May 05, 2008
Cal State Dominguez Hills inaugurated its new president last Friday, a mostly ceremonial event because Mildred Garcia took the helm nine months ago. The campus has 12,000 students, many of whom will find it very challenging to graduate. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says Garcia wants to change that.
To appreciate Cal State Dominguez Hills, Mildred Garcia says, you have to stand on the V-shaped balcony of her new fourth-floor office.
Here's our beautiful, beautiful campus.
Like a ship's captain, Garcia knows every part of her vessel.
Our classrooms were done by Quincy Jones, the architect, not the musician, over there. That's where we have colleges over there. Our library, which you can't see from here, is both, is down that way, we're putting an addition to our library. And then our classrooms and our academic buildings are down that way.
Garcia says she took this job to open this university's door wider to students from nearby Carson, Compton, Lynwood, Paramount, South L.A., and North Long Beach. The region's ethnic diversity, she says, is Cal State Dominguez Hills' biggest asset.
As a matter of fact, that young Asian-American man who is graduating in June just told me, he is as successful as he is as a new manager at Macy's because he was able to be involved in student clubs, multicultural center, the Latino Espiritu organization. Now, he's Asian-American. He was involved with the African-American president starting a new mentoring program for new freshmen.
Cal State Dominguez Hills enrolled its first students 43 years ago, in the aftermath of the Watts Riots. The school's founders believed a new university could accelerate the healing.
These days, campus demographics reflect the region. A quarter of its students are black, more than at any Cal State campus. Another quarter are Latino. There are smaller proportions of whites, Asian Americans, and Filipinos. For years, the campus has struggled, more than other Cal State schools, to shepherd students toward earning their degrees.
All right, so let's get the roll here. (Reads out names)
English 099 instructor Amy Rust begins this session of her course by asking students to hand in their homework assignments.
And this was, again, this was a review of comma splices, run-ons, and fragments.
This is a remedial English class. Remedial education isn't the exception at Dominguez Hills, it's almost the norm. Ninety-three percent of the freshman class two years ago required remedial math or English. That was down from the previous year. Instructor Rust says students stretch to reach the bar she sets for them.
You know, I see this all the time. They were honor students in high school, and then they take this entrance exam and they're just kind of knocked off their feet and told, you're not ready for college.
Students aren't allowed to enroll the following year if they fail this class or an exit test. That's contributing to Dominguez Hills' higher than average freshman dropout rate. It costs the university when students can't handle the academics or can't pay for tuition. Dominguez Hills is one of only two CSU campuses that's seen enrollment drop in recent years. That translates into less per-student funding from Sacramento.
Graduates from nearby high schools, the ones founders sought to serve, are bypassing Dominguez Hills for other Cal States. Locke High School, seven miles north, is typical. Last fall the Watts campus sent 38 graduates to Cal State schools. Most chose the Long Beach and Northridge campuses. Five enrolled at Dominguez Hills. People on and off campus tag Dominguez Hills with a reputation as a bottom tier Cal State.
[Women singing karaoke]
It's Greek Week at the university. Two sororities and a fraternity are holding a karaoke contest at the campus bar to build spirit within a student body that's loaded with commuters. Third year accounting major Jessica Magaña of Phi Sigma Sigma sorority says she didn't want to go to college. Dominguez was her second choice.
For those people that it's difficult to get into college, at least they're starting somewhere, and, you know, building up their GPA so that they can transfer to big name schools. So, I think that's the positive thing about Dominguez, is that you do have a chance, no matter what level you're at. You have a chance to actually succeed.
President Mildred Garcia says this campus is not unlike other institutions where she's improved the graduation rate.
I've worked at institutions like Ostos Community College in the South Bronx, to Dominguez Hills here, right in the south, in Carson, and if– what we should look at, what is the– how is the institution progressing, and not look at who we educate but how we educate them to be the leaders of the world.
Garcia says she's working to improve Cal State Dominguez Hills' performance and
image. She's pounding the pavement around the South Bay, she says, because if civic and political leaders don't enlist to help her out, she'll draft them.