March 11, 2016
By Hannah Jacobsen
Guests gathered in the University-Student Union (U-SU) San Gabriel room to listen to Dr. Alejandro Covarrubias—a professor within Cal State LA’s Department of Chicano Studies—as he discussed the disturbing trends of the “educational pipeline” for Chicana(o) and Latina(o) students, and its effect on their level of education and future economic well-being on Thursday, March 3.
Cal State LA is recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, with over half of its student population made up of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) students. While Cal State LA presents a diverse group of higher education pursuers, Dr. Covarrubias’ years of research show that the general education system does nothing good for this particular population, or for students of color in general.
The educational pipelines which Dr. Covarrubias studies present the changes in individual population intersections, ranging from race to gender to social class, as they proceed from elementary school to Ph.D. and professional programs. While some students are able to travel all the way through this educational pipeline and out to the economic and academic success on the other side, his bleak portraits of the number who realistically make it through show that many students of color are pushed out along the way.
“Out of 100 students who entered kindergarten, roughly 66 or 67 will actually complete their high school diploma,” Dr. Covarrubias said, showing a pipeline for Chicana(o)/Latina(o) students. “That means that about 33 [percent] will not. These are the people who we traditionally call ‘high school dropouts,’ and I call them high school pushouts.
While high school dropout implies that the person made the decision that education wasn’t for them, the term ‘high school pushout’ shows that it was outside conditions which prevented their moving further down the pipeline.”
While roughly 67 percent of these students will obtain a high school diploma, the numbers continue to diminish down the line, leading to less than 1 percent of Chicana(o)/Latina(o) students receiving a doctorate or professional degree. Dr. Covarrubias uses his own childhood to show the reality behind these statistics.
“I’m from Wilmington, and if you’re from Wilmington you’ll know people know it as Wilma,” Dr. Covarrubias said. “My parents were undocumented, my cousins were undocumented, my aunts and uncles were undocumented. I was the only one who was born here. About 61% of the population in Wilmington doesn’t have a high school diploma.”
Dr. Covarrubias grew up extremely close to his brother and his two cousins. They all had troubles with law enforcement growing up, but Dr. Covarrubias ended up going down a very different pipeline from that of the family he grew up with. He was the only one of their group of four to finish high school, let alone a bachelor degree.
“Where are these folks at? Well, three of the four didn’t finish their high school diploma. Two of them became addicts. Two of them were in and out of prison, one of them is actually serving a 15-year term,” Dr. Covarrubias said. “One of them has been deported and the other one is on his way out. All of them have had problems with law enforcement. And one of them has a Ph.D.”
This is a story echoed by multiple members of the audience and by a large segment of Cal State LA’s population, many of whom have thrived and succeeded in education despite of the system rather than because of it. One student, who will begin a Ph.D. program next fall, described one aspect of these system blockades through college acceptance and recruitment.
“I grew up in L.A., in an area they call the jungle,” the student said. “I had a great foundation at home, but not at school. When I was in high school, the only visits we had were from military recruiters and vocational schools. Not one of the 23 CSU’s or 10 UCs ever stopped by my classroom.”
The primary educational system, from elementary school to high school, is vital to an individual’s future economic stability. Each additional level of education attained increases prospects for high salaries and a higher quality of life. If this system is so greatly affected by the intersections of race, gender, class, and space, what happens to that ‘American Dream’ of prosperity through hard work?
“Who does the best? Let me answer that for you now,” Dr. Covarrubias said. “The school systems that want to do the best, that’s who does the best. It’s the school systems that have more power in society that do the best. This pipeline is an intentional thing. It is by design that we know who is going where. We plan for that, we’ve been building prisons instead of universities because that’s where we’re projecting people to go. The schools that we go through, they’re not designed to push us through. They push us out.”
While Dr. Covarrubias plans to expand knowledge on the effect of this intersectionality through his current think tank collaboration—which is creating a map of educational pipelines across the state of California—students who contributed to the discussion also suggest that present action could be taken by providing mentors: from those who got through the system to those still struggling inside of it.
By continuing to expose the statistical disparities in education, as well as the emotional stories behind the numbers, Dr. Covarrubias and the fellow students and faculty in the Department of Chicano Studies work to bring awareness and find long term solutions for the broken educational systems that so many Cal State LA students come from.
Source: University Times