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CSU San Marcos Class of 2015 Reflects Campus’ Effort To Help Underserved

CSU San Marcos Class of ’15 Reflects Efforts to Help Underserved

Most members of Cal State San Marcos' class of 2015 beat the odds getting their degrees. The majority in caps and gowns are first-generation college students.

For years, California State University, San Marcos, has been reaching out to students who normally don't go to college. Statistically, children whose family members don’t have college degrees, minorities and foster children rarely graduate from college.

This year, more than 2,600 students are graduating from Cal State San Marcos, and the majority will be the first in their families to get a college degree. Additionally, 40 percent of the university’s 2015 graduating class are from underserved communities. The school will also see more former foster children wearing caps and gowns than any other graduating class in its history.

University President Karen Haynes said she remembers looking at statistics for college graduates and seeing large groups left out.

“I looked forward to looking at this region and saying, ‘If we do not do this, those students will be lost,’” Haynes said. “A whole generation of students might be lost.”

Haynes recalled her first years at Cal State San Marcos, when she decided to make it a priority to graduate this potential lost generation.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” Haynes said.

She pushed the university to lead the region in recruiting and graduating students often overlooked by other colleges.

“Over 50 percent of our graduating students, for now three years in a row, are first in their families to get a four-year degree,” Haynes said.

Carlos Rosas is getting his bachelor's degree in psychology. He is the soft-spoken son of immigrant farmworkers.

“They were working as farm workers in the flower fields in Oceanside,” Rosas said. “They used to live — this is very personal — but they used to live in those tiny houses made out of cardboard.”

As Rosas tells his family's story, education is a theme repeated over and over. His father constantly pushed him to get an education.

“He didn’t want me to become just another Latino man without an education,” Rosas said. “To be just another one of those numbers.”

Rosas faced many challenges and confronted them head-on. In elementary school, he didn’t speak English but said he was determined to learn.

“I translated ‘The Cat in the Hat’ from English into Spanish,” Rosas said.

Helping students like Rosas, who have faced challenges, is a specialty of Cal State San Marcos. The university also focuses on former foster children like Priscilla Brito, 23. She is about to receive her bachelor's degree in sociology.

As a foster child, Brito said, she didn’t think she had a bright future. She was pulled out of high school at age 16 to take care of her foster family.

“The future they wanted for me wasn’t the future I wanted,” she said. “They'd say, 'Once you turn 18, you're shown the door.'"

For Brito, the only way to a better life was through school. “I needed to find a way out, and the only way I found out was education,” she said.

Haynes said a college degree holds a special value for students who come from underserved communities.

“They are students, most of them, who absolutely understand the opportunity this is for them, whose families understand the life-changing opportunity this is,” Haynes said.

Rosas said it was not easy for him to earn his degree, but a college degree is within reach for students from underserved communities.

“It takes a lot of determination, it takes a lot of perseverance,” Rosas said. “But if you stay, I think you can do it.”

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