Opinion: The Hispanic Tsunami Flooding California Colleges Needs SDSU West

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Iconic Hepner Hall at San Diego State University. Photo by Chris Jennewein

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

Hispanics are surging into California’s public colleges and setting enrollment records every semester.

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When the deadline for September applications for admission to San Diego State University closed, 96,000 applications were received — a record.

Unfortunately, SDSU could only accept 10,000 new students because there is no more room on the campus. The challenge is made greater by the record 3.73 grade point average of entering freshmen that limits the entry of students with otherwise solid grades.

SDSU boasts 30 percent Hispanic enrollment, but is so popular and tough to get into, it doesn’t come close to the Hispanic percentages at other California State University campuses. For example, CSU Los Angeles enrolls 64 percent Hispanic students; CSU San Bernardino, 63 percent; CSU Dominguez Hills, 59 percent; CSU Stanislaus, 51 percent; and CSU Fresno, 50 percent.

The entire Cal State system enrolls 40 percent Hispanic students. The numbers are astonishing — 154,000 Mexican Americans and 39,000 other Hispanics for a grand total of 193,000. Some 51 percent of all California high school graduates were Hispanic in 2016. That year, 71 percent of California Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college compared to 49 percent in 2000.

Of all college degrees awarded in 2016 in California, 50 percent were awarded by the Cal State system. It is not an exaggeration to say that the 23-campus system is the key to educational advancement for the state’s Hispanics.

Yet SDSU, arguably the jewel of the CSU system, can’t take any more students. Every square inch of its 238-acre campus is built out. Only a tiny number of the college-age Hispanic residents of San Diego County can enroll despite the huge overall surge in state Hispanic college enrollment. There isn’t room.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

Coming years will be worse for local San Diego and California Hispanics looking to enroll at SDSU. While most can’t afford to leave the city for college, many can afford SDSU. They don’t need a car to attend SDSU if they live close to the trolley lines. As it happens, the San Diego Hispanic community mostly surrounds those trolley lines.

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Commuting to SDSU for Hispanics is facile and not expensive. But if there is no room, that and affordable tuition don’t matter.

There is a solution, however.

When the Chargers left San Diego for Los Angeles, an aging stadium and giant parking lot in Mission Valley became vacant. A private, out-of-town group stepped up and presented a plan to lease the property for 99 years.

The hedge-fund investors have few San Diego roots. None attended SDSU, which has over 300,000 alumni, most of them in San Diego. A proposed alliance with the university ended when it became clear that the proposed deal was designed to maximize profit for the group

The out-of-town investors are trying to control hundreds of centrally located real estate acres for a century during which they could make hundreds of millions of dollars with high-rise hotels, another shopping mall, a soccer team and condominiums without a single new classroom for crowded SDSU, minutes away by trolley.

On the other hand, locals — many of them SDSU alumni — have come up with an alternative proposal. SDSU West would authorize the city to sell the property to the university at fair-market value and allow SDSU to construct a new stadium, an expansive river park, housing for staff, faculty and students, and more classroom space.

Additionally, using out-of-state university-developed research facilities as models, a research-oriented development is being discussed. A similar development philosophy over the past 50 years by University of California San Diego has created thousands of jobs.

It could happen again. This time with local input and development. Furthermore, the growing Hispanic college-bound population would have a place to study that it doesn’t have now, nor will have if the SoccerCity group convinces enough people to vote for its plan.

The expansion would not occur overnight, but today’s third-grade Hispanic child would have a university seat just a trolley ride away when he or she enrolls in a 50,000-student SDSU.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.”  His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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