Oregon State University working to close socioeconomic gap on student success

Gaby Mudd News Contributor

Oregon State University has pledged to address the inequality in receiving a degree in higher education based on socioeconomic status.

According to OSU President Ed Ray in his State of the University Address in Feb., the university is going to work towards increasing the success of students in the bottom quartile of income in the country.

“Higher education in America is deepening the divide in our nation between haves and have nots, and this chasm is tearing at the fabric of society and undermining our democracy,” Ray said in the address.

According to Ray, receiving a degree in higher education ranges from 82 percent for students from the upper quartile of income distribution, to 9 percent for students that come from the lower quartile.

Ray also addressed the university’s’ lack of providing a respectful and inclusive educational experience for diverse students.

“It is well past the time for OSU to improve how we serve all students of diverse backgrounds,” Ray said.

Susie Brubaker-Cole, the vice provost for student affairs, said OSU recognizes financial need as one of the factors in students’ acceptance, retention and graduation rates on campus.

“We have begun to calculate the unmet need for students,” Brubaker-Cole said. “We know that our current financial aid resources leave a gap between the cost of attendance and the aid we can offer. We need to make up that gap through other means, and we are committed to closing that gap as much as possible.”

There are several programs and facilities on campus that target students that come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and help them persist to graduation.

The Director of Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), Janet Nishihara, said some students face many difficulties in college.

The mission of the EOP supports students that have traditionally been denied access to higher education including first-generation students, low-income students and students of color.

According to Nishihara, the EOP offers services in counseling, smaller course sizes for core subjects such as reading, writing and math, as well as additional programs.

“In our country there is a strong tie between being a person of color or being first-generation in college and coming from a low-income background,” Nishihara said. “This compounds to what can feel like very high barriers to overcome.”

Nishihara also spoke about how students who qualify for these services do not have to be enrolled in the program in order to take the specialized smaller-sized classes that provide higher levels of success.

“It is a common misconception, you don’t have to be enrolled in the program to take the classes,” Nishihara said. “If a student wants to take the classes we offer, and they qualify to do so, we can help them.”

The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) offers students who come from migrant and seasonal farm work services with education. This program works more specifically with the enrollment and completion of first-year CAMP students.

Greg Contreras, an academic counselor for the program, said these students face challenges more traditional students don’t.

“CAMP exists to serve students of farm working backgrounds, agriculture or farm related activities and to assist these students in their transition into a university,” Contreras explained. “Often times their parents didn’t go to college and they are first-generation. This transition is very challenging and new, and our program provides so many services to these students to help them succeed throughout their college careers.”

According to Contreras, CAMP offers students services in mentoring, tutoring, supplemental support, book allowances, recreational activities, as well as provides students with internship and job opportunities. The program hosts 35-40 students and requires them to take 36 credits per year to show successful completion and advancement in the program.

“These students do not come from high income families, they are just making ends meet,” Contreras said. “For us to be here and to help these students who come from low income families and help them get a degree, is an honor.”

The ASOSU Director of Campus Affairs Isamar Chavez, focuses on interconnectedness for the entirety of the OSU campus. Chavez works to provide all students with the resources they need in college, and promotes a welcoming community for the student body.

According to Chavez, some of the main struggles for students that come from lower income backgrounds include high tuition rates.

“I have come across a lot of students that face adversity, but still want to come to school and learn,” Chavez said. “Because of this, I want to make sure that everyone on campus is getting the resources they need to graduate and be successful.”

Chavez also works to ensure that students understand that they have the right to advocate for inequality they see on campus. According to Chavez, her goal is to empower students and to explain to them it is their right to demand the institution to be meeting their needs.

“As students you have the right to demand the resources you need to graduate,” Chavez said. “As a student you have the right to make the university to work for you.”

Administrators said the university continues to look for ways to close the gaps in graduation rates between students that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and to aid all students on campus in their pursuit of a college degree.

“We are tremendously proud of the number of students from lower-income backgrounds who come to OSU” said Brubaker-Cole. “We are committed to doing more to help them succeed in their studies including providing more scholarships and grant aid.”

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