A family friend took Rafael Lopez-Librado on a college tour after his freshman year. He still has a photo from that trip on his refrigerator. Photo: Nick Fouriezos

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The Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

Hope for a better future

With just a few months before graduation, Rafael Lopez-Librado sat down with his high-school counselor—a man he didn’t remember meeting before.

He thought he was on track to attend university, but he wasn’t. He had already missed key application deadlines. And worse, he wasn’t even aware of California’s “A-G requirements” — the specific courses needed to be eligible for public universities in the state.

Talk of those requirements can seem ubiquitous in California, at least if you’re among the circles of policymakers, researchers, journalists, college leaders, and others well-versed in the higher ed landscape.

That wasn’t Rafael’s world. His parents were among the roughly 150,000 indigenous Oaxacans who settled in California’s Central Valley in the early 2000s, and neither had advanced past elementary school. There was no way for them to know what they didn’t know, and nobody at Rafael’s public charter school ever told him about “A-G.” By the time he learned, he was missing dozens of the required courses.

Dreaming big

Nick’s story, which we co-published this week with EdSource, follows Rafael’s efforts to catch up and keep his university dream alive. His story, Nick says, is one about a student’s high expectations for himself and the people who didn’t share them.

Being short on “A-G” courses, in fact, wasn’t unusual at his school, Crescent View South. Just four of more than 500 students in the previous year’s cohort had met those requirements — and only about a quarter had graduated at all over a four-year span.

Across the Central Valley, less than 15 percent of adults over 25 earn a bachelor’s degree. Money, not higher education, Rafael told Nick, was on the minds of most of his friends and relatives. When they graduated high school, they almost always went straight into farm work. Even the older student who had sworn to Rafael that he would one day leave Madera for UCLA.

“That was a life lesson for them, and for me,” Rafael said. “Sometimes dreaming too big, it doesn’t really happen.”

A new set of challenges

You should read Nick’s entire story. In the end (spoiler alert), Rafael was able to complete 27 of his missing “A-G” credits but he was still nine short. Two Cal State campuses made an exception and agreed to admit him anyway. He enrolled at Stanislaus this fall.

When he arrived, though, a new set of challenges awaited. Even though he had a grant to cover his housing costs, the university couldn’t get him in. For three weeks, his sister paid for gas and took time off work to drive him back and forth. But the 120-mile roundtrip commute proved too much. He dropped out.

Since we published the story on Monday, the presidents of Madera Community College and Fresno State have reached out to Rafael to set up meetings. Many others have offered to help, too.

Rafael is weighing what to do now. He told Nick he wants to be a role model for others in his family and to be able to help them. “I hope for a better future.”

— Sara Hebel

+ Read more from Nick about what he learned from Rafael in this week’s Mile Markers.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Students at U. of Florida. (Photo: Lauren Witte for the Tampa Bay Times)

In Tampa Bay, Divya Kumar interviews Ben Sasse, who yesterday was named the sole finalist for president at the University of Florida. The selection of the Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska marks a departure from recent UF presidents, who have mostly come from the administrative ranks of top U.S. universities. 

“I think we need a lot more dynamic and interesting institutions serving 15- to 35-year-olds,” Sasse told Divya. The senator has five academic degrees and was previously president of Midland University, a small Lutheran university in Nebraska. “Higher ed institutions can no longer pretend that most people are going to be one and done.”

In Mississippi, Molly Minta writes about the public’s view on what the University of Southern Mississippi needs in a new president.

In Pittsburgh, Emma Folts and Mila Sanina published new stories in their “The Red Zone” series, which examines sexual assaults on campuses in the region and what’s being done to help students:

From The Job: Young people remain skeptical of non-college education options. Employers, new research finds, can be a key in changing attitudes.

From College Inside: CBS’s new firefighting drama, Fire Country, brings the conversation about incarcerated firefighters, prison labor, and second chances to primetime. And a new report explores both the rehabilitative and exploitative aspects of California’s fire camp system.

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Co-founder and editor-in-chief of Open Campus