College Access Amid a Pandemic

 
Throughout Los Angeles, counselors have had a hard time reaching many of their students. The lack of reliable technology continues to be an issue. Most troubling, counselors said, some students are unmotivated amid their families’ pandemic hardships.
 
“The difference between last year and this year has been mostly [students asking], ‘Will this even happen? Is it worth it or should I focus on different things?’ ” said Cynthia Medrano, college counselor at Alliance Marine — Innovation and Technology 6-12 Complex, a charter school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
 
Despite their efforts, counselors expressed worry that fewer students would apply and go on to four-year universities this year. Medrano said that last year 100% of her eligible students applied to the Cal State system or UC, but this year only 77% did. Danny Moreno was one she worried about. Before the pandemic, Moreno, who played soccer and ran cross-country, loved school, earning mostly A’s and Bs, and planned to apply to UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study engineering.
 
But he struggled with virtual learning, especially in classes such as AP calculus and AP computer science. His computer would lag, and he had a hard time getting his questions answered. Moreno’s dad runs a barbershop, and business suffered during the pandemic. His mom, previously a homemaker, started work at Costco. That left him mostly responsible for supervising and cooking for his four younger siblings, ages 1 to 15. “Right now my grades are pretty poor,” he said — two A’s, two Bs, and two Cs. “It’s harder for me to do work.” Moreno started the college application process but changed his mind halfway through. “The corona isn’t going to end anytime soon,” he said. His friends who are in college now haven’t had a great experience online. “I’m thinking to myself if it’s that hard for them, and they were straight-A students, it’s going to be two times harder for me.” He ended up not applying to any UCs or Cal State universities. A private university in Arizona specializing in aerospace reached out to him, promising hybrid instruction, so he applied. Otherwise he plans to go to community college and transfer.
 
Isabel Santos Ayala, a senior and first-generation college student at Alliance Marine, relied heavily on Medrano for help with applications. “I was clueless,” she said. “Without [my school] explaining things to me and being there as a support system I would have probably got lost in the process.”
 
With standardized tests out of the equation this year, Santos Ayala breathed a sigh of relief. “Not having to take those tests really gave me a chance to broaden my scope and look at schools that I wouldn’t have applied to because of fear of failure,” she said. Those included “dream schools” Humboldt State and Cal State East Bay. Santos Ayala recently got into both.