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  • Christine Clark

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  • Christine Clark

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social mobility

Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

A Ladder Up

UC San Diego leads the way to help low-income students on path to upward social mobility

New research shows that UC San Diego continues to perform significantly better than other four-year colleges and universities in the country when it comes to enrolling low-income students and seeing them across the graduation finish line. A new report from the Third Way, a Washington-based think tank, indicates that UC San Diego stands out when it comes to serving students eligible to receive Pell Grants, or need-based federal grants for low-income students. Three-quarters of Pell Grant recipients come from families that make less than $40,000 a year.

Affordability, less student debt and higher salary potential are key reasons why UC San Diego is a go-to institution for students on the path to upward social mobility.  Recently, the campus was recognized by Forbes in the publication’s Best Value List as the 9th best college for alumni earnings, net price, net debt, school quality, timely graduation, and for having a high number of Pell Grant recipients.

“The strength of education is upward mobility,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.  “As a public research university, UC San Diego is committed to transforming lives and society, and providing students from all socio-economic backgrounds with a world-class education.”

Higher education: the great equalizer

The Atlantic covered the Third Way report’s findings, echoing praise for UC San Diego and sister campuses within the University of California system. With a college degree remaining key in the path to upward social mobility, efforts to expand access to those degrees is critical to creating a more equal society, the Atlantic noted.

About 60 percent of all students at UC San Diego receive some form of financial aid, and one-third of students receive the Pell Grant and/or are the first in their family to attend college.

social mobility

The report listed UC San Diego as a high-quality “Pell Serving Institution”—these institutions are categorized by having an above-average share of Pell students and graduate Pell students at a rate of 50 percent or greater. UC San Diego was listed in the top 10 of highly-quality “PSI,” with nearly half of its incoming 2010 class consisting of Pell students and 85 percent of them graduating within six years. “It is clear that these institutions are committed to admitting an above-average share of Pell students and equally committed to helping them succeed,” the report stated.

These statistics echo a study reported by the New York Times last year which found that UC San Diego ranks 5th out of 25 highly selective public colleges for its share of disadvantaged students who stand a greater chance of becoming high wage-earners as adults (moving from the bottom fifth of incomes to the top fifth as adults).

According to Mica Pollock, who supports the university’s education outreach efforts as director of Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment & Teaching Excellence (CREATE) and the campus STEM Success Initiative, UC San Diego’s initiatives to serve low-income enrich the campus in numerous ways.

“Low-income youth bring crucial talent, experience and drive to universities,” said the professor of education studies in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. “Doing the work to support low-income young people to thrive in college alongside their higher-income peers is an essential part of investing in the future of the region, state and nation. I'm proud to work at a university that prioritizes investment in the full talent pool!"

Seeing students across the finish line

Getting low-income students on campus is only half the battle, noted the Third Way report. Their performance as students and future social mobility as alumni is an outcome of their involvement throughout their time at the university.

At UC San Diego, many of the efforts to help low-income students succeed are spearheaded by the Office of Student Retention and Success, led by Assistant Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Orgera. Orgera leads a team that provides success programs and services to several distinct student populations that includes historically underrepresented students, undocumented students, military-affiliated students, international students and others. The team also collaborates with other units on campus to develop more comprehensive academic support services for all students on campus. Initiatives lead by the office include the Student Success Coaching program, which supports the incoming freshmen who are first generation with opportunities to attend community building events with faculty, staff and peers; as well as the Chancellor's Associates Scholars Program, which offers mentorship, common courses and other means of support to recipients of the scholarship.

Bridging the opportunity gap

Though many Student Retentions and Success programs were established in recent years, the campus’s Summer Bridge program recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.  Organized by UC San Diego’s Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS), Summer Bridge provides an intensive five-week residential program for incoming freshmen from across the state. The program is designed to ease the transition into college by helping students—many of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from college—acclimate to the academic, social and cultural life of UC San Diego by building connections and support networks before the fall quarter.

summer bridge

Established in 1978 with just 30 students, Summer Bridge has grown into a nationally recognized transition program that fosters social and academic integration, student leadership skills, and success at UC San Diego.

“Over the years of offering the summer bridge program, we consistently hear about the value that the bridge community of students, peers, and staff provided in supporting transition and success at UC San Diego,” Orgera said.  “As a result, of this program, the Chancellor's Associates Scholars Program Student Success Coaching program, and others, we create additional campus networks that also value and appreciate the unique identities and strengths that our students bring with them to our campus.”

Michael Cabradilla attended UC San Diego's Summer Bridge Program in 1998 and said it had a lasting impact on him.

“The summer bridge program was critical to my success as a UC San Diego student...It gave me confidence, coming into an unfamiliar environment,” said Cabradilla who was a first-generation student and Pell grant recipient. “When my freshman year started, I came in with a major sense of community because I already knew hundreds of people, fellow students and staff, that would be at the university and I knew who I could turn to if I ever needed help.”

He said the experience inspired him to become very involved in student organizations; he even worked as a resident advisor and became president of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance. He also stayed connected with the program and served as a transition counselor for new students for two of his undergraduate years.

After graduating from UC San Diego in 2003, he’s had a thriving career and now works as a regional manager for a company that provides legal benefits and aids victims of identity theft. He said the bonds he made during his time in Summer Bridge remain strong today.

“I see how much it did for me and I hope other students with similar backgrounds take advantage of the program,” he said. “The relationships that you can build is what's going to matter most in life after UC San Diego.”

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