MESA, now in the middle of its 41st year, finds itself in even a worse environment than in 1970, when it first was established. California schools have $18 million less to operate than they had even three scant years ago. All three of the state’s public postsecondary systems are facing massive cuts totaling $1.4 billion for next year, even if the best case scenario for the 2011-12 budget comes to pass. Nationally American students’ performance, compared with the rest of the developed world, finds us middling in science and below average in mathematics. Science and math education is an uphill battle in a nation where people spend more on potato chips in a year than the government does on energy research.
California schools look more like MESA by the day. Fifty-five
percent of public school children qualify for free or
reduced price lunch at their schools and 53% of public
school students attend a Title I campus. Over 50% of the
public school students in our state are Latino while only
27% are white. In mathematics and science the situation is
dire. While nearly 44% of the state’s student population is
from an underrepresented minority group, only 13% of the engineering degrees in California are awarded to members of these groups.
Can there be any doubt that “laurels resting” will have to wait for MESA? Our mission continues to be crucial to the state and the nation. Both entities need organizations to create opportunities for educationally disadvantaged students, especially those from groups with low participation rates in college, to prepare for and enter professions requiring degrees in engineering or other mathematics- and science-based fields. It is this mission that ties together MESA’s pre-college, community college and university- level programs. Put simply, regardless of particular program focus, we are all motivated by the deeply held desire to see our students succeed.
In these difficult budgetary times, it is essential that MESA continues to function as a steady stream of support for our students. There must be connections along the educational pathway so students can successfully navigate across the key junctures (from middle school to high school, high school to college, college to career) that so many of the students similar to MESA participants fail to traverse. It is the meeting of student needs with MESA opportunities at each major step along the way that provides a consistent sense of place for MESA students. Without the continual support through the programs within MESA, the safety of the pathway is jeopardized. It is this element of MESA—that we are one of the only programs in the nation supporting students across the academic pathway— that makes us so uniquely successful.
So, as we begin our next 40 years, MESA must focus on what it does best: support student achievement in mathematics, science and engineering; identify and promote our accomplishments as the most successful K–16 program of its kind; prove its authenticity (collect, analyze and disseminate the data that define our success), and maintain the consistency that has defined our long-term success (always look for innovative solutions but never at the expense of what has created our success.)
MESA’s pre-college, community college, and university programs have each produced stellar results. However, MESA’s greatest value to California—and the nation—is its ability to offer continual support throughout the pathway. This remarkable skill is the major element that has made MESA a word synonymous with success.—Oscar Porter
# # #