LUSA President Neftali Perez (center) discusses club activities with LUSA secretary Ruben Rodriguez (left) and other members of the Latino student club.(Evan Solano/Clarion)
Adjusting to college can be overwhelming. Just ask any incoming freshman who has never set foot on a college campus before.
Throw in the added cultural and familial pressures of being a first generation Latino student, and suddenly the idea of earning a degree can feel like an impossible goal.
Neftali Perez, 22 president of the Latinos Unidos Student Association knew that feeling all too well, as the first person in her family to go to college. “When I was in high school, I didn’t know about all the opportunities like scholarships, workshops to apply to universities, and all that.” Perez said.
Perez recalls how just taking random classes when she first started set her off course from her field of study.
“I ended up coming to college and I didn’t know what to do. I was taking classes I didn’t need, so that’s why it has taken me more time.”
Perez, a film major, works closely with club adviser Raul Sanchez to inform and counsel Latino students who need help with financial aid and student education plans.
“We talk about scholarships that are out and our own scholarships we have,” Perez said. “We try to get them to know each other and help each other out.”
Sanchez, who is also the Career/Transfer Center coordinator at Citrus College, stresses the importance of higher education within the Latino community.
“I grew up in Pomona, and I am the first in my family to go to school and I’m one of the very few among my friends that has a college degree.” Sanchez said.
“Growing up in the neighborhoods we grew up in, and things you get exposed to, it’s easy to go down that other track.”
The number of Latinos enrolling in college has grown rapidly in the last few years. However, while enrollment is climbing, the rate at which Latinos are attaining a degree remains “unacceptably low,” according to a recent study conducted by the Campaign for College Opportunity.
The report showed that in 2012, seven of 10 Latino high school graduates in the U.S. enrolled in college and that 92 percent of Latinos believe that a college education is “very important.”
However, the report also shows that Latino college students are less likely than whites and Asians to enroll in four-year universities and enroll full-time to complete a bachelors degree.
LUSA member Erick Rodriguez, 19, biomechanical engineering major is a student who was able to find his course of study through LUSA.
“I enrolled in school last spring, but I did not know the school system, it was totally different than high school. So I spent two semesters trying things out, didn’t know exactly what to do,” Rodriguez said.
Through LUSA, Rodriguez was able to help narrow his focus to biomechanical engineering. He is currently averaging a 3.4 GPA and is hoping to transfer to a four-year university soon.
“My number one school is UC Berkeley,” Rodriguez said “I have a pretty good GPA right now but I have to keep working on it.”
Rodriguez said that the results of the CCO report reflect how some Latinos are hesitant to seek assistance.
“Some Latinos are really proud, so we don’t like to ask for help,” Rodriguez said.
“I was trying to find things on my own, because that’s the way I’ve always been.”
According to Rodriguez the schools provide more than enough resources, but its up to students to seek them out.
“The school does a good job, but its up to us students to reach out to other students.”
Citrus College was recently ranked 27 out of 50 by the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. This marks the seventh consecutive year the college has been included on this national list, receiving a Top 50 ranking in the number of associate degrees awarded to Hispanic students.
According to Sanchez, staff members in every department on campus, from counseling to financial aid, all have a genuine desire to help students.
“The more students feel part of the college community, the more likely they are to persist, and complete their goals,” Sanchez said. “The sooner we can help students declare a major, the sooner we can help with their plan and they’ll feel that camaraderie with the college.”
As a student who transferred from out of state, Perez also attests to the significant help she has received at Citrus College.
“I come from Texas, where I lived it was a majority of White people and they don’t do a lot of outreach to Hispanics, so coming over here and seeing that Citrus does a lot…they brought Dolores Huerta and have brought other Latino speakers. “ Perez said.
“They do a lot of Latino festivities like the Dia De Los Muertos, and do a really good job at promoting our education goals.”
LUSA secretary Ruben Rodriguez, 20, chose sociology as his major after taking assessment test through the counseling center.
“I wanted to know what to do at Citrus, because I didn’t want to take class after class,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he stresses the importance of pursuing a degree to incoming LUSA members. Not only because of the personal fulfillment, but also to help empower and further the Latino community.
“Latinos are becoming the majority, but we’re still a minority in some aspects,” he said.
“These days you need to start getting a college education, because jobs are looking for people who have a degree.”
According to the 2014 Citrus College Student Success Scorecard 56.8 percent of student enrolled at Citrus are Hispanic. Of that 56.8 percent only 38.4 percent completed.
While Sanchez is aware of the numbers, he also realizes that the issue goes beyond the campus.
“It’s a bigger issue than Citrus, it’s a state concern,” he said. “They’re different factors that affect the persistence rates and transfer rates.”
Sanchez said that the only way for students, of all races, to succeed in completion is to become more active on campus and aware of the resources available to students.
“The biggest aim is to promote retention by creating an atmosphere of culture and togetherness so students can really break down the barriers of college and how intimidating college can be.” Sanchez said.