Community Colleges are filled with students with dreams of one day transferring to the university of their choice.
At Mission College in Sylmar, many students with that same dream work as well as attend classes to build toward continuing their higher education, which will lead to a career and a financially secure future.
When the scandal broke about privileged families involved in “side door” scams that involved bribing and cheating on entrance exams to gain acceptance into prestigious universities, the news fell hard on this working class campus.
“When I heard the news, I felt disgusted,” said Jose Luis Ramirez, professor of Counseling and Psychology at Mission College.
Ramirez, known at the community college to be a devoted counselor, who over the last 30 years has guided students through academic admissions requirements and poured over hundreds of university applications with students who hope to improve their futures.
“I deal with socially and economically disadvantaged students, most who’ve had to hold down jobs even in high school. Some of our students are already parents or work to help their parents and siblings to make ends meet,” said Ramirez.
He said this scandal causes him to think about the numbers of students who’ve sacrificed and worked hard that may have unfairly received rejection letters
“To now hear that they actually even used Photoshop [to fabricate sports abilities on applications when they didn’t even play that sport], how could they do this to deserving students?” he asked.
Ramirez said it’s hard to stay motivated when you hear what privilege can buy, but plans to continue to encourage his students who may not receive an acceptance letter to look toward reapplying in the spring.
“At this time, our students are waiting to see if they got in. And for those students that may not have been accepted, I have to go back and tell them that they did the right thing — they played by the rules and gave it their best shot and they are better for it. We have to deal with it.”
Brian Zamora, 19, currently a student at Mission College is one of the students who is waiting to hear if he will be accepted into an Ivy League school. Brown University is his first choice. It’s his goal to become a university professor and earn a PhD in urban education and policy and work professionally in low income communities.
Zamora is the first in his family to go to college. His parents originally from Jalisco, Mexico have raised their family in the San Fernando Valley and have lived in Sylmar for the last 15 years. His father is a day laborer, and Zamora has navigated college by researching and outreaching to others, like Ramirez and, in addition he has sought out support and found mentors at CSUN. His family cannot afford to write a large check to gain his access to a university.
“It’s an outrage for me, because these people already come from privileged communities, they already have an inherited advantage over us and we need to work twice as hard to get to the same level,” he said.
Zamora works on campus and said even raising the money for application fees is difficult for students at Mission College.
“As a person whose applied from a community college it makes me very upset. When they’re bribing admissions officers who are going to be looking at both of our applications, it makes me feel like there’s no point — like my efforts are futile, there isn’t any point for me applying as a person of color.” he said.
“Low income students and students of color have a lot of obstacles to overcome even to pay to apply for universities, that takes money from food and other things that we need.” Zamora points to the disparity when there aren’t the same levels and sources of support.
“It’s a large burden to hear what’s happened and it’s very discouraging to hear but it also creates motivation for me, so when I’m able to overcome these institutional barriers, it will be more of a testament for me, my family and for my community.”
Federal prosecutors say at least 50 people took part in the scheme that involved either cheating on standardized tests or bribed college coaches and school officials to accept students as college athletes — even if the student had never played that sport. There are also accounts of falsifying documents to claim their students had disabilities to receive additional accommodations. Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among the dozens of parents now facing federal charges.
Others charged include nine coaches at elite schools; two SAT/ACT administrators; an exam proctor; a college administrator; and a CEO who admitted he wanted to help the wealthiest families get their kids into elite colleges.
Ramirez meanwhile, said he wants to see the statistics of the numbers of students whose families used these illegal methods to gain admission versus the numbers of deserving students who are rejected and he thinks it’s going to be a really long time to unravel this scandal which has already been described as the “tip of the iceberg.”
“A strong signal has to be sent to these powerful and influencer families,” said Ramirez.