College fair eases the way for students transferring to black universities
PITTSBURG -- Any student attempting a college or university transfer knows all too well how elusive transcripts, lost credits, last-minute fees and unexpected requirements compound the challenge.
For students who are the first in their families to attend college or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the process is particularly arduous.
So a pathway-clearing agreement signed in March between all California community colleges and nine historically black colleges and universities that guarantees transfer for qualifying students is like a gift.
The Umoja Scholars Program at Los Medanos College will host the first Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Regional Transfer Fair on Nov. 17.
The event features an informational fair and a workshop where students will hear from representatives of the eight private schools and one state university included in the HBCU agreement.
The fair is free and open to the public.
Faith Watkins, a counselor and the event's co-coordinator, says her work with the Umoja program that was started in 2008 provides approximately 250 LMC students with academic, career and personal counseling.
Largely directed at African-Americans and first-generation students, admission to Umoja requires completion of assessment tests, teacher recommendations, and an application process that includes a commitment to the program's principles and practices.
Similarly, the recently announced HBCU agreement with California Community Colleges comes with requirements. Community college students obtaining an associate degree (60 units) with a 2.5 or higher GPA who have completed the general education requirements for the University of California system are guaranteed entry to participating HBCUs.
Students may also transfer with 30 or more California State or University of California transferable units and a 2.5 or higher grade point average.
"We already had agreements of our own with three universities," Watkins says, "but this is a historic event. Students from any California community college will now have access to these small, private colleges and pay in-state tuition at the one state university (Lincoln University of Missouri)."
HBCUs were largely created after the Civil War by the Morrill Act. The 1862 legislation established land grants for colleges, but 17 southern states refused to provide the funds to black colleges.
A second land grant that passed in 1890 expanded the program to include black colleges and universities. There are currently 105 HBCUs, with most institutions located in the south and on the East Coast.
"We've conducted tours of HBCUs where we had agreements, but this is definitely giving students a broader perspective," says Watkins. "There's no limit to the stress for these students I counsel. Often, their support system isn't aware of the sacrifice and commitment you need to complete college."
First generation college students may come from families who expect them to maintain full-time jobs while going to school, Watkins says. "Or, a lot of people gave up on them along the way.
"Some are suffering from substance abuse, poor family architecture, a history of being thrown by the wayside."
Brittani Rossignon, a 21-year-old student from Pittsburg majoring in psychology whose mother did attend college, says Umoja's one-on-one guidance has been "a complete blessing."
She tried "going it alone" for the first few months at LMC, but found herself "always going through loops and more loops" to get information.
Umoja has made planing her future far easier. Targeting Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., one of the nine institutions in the HBCU agreement, Rossignon says, "I'm African-American and I definitely see this as a great opportunity.
"It's something that's my own: a college community where I can compete on a level field."
Watkins emphasizes that the HBCU program is open to all students, not just students of color.
"The biggest misconception is that these schools are for only African-Americans. Students select the schools for their programs. I went to Southern University and A&M College (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana), known for its nursing and engineering," Watkins says.
Even so, she admits that business, science and technology majors who are people of color will find commonality and encouragement in seeing African-American and Latino professors and administrators at HBCUs.
Watkins says approximately 50 students from six "feeder" high schools in the area will join LMC students at the fair.
Yvonne Canada, counselor and Umoja co-coordinator at Diablo Valley College, said students from her program are planning to attend.