Pearl Lopez grew up in a low-income family – with a father who had only gotten through third grade and a mother who’d made it to sixth – wondering if higher education was in her future.
Now a first-generation college graduate who attended Grossmont College and later earned an Ed.D. at SDSU, Lopez has been working at Grossmont for nearly three decades as a counselor in the East County school’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services program.
With EOPS, Lopez helps make sure students who are at a disadvantage because of social, economic, educational or linguistic barriers are able to get the resources they need to enroll and succeed in school.
Lopez also co-founded Grossmont’s Latinx Alliance, helped obtain funding for the campus Dream Center for undocumented students, co-led efforts to reinstate the Puente (Bridge) Project to help with university transfer opportunities and co-founded the Latinx Heritage Month Committee.
“Being able to come to Grossmont and find community support and encouragement led me to a lifelong career doing the same for students,” Lopez said. “I’m able to share my experiences in serving as a counselor to students like me. We help them recognize the value of their culture and cultivating that to help them become the best they can be. These students are the people who are going to be running our state and our country in the future. We have to provide as much support as we can so they can be successful and help our future residents.”
With Lopez as a campus leader, Grossmont’s efforts in focusing on meeting the educational needs of the underserved helped it to be part of a group of community colleges and four-year universities recognized as being among the top 100 higher education institutions in the country for enrollment of Hispanic/Latino students.
The ranking comes from Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine, a national monthly periodical that provides education news, resources and trends impacting students, with a Hispanic perspective.
Grossmont, which ranked No. 72 among two-year colleges across the United States, didn’t finish as high on the magazine’s list as several other local schools.
Southwestern College ranked No. 15 Hispanic Outlook on Education’s list and Mark Sanchez, the president and superintendent at Southwestern, said the school’s high ranking is a testament to its commitment to the community “that we are invested in our students’ success.”
“It’s how we work with students and their families,” Sanchez said. “We bring families into the fold on what it takes to be successful in college and preparing them long before the students get here. We use a comprehensive approach for students, supporting them every step of the way.”
Sanchez said that about 67 percent of the school’s 17,000 students are Hispanic, one of the highest percentages in the region.
Other area institutions also made the magazine’s list, including Palomar College (No. 21), San Diego City (No. 35) and San Diego Miramar (No. 68).
San Diego Mesa College, considered a 4-year college for data purposes because it offers a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management, was ranked No. 45 by the magazine, behind San Diego State University at No. 38, but before front of Cal State San Marcos at No. 77 and UC San Diego at No. 79.
The colleges and universities on the magazine’s list have much in common in terms of being intentional about working to keep Hispanic students’ success a high priority.
“All of our campuses do a tremendous job of placing the needs of the students first, being adaptable to approaches and providing multiple pathways to support programs and services that help define the needs in the success of the students,” said Andrew “Luke” Menchaca, dean of Outreach and Student Affairs for the San Diego Community College District, which includes City, Mesa and Miramar colleges.
Multiple Support Systems
“What has really helped us is that we have started to engage our community in different ways, supporting them not only in the schools but going into community spaces, with resource fairs, working with organizations and the county of San Diego, touching families in different places to support them in different ways,” Menchaca said.
Mesa was recently awarded a second Title III STEM grant titled, E3: Equity, Excellence, & Éxito. One of the biggest highlights in the first year of this grant was the Path to STEM Success summer orientation which increased the sense of belonging in the STEM fields among the students who identified as Latinx.
Miramar was recently awarded a $2.7 million DHSI/STEM Éxito Project grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will allow the college to participate in the development of expanding programs and improving Latinx and low-income students’ success outcomes, specifically in STEM fields.
East Los Angeles College was the magazine’s top-ranking school, with El Paso Community College at No. 2 and Houston Community College third. Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, in the eastern part of Los Angeles County, ranked fourth.
The figures are based on enrollment during the 2020-21 academic year, using data from the U.S. Department of Education.
All the local schools have been designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions by the Dept. of Education, making them eligible for grant funding to expand and improve student access and completion.
The purpose of the HSI is to expand educational opportunities and improve the academic attainment of Latinx/Chicanx and low-income students, and to expand and enhance the academic offerings, program quality, and institutional stability of colleges and universities that are educating the majority of Hispanic college students.