Public Hearing Outlines UC Riverside’s Success in Diversity

California Assembly Higher Education Committee, led by Assemblyman Jose Medina, discusses initiatives to serve low-income, first-generation undergraduate students

Committee Chair Jose Medina and his colleagues listened to presentations about UCR’s initiatives to serve low-income, first-generation undergraduate students. Photo by Carrie Rosema

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( – UC Riverside’s undergraduate diversity needs to be shared in the graduate population and in the faculty, according to those who testified at a public hearing Friday on campus in front of the California Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

Committee Chair Jose Medina and his colleagues Assemblymembers Tom Daly (69th district, D-Anaheim), Cristina Garcia (58th district, D-Garden Bells), and Mike Gipson (64th district, D-Carson) listened to presentations about UCR’s initiatives to serve low-income, first-generation undergraduate students. Another part of the discussion included a push to equalize per-student allocations across the UC campuses, as UCR receives lower funding levels than most of the other campuses.

Medina represents California’s 61st district which includes Riverside. As a UCR alumnus, Medina said he recognizes the importance of higher education. “It’s the reason my parents came from Panama to California, it’s the reason I came to Riverside,” he said.

California Assemblymember Jose Medina and Chancellor Kim Wilcox.

California Assemblymember Jose Medina and Chancellor Kim Wilcox. Photo by Carrie Rosema

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox welcomed the group, noting that two decades ago, the university and its leadership made a decision to begin extensive outreach to schools and communities across the Inland region, carrying the message to underrepresented and low-income students that a UC education was achievable at Riverside. He said that former Chancellor Ray Orbach and many others, at that time and in the years since, had also worked to build the support systems necessary to make good on that promise and create a welcoming atmosphere for all students.

UCR Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan said that many African Americans and Latinos, though admitted to UCLA, decided to attend UCR because they felt more comfortable, well represented, and a sense of belonging. He said state financing constraints have forced UC campuses to recruit more international and out-of-state students, because those students pay more in tuition. He urged assembly members to look at the finances and investments coming into higher education.

Yolanda Moses, UCR’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Excellence, and Equity said UCR has intentionally created programs that lead to a diverse student body. But she noted that is not as apparent among the faculty, across all fields and disciplines. Moses said setting up a science lab can be a million dollar undertaking. So state support is crucial for more faculty hiring.

UCR Associate Professor of Higher Education Eddie Comeaux said one of the important aspects to having a campus full of different ethnicities, is that “it’s an excellent first step in cross-racial interaction.” Comeaux said it reduces prejudice, provides a positive educational experience, and helps reaffirm students’ identities.

Graduate students step-up to the mic to discuss their needs and concerns as low-income, first generation students.

Jessica Diaz, who just earned her Ph.D., steps up to the mic to discuss the need for more graduate students of color. Photo by Carrie Rosema

Sue Teele,a retired researcher from UCR Extension, presented her own study on closing the gap in math and science with middle school teachers and students. She asked a number of teachers to observe and record each other teaching, and to pay attention to the reactions of the students. Teele found that as teachers noticed every student learned differently, and they made notes and changes to lesson plans to be inclusive of them all them, grades improved and student’s had a deeper understanding of the material.

UCR’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Steven Brint noted that excellent student support programs mean that UCR’s graduation rates are comparable across various ethnicities: 73% Asian Americans, 66% Latinos, 72% African Americans, and 68% Caucasians. Despite those numbers, he said UCR can improve on getting students connected with resources. Because there is so much available on this campus, he wants to ensure students are aware, and advisors go out of their way to connect students with these programs.

Professor Michael McKibben pointed out efforts of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences to bridge the gap between lower-income students and those who come from affluent backgrounds. Some of those strategies include: summer bridge program, first year learning communities, first year research engagement. McKibben said these programs that engage students early on and often have helped retention rates and graduation rates.

Medina speaks with Riverside community members about that differences the state can make in the community.

As a UCR alumnus, Medina said he recognizes the importance of higher education. “It’s the reason my parents came from Panama to California, it’s the reason I came to Riverside,” he said. On the left is Paulette Brown-Hinds, who earned her Ph.D. at UCR. Photo by Carrie Rosema

The third and final panel focused on funding the needs of underrepresented students. Maria Anguiano, UCR’s Vice Chancellor of Planning and Budget, said UCR has kept pace with California diversity trends. For example, as the population of Latinos increase in the state, the number of admitted Latinos increased at UCR. Anguiano also explained that the university has done a great job of making sure all students, even first generation or low income, have a real chance of graduating in four years. She said continuing this success will cost money.

Bob Samuels, University Council of American Federation of Teachers, pointed to the fact that money is distributed unequally to the UC campuses. He pointed to a disparity in money going to UCLA, or Berkeley, versus the money going to Santa Cruz or Riverside.

The University of California is trying to address those disparities in a project known as “rebenching.” The goal, over six years, is to allocate money equally on a per-student basis.

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