June 23, 2016-Andrea Green/Contributing Writer
As a new student, the path to resources on campus is not always clear. It is a daunting task to enter a new school and not fully understand its community. New students are often compared to an astronaut lost in deep, dark outer space searching for the mothership or some connection to a vital power source that could propel them for a way back to earth.
New students tend to not have the confidence and are often hindered by embarrassment which prevents them from asking for help. The student often feels that there is a certain expectation of knowledge for navigating through the process of attending college. In my experience as a new student, I lacked self-assurance and voice to ask for help. By chance, I discovered the Umoja (a Kiswahili word meaning “unity”) learning community. Once I became a member, I felt empowered. I felt a sense of belonging and much needed support.
In California, public college graduation rates are at 64 percent for students attending four year universities. More than half of students are dropping out of school for many different reasons, including lack of support. Students in public education may not have access or are not aware of the programs provided for their success. Additionally, it is proven that students have a higher success rate when they feel empowered, supported, comfortable, and when they are equipped with the knowledge of their learning environment, according to Don Love, counselor for Umoja. Most higher education colleges and universities have programs and communities that are geared to help students succeed and enable them to progress in life after college. The dropout rates are due to students not feeling prepared or lacking valuable life skills that these groups could teach them.
Umoja offers a pseudo family primarily to African-American students, though it’s open to all. They also help aid in a student’s transfer to a four year university. “Returning students who joined Umoja persisted though their third semester at the college with a completion rate of 100 percent as opposed to college-wide, which only had a completion rate of 21 percent,” said Love. According to Umoja’s community website, Umoja members are 25 percent more likely to complete community college and transfer to a four year university. Umoja clearly offers a strong support system as well as and personal growth opportunities.
Programs like Umoja lack exposure to incoming students. This is a problem because the college lacks funding for Umoja to be an undeniable asset to the community. Umoja desperately needs increased financial support. However, the funding is going towards multiple other successful programs to help incoming students from diverse backgrounds succeed in graduating and moving on to a university.
According to the MCC website, the Puente Project is a national award winning program, open to all students, that has helped tens of thousands of educationally disadvantaged students who enroll in four year colleges and universities. Puente provides writing, tutoring, counseling, and mentoring along with exposure to different university opportunities. Membership in the Puente program continues even after academic and career success has been achieved. According to the Student Success Department at MiraCosta College, currently this program is benefitting 14,000 students in California. With the funding from the University of California Office of the President and support from MiraCosta, The Puente Project is a solid example of what can happen for students in Umoja if proper resources are provided.
It is unfortunate that an incredibly useful resource to struggling students, such as Umoja does not get adequate recognition or support from faculty as other resources on campus. A simple solution to this issue would be to educate the faculty about the benefits of Umoja to not only the students but to the professors to professors as well. The professor based these benefits include more well prepared students who are ready to learn and not impede the progression of the class. This education would increase student retention and possibly create a voice outside of Umoja to gain momentum and to increase acknowledgement of the Umoja momentum for the program. This could possibly open new avenues for more funding which will enable increased educational capitol within Umoja in order to establish more and exposure on campus as a whole. According to Love, “Students’ circumstances arise outside of normal work hours and in Umoja we commit to being responsive to our students as the need arises… funding for a full-time counseling position would undoubtedly provide greater access to students,” said Love. Some who might disagree with me would say, “If there are programs for non-traditional students, why not traditional students as well? Traditional students need support too.” I would respond by giving data that Data demonstrates that non-traditional students have factors that hinder their educational success that traditional students are not faced with. Non-traditional students are typically first in the family to attend college. With that being the case, they lack familial support and clearly require the comprehension for the demands of college. Additionally, Non-traditional students may lack financial support and often cannot overcome often have economic hardships as opposed to traditional students who have the necessary assets to complete their college education. Furthermore, traditional students do have communities like Intramural Sports, Honors, Chess Club, and Code Tech Computer Club that they are able to join for comradery and Students need to have camaraderie and build communication with others to help them connect. Based on the success of The Puente Project, Umoja could be a phenomenal attribute to the college if given the funding and support. Umoja is clearly the catalyst for incoming and non-traditional students to learn how to navigate this vast and astronomical voyage through the educational system.