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Historically Underrepresented Students

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“Underrepresented” in higher education refers to racial and ethnic populations that are disproportionately lower in number relative to their number in the general population, and “historically” means that this is a ten year or longer trend at a given school.

At Sierra College, data supported research identifies historically underrepresented groups as: African American students, Mexican American/Latino students, and Native American/Alaska Native students.


The Sierra College Factbook reports the following Student Headcount by Ethnicity in Fall 2011:

  • African American Students:
    646 headcount at the college/ 3.3% of the student population
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native Students:
    411 headcount at the college/2.1% of the student population
  • Hispanic/Latino Students:
    2,426 headcount at the college/12.4% of the student population

Success Rate

Continued research provides evidence of disproportionately lower rates of academic success for historical underrepresented students across the nation when compared with other groups of students. Specifically,

  • Lower Access—Getting in to college.
  • Lower Retention—Staying in a course from the beginning of the semester until the end.
  • Lower Success—Passing a class.
  • Lower Persistence—Coming back and enrolling, semester after semester.
  • Lower Completion—Completion of educational goal, e.g., certificate, associate degree, etc.
  • Lower Transfer—Moving on to a four-year institution.

Here at the campus, the Sierra College Factbook reports the following success rates by ethnicity for historically underrepresented students for Fall 2011:

  • African American Students: 56.3% success rate
  • American Indian/ Alaskan Native Students: 67.9% success rate
  • Hispanic/Latino Students: 68.1% success rate

Please note that that these three groups are the lowest in success rate of this data.  All of the other ethnicities listed in the Sierra College Factbook show success rates in the seventy percentile.

Risk Factors

Chicano/Mexican American/Latino, Black/African American, and Native American/Alaska Native Students:

  • Come from families who, for generations, have also experienced the effects of underrepresentation—a history of disadvantage.
  • May bring an experience of low expectations from their elementary, middle schools, and high schools—have learned that their teachers and peers may doubt their abilities. 
  • May come from a K-12 school system with very minimal resources to adequately provide bilingual/bicultural teaching strategies or counseling services—have been taught and assisted by school staff in a language and cultural norms that are different from their own.
  • Tend to come to college with less high school preparation than their peers—already academically behind.
  • Often experience a sense of isolation on campus—their numbers are lower and they can see this.
  • Tend to have no or few family members who have graduated from college—pivotal people to provide role models, advice, and support.
  • Tend to face economic hardships—struggle financially with living and/or college expenses.
  • May face first language barriers—trying to learn English while also trying to learn in their other courses.
  • Often find that their courses and/or campus don’t have much of a multi-cultural curriculum and consequently lack relevance to their lives as a person of color—a sense of separation from their school and the subject matter they are trying to learn.
  • Often have to battle stereotypes and prejudice in college and in the surrounding community—causing stress, problems, and distractions.
  • Often don’t have the mentors they need who are similar to them—who really “get” them, who fully understand what they are going through and the obstacles they might face. 

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