SLUG REPORT > With the incoming UC Santa Cruz freshman class comes a new set of demographics, and, this is year, some unprecedented numbers.Forty-five percent of freshmen are on track to be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year university, the highest percentage ever for UCSC. And one third of students are from what the UC system calls “underrepresented” backgrounds—up 4 percent from last year.
Michelle Whittingham, associate vice chancellor of enrollment management and director of admissions at UCSC, gives two reasons for the high number of first-generation college students despite the tough economy.
“One [reason] is the changing demographics in the state of California,” she says. “We’re seeing more and more first generation students in high school working very, very hard to not only be eligible for the UC system, but actually competitive. And I think there’s more of a recognition of the value of a college degree.”
Although being accepted is an accomplishment in itself, Whittingham did admit that first-generation and minority students face challenges unique to their peers. This could be compounded by the fact that Santa Cruz remains the “whitest” UC.
“When you can’t call home and ask [your] mom and dad ‘How do I navigate this?’ it’s tough,” she says.
However, UCSC has several organizations that strive to serve these specific students, such as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and Engaging Education, a student-initiated outreach program that Whittingham was particularly enthusiastic about.
“I think this is something that really does stand apart,” she says. “A lot of award-winners [at graduation ceremonies] came up on this. When students are under-represented, it helps to see others like themselves succeeding.”
Despite everything stacked against the freshman class—fee increases, cut classes and majors, and the general difficulties everyone faces when moving away from home—Whittingham expressed confidence that their graduation rate will be high.
“When we select students, we’re selecting future alumni,” she says.