Dec 11, 2018

Honors program lacks diversity

Michael Uribes / The Collegian

Smittcamp Honors College students are a small percentage of the university, but their presence and access to resources for success are immense compared to those of the average Fresno State student. When comparing the honor’s students to the general student body, ethnic and economic imbalance is evident.

“I’m going to be able to graduate debt free, and I don’t need to get any loans,” Kaitlin Morgan, a second year Smittcamp student, said. “It’s a nice relief to not have to worry about financial costs.”

Hector Cerda, a Fresno State graduate student, is currently working two jobs to pay for his graduate degree. He said that the lack of economic and ethnic diversity within Smittcamp proves that institutionalized racism is present.

“There is no income verification [on the application],” Smittcamp Director Honora Howell Chapman said. “There is nothing about what is your ethnicity, what is your family’s income.”

Applicants are not considered for the program based upon their economic standing but strictly on academic achievements, Chapman said.

Every year, Smittcamp accepts 50 new students from different California high schools, out of state and sometimes even out the country. Because the scholarship is only given for eight semesters, 50 students leave the program and 50 students are accepted every year.

In fall of 2010, 647 students applied for the 50 positions available. Of the selected applications, the average GPA is 3.92 (4.19 weighted GPA) and the average SAT score is 1918 out of a maximum possible score of 2400.

In the fall of 2009, Fresno State had 21,500 students. Of these 5.3 percent were black, and 33.7 were Hispanic and 34.8 were white.

That same year, 66 percent of the 50 students accepted into Smittcamp were white, and 10 percent Hispanic and one black and two students were Asian-Indian.

That same year, Smittcamp had 552 applicants, with 56.7 percent being white, 19.3 Hispanic, .014 African American and 13.7 Asian Indian.

According to research studies published on the Fresno State website, in 2008, 58 percent of students’ families had a household income of $72,000 or more. The years’ statistics showed that only 5.2 percent of the families of students accepted to honor programs such as Smittcamp had a household income of less than $24,000 per year.

According to the Smittcamp Honors College website, the program has 200 students who, because of their academic achievements, are granted free in-state tuition scholarship, a stipend for a laptop and its accessories, on-campus housing, free parking, small classes of 25 students or less in all honors courses with prestigious university professors, access to the Honors College Office resources like copiers and fax machines and more.

Smittcamp students also have regular interaction with university president John Welty and attend a welcome event and an annual Christmas party at his university home.

Students like Morgan also get priority registrations. “I don’t really have to worry about getting my classes, which is very nice especially in this kind of climate.”

“If households are more successful financially, their children do appear to do better in school,” Chapman said. “That is a terrible trend. That means that all the high schools that are serving the poorest students, they are facing this uphill battle of trying to increase the success of students who are fighting against odds.”

Cerda, who interns at Students for Quality Education and a former Outreach Services employee, wonders why Smittcamp does not have more ethnic and economic diversity.

“If you can acknowledge and identify that there is an issue, then there is also a problem in being able to identify it and not being able to solve the issue,” he said.

Despite concern about fair representation, many students, faculty and administrators believe that Fresno State needs these 200 students.

“I think it’s good for the university to have role models like that who are motivated and succeeding so that other students can strive for similar things,” Morgan said.

But Chapman admitted honor students receiving benefits need to contribute more financially.

“If there are students receiving benefits on campus that are not available to other students and their households meet financial aid criteria for participating fully in the payment of tuition, then they probably should pay tuition.”

“They should give other people the opportunities that are smart as well, but they just don’t have the money,” Fresno State student Isaura Olmos said.

“I know a lot of people sometimes pre-judge us thinking we just have everything handed out to us but we had to work really hard in high school to get the scholarship, and we still have a GPA we have to maintain,” Morgan said.

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