Step foot into most college classrooms across the U.S. and you’ll find far fewer students from Latinx, Black and low-income backgrounds. And that’s not for lack of effort or merit on behalf of students.

According to research from the Public Policy Institute of California, students from Latinx, Black and low-income communities are historically underrepresented in higher education. Significant barriers with respect to college readiness, access, and college completion continue to lower underrepresented students’ odds of obtaining college degrees relative to their wealthier, well-represented peers.

That’s what The San Diego Foundation, through the Community Scholarships Program and Community Scholars Initiative, aims to address.

The San Diego Foundation is the largest scholarship provider in San Diego County outside the university system, and this year we awarded $3.3 million to more than 1,000 high school students, current college students, graduate students and adult re-entry students. Among the new recipients, 63 percent are first-generation college students and 83 percent are from low-income households, based on Expected Family Contribution data.

Yet the data presents only half the picture. The inspiring stories and career aspirations of each student demonstrates just how important this work is.  

Salvador – University of California, Berkeley

Salvador is a recent James Madison High School graduate who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall as a Mechanical Engineering major. Salvador credits much of his drive to his parents who immigrated to the United States with dreams of greater opportunities and a better life for their family. Until freshman year of high school, Salvador wanted to be a professional soccer player and had no intention of pursuing a college degree maintaining the minimum GPA for sports participation. Salvador’s entire trajectory changed when he got involved with Reality Changers, a nonprofit partner of The San Diego Foundation’s Community Scholars Initiative. The program helped change his mindset to recognize opportunities outside of professional sports.

Salvador chose to attend UC Berkeley for its support and history of student activism. As someone who struggled with hearing as a child and has a deaf brother, Salvador would like to create a campus club for the deaf and hard of hearing where he could reach out to local students and provide tutoring, mentorship and college outreach. It is Salvador’s goal to be a role model for deaf and hard of hearing students who, like himself, did not believe college was an option.

Alondra – University of California, Riverside

Alondra is a recent King-Chavez Community High School graduate attending UC Riverside this fall to major in Theatre, Film & Digital Production. Her premature birth contributed to health and development delays, including dysphonia, or an impaired voice, that required her to take ASL classes and speech therapy and made school difficult. A high school mock trial experience, which required much public speaking, was the breakthrough Alondra needed to find her voice and confidence.

Alondra credits the support and love of Barrio Logan College Institute, Upward Bound and her high school community for her success. Her advice to students who face barriers is to be confident and remember self-care is important, including the ability to love and embrace yourself.

Alfredo – University of San Diego

Alfredo is a recent La Jolla High School graduate who will attend The University of San Diego in the fall as a Biology major, with hopes of becoming a general dentist. Alfredo comes from an immigrant Latinx family where his parents do not speak English and had limited educational opportunities. Alfredo found it difficult navigating the education pipeline but credits much of his success to the support he received from The Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI). A TSDF nonprofit partner, BLCI provided Alfredo with the mentorship and guidance he needed to be successful in high school.

One of Alfredo’s biggest barriers through high school was commuting from Spring Valley to La Jolla High beginning sophomore year. Although the commute on public transportation was grueling, Alfredo was dedicated and committed to graduating. Alfredo’s advice to other students who may face similar barriers is to always push through, don’t give up, especially if you are a first-generation college student. Seek out resources, get out of your comfort zone, talk to people and always ask for advice.

Gicel – University of California, Davis

Gicel is a recent graduate of The Preuss School and will be attending UC Davis in the fall as a mechanical engineering major with hopes of working for NASA. Gicel comes from a low-income, single parent household where resources were scarce but Gicel’s grandmother always instilled the importance of education.

Gicel became very interested in the STEM field at a young age. While in high school she joined the robotics team because she enjoyed building and spent time in Alabama at a NASA-affiliated space camp. She hopes to use her passions and skills to create spaceships and planes that will help explore the unknown. When asked how she continues to push through obstacles along her journey, Gicel shared, “Continue to chip away at challenges while keeping supporters in your corner to help along the way. Maintain a community of people who support you because it takes a village to be successful.”

Athziry – San Diego State University

Athziry is a first-generation college student and graduate of San Diego School of Creative & Performing Arts, a magnet school in southeastern San Diego, bound for San Diego State University this fall. She describes college as a gateway experience that afforded her a more worldly outlook and helped her grow as an individual and student. Athziry says, “Going to college allows me to pave a path for my community, especially for Latina women, and further contribute to make a significant impact, and spark a change in the world one step at a time.”

Denise – University of San Diego

Denise is a recent Cathedral Catholic High School graduate attending the University of San Diego to study Psychology and pursue a forensic science career. The daughter of immigrants, Denise proudly honors her mother who has always valued education, is aware of educational disparities in some local school districts, and provided Denise the opportunity to attend schools outside her neighborhood to seek more academic challenge.

Denise was a tutor at Barrio Logan College Institute where she helped inspire and help young students, and acknowledges her own mentor at MANA de San Diego for inspiration, passion and support. Her advice: “Always remember the bigger picture and don’t get caught up in the now. There is always someone naturally better but it comes down to hard work and patience. Set goals and always follow through.”

Investing in Our Future

Investing in our students is one of the most effective ways to improve racial equity in our region and build a stronger, more inclusive economy for all San Diegans.

Help more San Diego students attend college