"Today is the Future" was moderated by award-winning journalist Jorge Ramos, co-anchor of "Noticiero Univision" in front of an audience of students, parents and teachers from across Los Angeles. Speakers included UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies; and Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District, among other distinguished educators and community leaders.
Ramos began the morning event by telling the audience, "Something you should know about me is I’m a Bruin." He shared his personal story about attending classes at UCLA Extension shortly after arriving in the United States from Mexico in 1983. While he had already earned a college degree in Mexico, "thanks to UCLA and the years that I spent studying journalism and television," he was able to land his first television job, at KMEX in Los Angeles. He has been a broadcast journalist for the past 30 years.
Welcoming Univision and the audience to campus, Chancellor Block noted that UCLA is one of the nation’s largest, and best, public research universities. "I would emphasize the word 'public,'" he said. "We take that public mission very seriously. That explains in part why we’re so proud to host today’s town hall. These are important discussions, and we want important discussions to take place at UCLA."
He also noted that UCLA has one of the most diverse student populations in the country. About 18 percent of UCLA’s students are Latino, a number that he would like to see increase. "There’s a big gap, and we’re concerned about this," Block said. "This kind of educational gap is bad for the city, bad for the country. We have to have equity. That’s important for a strong democracy."
Said LAUSD superintendent Deasy, "It’s incredibly important that we help students have an unwavering belief that every single [one of them] can graduate college. This notion of belief in our youth is incredibly important. You do that through both policy and practice." He pointed to a school district policy that gives every student access to the college preparatory curriculum that is a prerequisite for admission to the UC system.
"That sounds great," responded Ramos. "However, as you know, a lot of young Hispanic students are not getting to college."
Deasy agreed, noting that part of the problem is affordability. Immigration issues also loom large, Deasy said. Unless we have comprehensive immigration reform, the Los Angeles superintendent said, large numbers of students will continue to miss college. "It breaks my heart to see students graduate with honors from high school and then cannot get in [to college] because they are not documented," Deasy said.
Ramos asked Block what UCLA is doing "to attract students … without papers who want to come here."
"We have many AB540 students," Block said, referring to a California law that allows some undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. "They are working extraordinarily hard. I’m continually impressed by the fervor with which they approach their studies. Now we have to make sure that there are opportunities for them to become citizens."
Also discussed was the important role that Latino families play in their children’s pursuit of higher education.
Panelist Michele Siquerios, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunities, said that when she was accepted into college, her parents didn’t want her to go.
"The same thing happened to me," said panelist Ana Guzman, president of Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico. "It’s often hard for Latino families to let go of their daughters."
"It is a real paradox," said UCLA education school dean Suarez-Orozco, "because the strength of the family is the greatest asset." Research shows, he said, that when Latino students do well, the family has played a fundamental role in their success. 'The paradox is that when we do well it’s because of the family, but it’s hard to break (from the family). It’s hard to move on."
This is a critical time to close the higher education gap for Latinos, said Suarez-Orozco. "The 21st-century in our country is going to be the Latino education century. Without a bright Latino future there’s no bright American future," he said. "Latinos are now the fastest-growing sector in the child- and emerging-youth population. We are the future workers – the policemen, the scientists, the teachers, the nurses. We need to get ready for the 21st century."
The one-hour special will air nationally in Spanish on the Univision Network on Saturday, Oct. 5. Learn more information about the town hall at UCLA Newsroom.