40
bilingual interviews showed that, contrary to Weinreich’s
assertion, students do mix elements of Spanish into their
English and vice versa. The researchers concluded that
Spring 2008
Photo by Guillermo Alonso Meneses
Cross-border students wait for the bus ride back to
Tijuana after spending the day at a school in San Diego.
For many students, their day begins in the predawn hours
and ends in the evening, when they complete the long journey home.
most of the intermingling was unconscious because, even
though the students used so-called “Spanglish” to varying
degrees, they were at the same time hypercritical of its
The students learned that what linguists call codeswitching is looked down upon in both Mexico and the
United States, where the lay person calls it “Spanglish.”
Alonso and Zentella observed that, despite using
Spanglish phraseology when they spoke English, the
Mexican students consciously struggled to keep the languages separate, believing that such usage was charac-
teristic of Mexican-American speech. But Alonso and
Zentella noticed that sometimes they switched phrases or
entire sentences for emphasis or other discourse strategies, and tell-tale pieces of vocabulary and syntax peppered their speech in both languages. Some confusion in
their English included the transfer of Spanish constructions, e.g., “in the floor” (en el suelo), “in the border”
(en la frontera), “there is things” (hay cosas), “people
is.” (la gente es).
A more serious consequence was that, when these
and other such characteristics crept into their writing,
they created problems at school, especially in English
classes. Observing what the teachers thought of as poor
grammar skills, school officials tended to underestimate
the language-skill level of the students. Many students
lost a grade, were placed in less challenging classes or
their linguistic achievements were misevaluated.
Zentella believes that part of the problem lies with the
training of most English-as-a-Second-Language teachers, who are not taught the reasons for typical linguistic
anomalies common to many Spanish-language bilinguals
or the grammatical knowledge involved in code switching.
Photo by Guillermo Alonso Meneses
Students from Tijuana who attend school in San
Diego often spend hours each day negotiating the San
Isidro border crossing.
Politics also has entered into the equation. Zentella
pointed out that legislation limiting bilingual education
means that these students are placed into English language development classes that are neither sufficiently
advanced nor rigorous enough for them. They spend
years in those classes deprived of the practice they need
in reading and writing in either language. This situation
hinders their progress and prevents them from getting
advanced placement credits needed for college.
an extraordinary effort to continue their education in the
U.S., getting up at 4 a.m. for a two- to three-hour crossborder trip to school. The San Ysidro border crossing
alone presents a daily challenge. The students must contend with what the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement Agency calls the busiest international land
border crossing in the world, which means that students
often spend long periods of time waiting to get across the
Cognizant of these pitfalls, the students work hard at
perfecting their English. Zentella said that they understand that English fluency is tremendously marketable
and they are proud of their bilingual skills. At the same
time, students tended to be critical of the Spanish of
Mexican Americans and were shocked when teachers and
administrators put them in the same category of linguistic
Now that this study has solidified a cross-border academic collaboration between UC San Diego and COLEF,
and has provided a foundation for new research, Alonso
and Zentella will expand the study into a sociolinguistic
ethnography of San Diego high schools. In this new
study, the researchers will compare students’ linguistic
behaviors and attitudes with their academic achievement.
The two researchers hope their work will open new
avenues of dialogue between Mexican and U.S. scholars
that will enrich the current state of the art in border studies, particularly as regards national/binational alliances,
transnational educational challenges, and binational
The two researchers now plan to take the study a step
further, looking in particular at whether the extra effort
that the cross-border students make to improve their education is, in fact, paying off. After all, the students make
Spring 2008
States open up college to undocumented students
grilled me, their unofficial University of
California ambassador, about campus life.
My car was also the site of numerous
political strategy sessions: some of the 16and 17-year-old students were already
ears before the immigration marches
playing critical roles as liaisons between
of 2006, the federal immigration
their immigrant parents and neighbors,
reform process was caught in a maelUNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PHOTOOO
and the government bureaucracies and
strom of politicized debate and division. Yet a
corporate interests in their community.
ray of hope for immigrant communities has
Although the conversations often took a
been the successful passage of 10 state laws in
serious turn, they also chatted about such
support of higher education for undocumented
typical teenage preoccupations as movies
students. These laws restore students' ability to
and Saturday night plans. Wherever the
pay the equivalent of in-state tuition to attend
conversation roamed, it was clear that
public institutions of higher education in the
these schoolmates refused to allow immistates where they have lived and been educatgration law to divide them.
ed for years while being legally defined as "non-residents."
In 2001, with the aid of their testimony, lobbying and
In 2000-2002, I conducted research during the now
activism, California AB 540 became law. Since then, simhistoric struggle for California's in-state tuition law,
ilar laws have been enacted in nine states ranging from
Assembly Bill 540. I was a participant observer working in
historic ports of entry for immigrants (Texas, New York
the Sacramento and Cudahy offices of late Assemblyman
and Illinois) to newer destinations for Latin American
Marco Antonio Firebaugh, the principal author of the bill.
migration such as Nebraska, the one state to pass an inThe results of my research, supported by dissertation
state tuition bill in 2006.
grants from UC MEXUS and the UC Pacific Rim
Similar legislation was introduced in 27 states during
Research Program, appear in a 2004 article, "Wise Up!
2006, according to Ann Morse, immigrant policy program
Undocumented (Im)migrant Youth, Latino Legislators, and
director of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
the Struggle for Higher Education Access." Latino Studies
Although immigrant students have mostly been on the win2, 210-230 (July 2004). My doctoral fieldwork explored
ning side, legal scholar Michael Olivas says that lawsuits
the ways that California legislators, educators and neighhave been filed to overturn Kansas and California's in-state
bors asserted the state membership of their immigrant high
tuition laws, and state bills have been introduced aiming to
school students after the passage of Proposition 187.
restrict higher education access based on immigration status.
During my research, I looked forward to driving stuLike AB 540, the nine new laws allow students to pay
dents from Huntington Park in Southeast Los Angeles to
the equivalent of in-state tuition if they have attended a
the Pico Union district downtown, where a weekly youth
school in the state for a certain number of years, graduated
group organized for educational equity for undocumented
from high school in the state and, if they are immigrants,
students. The students who piled into my old Toyota each
signed an affidavit stating that they have or will apply to
week were U.S. citizens, legal residents and the undoculegalize their immigration status as soon as they are eligimented–united so that their schoolmates could come a step
ble to do so. Beyond the legal impact, this legislation symcloser to achieving their academic and leadership potential.
bolizes the concerns of educators, community members
During our often extended car rides through infamous
and elected officials nationwide for the future of students
L.A. traffic, the students discussed the American literary
in their states who came to the United States at a young
classics that they were reading in school. They lived in a
age, learned English, have excelled at school despite enorlargely working class, Mexican immigrant enclave, and they
"These kids are our future. . . . If we are going to
rehumanize the issue of immigration, this is the
legislation."–Steve Zimmer, teacher & counselor, John Marshall High School, Los Angeles.
Spring 2008
mous barriers and, like the young activists in Los Angeles,
often serve as community translators and leaders.
Efforts to educate immigrant youth can transcend partisan politics because their individual stories touch the hearts
of elected officials and citizens, and offer hope for future
contributions to innovation, leadership and prosperity. As a
cultural anthropologist, I also have been impressed by the
regional significance of these bills and the way the common struggle has been translated to fit each state.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have
a Spanish language website that welcomes Spanish-speakers
and incorporates essential information that may mystify
those with limited formal education or exposure to U.S. and
state college culture. The Oklahoma website contains an
explanation of the categories of institutions of higher education along with a link http://www.okhighered.org/studentcenter/espanol/indocumentados (Oportunidades para
Estudiantes Indocumentados) that explains the in-state
tuition law, provides links to state financial aid and a phone
number for a Spanish-speaking contact to answer questions.
In Texas, the state that passed an in-state tuition law
before California, immigrant students may apply for state
financial aid. Out-of-state tuition waivers are even available
to Mexican citizens to pursue higher education. In 20042005, 2,613 students received waivers to attend institutions
in border counties, according to the University of Texas
System website. And an additional 274 students received
waivers to attend other public universities in the state.
Although New Jersey has the sixth largest immigrant
population in the nation, a series of bills introduced to
make higher education more affordable for the undocumented has thus far failed. Based on my informal "participant observation" as a visiting faculty member at Rutgers
University since 2005, it appears that New Jersey's immigrant population–highly diverse in language, country of origin and race–has made the unity necessary to support the
bill difficult to achieve. This challenge has been compounded by voter unrest with high property taxes, comparatively
high and rising tuition rates and a state budget crisis.
Unlike California, there are few Chicano citizens to
champion the cause of undocumented Mexican migrant
communities such as the one that surrounds my campus in
New Brunswick. Instead, they must look to the leadership
of long-term Puerto Rican, Cuban American and other citizen communities. In New Jersey, however, I have also been
moved by the speeches of such elected officials as Mayor
Robert Patten of the Borough of Hightstown, who reminded
his fellow New Jerseyans of the Ku Klux Klan cross-burnings on the lawns of new Italian American families in
Hightstown during the early 1900s. Both the opponent and
the primary sponsor (Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Newark) of New
Jersey's in-state tuition bill are African American, which
complicates assumptions about the racial politics of this
Yet New York State, whose historic identity is embedded in immigrant opportunity, passed an in-state tuition bill
despite the increasing diversity of its immigrant population
and the common, albeit inaccurate, association of undocumented immigration with terrorism. Students and faculty
waged a hunger strike in support of the bill at City University of New York, which has a large immigrant student body
from 172 countries that speaks more than 131 languages.
Undocumented students in California and throughout
the United States still face enormous barriers to the fulfillment of their educational and life potential. Through
2005-2006, follow-up research on AB 540 as a UC All
Campus Consortium On Research for Diversity (UC
ACCORD) postdoctoral fellow, I learned that neither the
California State University nor California Community
College systems collect information on AB 540 beneficiaries.
This complicates assessment of state success in complying
with the legislature's mandate that they educate the next generation of immigrant leaders regardless of current legal status.
According to the UC Office of the President's Annual
Report on AB 540 Tuition Exemptions, during the 20052006 academic year, most recipients of the tuition waivers
were documented. The number of potentially undocumented students who are obtaining tuition waivers in the UC
system has been growing each year since the bill's passage
but began to level off between 2004-2005 and 2005-2006,
when 390 students were assisted. Of potentially undocumented undergraduates receiving these waivers, 45-52%
were Latin American and 40-44% were Asian immigrants.
The college informational and outreach sessions that
California's three university systems conduct may assume
still that students are citizens or legal residents. This alienates and feeds the fears of vulnerable immigrant students.
Last year, the USC Center for Higher Education Policy
Analysis published an excellent guide to admissions and
financial aid for undocumented students: The College and
Financial Aid Guide for AB 540 Undocumented Students,1
1 http://www.usc.edu/dept/chepa/pdf/AB_540_final.pdf (accessed May 4, 2008)
Spring 2008
(Olivérez et al, eds.). Yet information about AB 540 and its
procedures may not be readily accessible on college and
university websites. Recent bills following the lead of
Texas and Oklahoma by providing state financial assistance
to needy in-state tuition bill beneficiaries have passed the
California legislature, only to be vetoed by the governor.
At the national level, although the federal
Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors
(DREAM) Act had been gaining congressional support
across the aisle in recent years, immigration reform controversies and the consolidation of youth and adult legalization proposals have bogged down more popular efforts
to offer adolescent students a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Thus, the student activists whom I so admire continue to
struggle to attend school part-time, must use pseudonyms
when they speak out, and face a transition from their
proud self-definition as "AB 540 students" who have
received official recognition as valued members of
California (personal conversation, Leisy Abrego) to precarious lives as undocumented and underemployed adults.
Following the lead of the late Marco Firebaugh, a tireless fighter for California's immigrant students, we can continue to pursue justice for these students by keeping track
of the numbers and characteristics of AB 540 beneficiaries
in a manner that will not jeopardize their confidentiality,
Hinda Seif, a 2000 UC MEXUS dissertation
fellow from UC Davis, is assistant professor of
anthropology and women's/gender studies at the
University of Illinois at Springfield. She conducts
research on Illinois immigrant incorporation policy
with the Center for State Policy and Leadership,
and teaches about gender, migration and globalization. Seif is working on a book based on her experience with those advocating for access to higher
education for the undocumented. She can be
reached at [email protected]
Thanks to Michael Olivas, University of
Houston Law Center, for updated information on
legal issues related to undocumented students.
and by making information about AB 540 more accessible
to students and parents through personal and website outreach. We can extend state student aid programs to AB 540
students to turn the law's great potential into reality.
Members of California's academic community should
support passage of the DREAM Act. Immigrant students
should not be held hostage to controversial debates and
complex negotiations over broader immigration reform.
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