Uncle Sam Wants DACA Recipients to Avoid Tax Scams

DACA recipient Ana Alcantara, 22, was misinformed by her tax preparer and ended up paying an unnecessary penalty.

DACA recipient Ana Alcantara, 22, was misinformed by her tax preparer and ended up paying an unnecessary penalty.

A new scam targeting immigrants has gotten the attention of Uncle Sam.

Health advocates are concerned that tax preparers have been misinforming, and some even outright scamming, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries by making them pay a penalty for not having health insurance. On Wednesday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a statement clarifying that there is no such penalty for undocumented immigrants or for DACA recipients. DACA is a program announced by President Obama in 2012 that gives temporary protection against deportation to undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children.

“Advocates have been asking [the Obama administration] for a month to provide [tax preparers] some clarity,” said Angel Padilla, a health policy analyst at the Washington, D.C. office of the National Immigration Law Center. Up until now, he said, “there was not something official we [had that we] could point to from IRS that makes this clear. Now we do.”

The IRS website now reflects the clarity that advocates have been pressuring it to spell out:Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals and are not lawfully present in the United States are exempt from the individual shared responsibility provision. For this purpose, an immigrant with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status is considered not lawfully present and therefore is eligible for this exemption. An individual may qualify for this exemption even if he or she has a social security number (SSN).

The confusion arises from a policy under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires nearly all Americans to have some form of health insurance, or face a penalty. That coverage could come from job-based insurance; an individual health plan bought through government-run health care exchanges or elsewhere; Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California), a government-funded health insurance program for low-income people; or Medicare, a health insurance program for those who are over 65 or have a disability.

For 2014, the first year the policy went into effect, the penalty for failing to get such coverage was $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of taxable household income, whichever was greater. The penalty will increase in subsequent years.

But the requirement to have health insurance does not extend to undocumented immigrants or DACA beneficiaries. That’s because they are not lawful residents. DACA is only a benefit eligibility category, not an immigration status.

It is a distinction that neither the Department of Health and Human Services nor the Internal Revenue Service made clear on their websites until now, Padilla said.

“That lack of clarity trickled down to tax preparers,” he said.

Brenda Ordaz, a representative of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and a health navigator for the state’s health insurance marketplace, has seen the confusion first hand. A DACA recipient herself, Ordaz says other DACA recipients have been coming to her, asking why their tax preparers were making them pay penalties for not having health insurance.

She said one tax preparer asked a DACA client to pay her the penalty directly and in cash, rather than asking the IRS to deduct it from his refund.

“I’m sure some preparers are doing this to undocumented people as well,” Ordaz said.

Los Angeles resident and DACA beneficiary Ana Alcantara, 22, says her tax preparer told her she had to pay the penalty when he discovered she didn’t have health insurance. She reluctantly agreed to have the $95 deducted from her nearly $850 tax refund.

Alcantara didn’t know she was exempt from the requirement. She also didn’t know that she could have enrolled in California’s state-funded Medi-Cal program as soon as she received DACA in 2013. Even though DACA recipients are banned from accessing any federal programs, they qualify for state-funded Medi-Cal – something that many aren’t aware of.

Meanwhile, tax preparers themselves say they don’t always know if their client is a DACA recipient. One tax preparer acknowledged that she had filed tax returns for a number of clients that included the penalty because they had failed to tell her that they were DACA beneficiaries.

“It’s hard to know because a lot of clients don’t open up,” explained Azucena Lopez, co-owner of Gonzales Tax Services in Madera, Calif. She said she had assumed they were lawful residents when they told her they had a work permit and social security number.

Since she became aware that her clients were DACA recipients — and were exempt from the penalty — Lopez says she has been filing amended tax returns. Alcantara’s tax preparer also has agreed to file an amendment so Alcantara can get her $95 back.

Read more about health care and DACA on the National Immigration Law Center’s website, 

Art Center Tours Unveil its Possibilities

Photo Essay, Malcolm Marshall

Children and families explored their creative spirits together by seeing and making art at a bilingual art tour hosted by the Richmond Art Center March 7.

Lauren Ari, a teacher at the art center, led the group of about 10 on a guided tour of the center’s galleries, along with a hands-on art-making activity. Children’s ages ranged from 3 to 8.

“We go through all the different studios,” Ari said, “so they’re in the metal studio and the painting studio and the weaving and clay… and we talk about all the different ways of making art.”

The group consisted of all first-time visitors, said Ari, who noted that many Richmond resident still need to learn about the art center and all it has to offer. She said she hopes the monthly tours, presented in conjunction with the nearby Richmond Public Library, will bring more people to the center.

“People can get some books, then come over here and see an art show or take a class,” Ari said.

Local resident Rich Robb, who attended with his wife and daughter, said they had never been inside in the center until the tour, and found himself pleasantly surprised.

“The best part of today is seeing all the possibilities here, for classes and to be able to make things,” Robb said. “The fact they have free classes is excellent. It’s a good place for the community.”

Ari agreed.

“It can be intimidating,” she said. “The tour is a way to make art come alive for everyone. This is their art center, this is our community’s art center and it’s free. You can come and see a show for free. We have classes and scholarships. It’s a way to bring everybody in.”

For more information on the tours, visit www.richmondartcenter.org


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New Charter Schools to Open in Fall

By Nancy DeVille

Two new charter schools focusing on technology, high graduation rates and college readiness will open near Hilltop Mall this fall, and are taking applications now.

Aspire Public Schools will open Aspire Richmond Technology Academy with an enrollment of 244 students in grades K-5 and Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory will enroll 280 students in grades 6-12 for the first year.

A 135,000 square foot building is under construction on Hilltop Mall Road, just across the street from Wal-Mart in Hilltop Mall.

“We like to go to places where families need some high quality options and we are really excited about being part of the landscape in Richmond,” said Kimi Kean, Bay Area superintendent of Aspire Public Schools. “We’ve been in communication with a lot of families who really want some different alternatives where they can send their kids. “We’ve gotten a great response so far.”

Aspire officials say their small class sizes, technology emphasis, variety of advanced placement offerings, high graduation rates and track record of 100 percent of graduating seniors accepted to four-year colleges are attractive to parents.

The school will use curriculum aligned with Common Core state standards and to earn a high school diploma students must pass five college courses. Aspire partners with UC Berkeley to connect students with mentors and provide opportunities to audit classes and summer sessions, which are held at the university campus.

“When we receive students in kindergarten we start talking and working with families about college as the end goal,” Kean said. “Our approach is that all of our students are going to college.”

Aspire received final approval from the West Contra Costa school board in December. The district currently has seven charter schools operating in Richmond.

The schools are under construction on a site that was once home to an Albertsons grocery store. Most recently there was a bank and a few businesses operating on the property before they were razed to make room for the school.

“Some were surprised it was not a grocery store, but a school,” said Cesar Zepeda, president of the newly formed Hilltop District Neighborhood Council. “But a lot of neighbors are glad to see something being built and not just vacant buildings because that area has been undeveloped for quite some time.”

Aspire Public Schools was launched in 1998 when longtime public school educator Don Shalvey joined forces with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings. Nineteen years later, Aspire serves 14,000 students, predominantly from low-income backgrounds, in 38 schools throughout California and in Memphis, Tenn.

In the Bay Area, there are 10 schools in Oakland, Berkeley and East Palo Alto. Aspire holds about three more weeks of classes than a traditional district calendar.

“We believe kids need more time and support to really reach these high expectations around college readiness,” Kean said.

Since roughly 40 percent of the students at Aspire’s Berkeley campus commute from Richmond, school officials have decided to close that location when the Hilltop facility opens this fall. The Berkeley campus has an enrollment of 560 with 48 percent Hispanic and African American respectively, 1 percent Pacific Islander, 1 percent Asian American and 1 percent Caucasian, according to the school’s website. Eighty-four percent of the students come from low-income families, officials said.

Aspire is currently accepting applications and if the number of students who wish to attend exceeds the school’s capacity, attendance will be determined by a public random lottery drawing.

To learn more: For more information or to apply to Aspire Public Schools, visit http://aspirepublicschools.org/enroll/.

Richmond Talent Show Unites Old and New

By David Meza

Some of the city’s and Bay Area’s finest performers—of all ages—showed off their singing, dancing and musical skills in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium on February 8.

Johnny Holmes, who has hosted talent shows in Richmond since 1968, presented the event, dubbed the “2015 Talent Show Reunion Old & New School.”

“I started because I needed funds for my track team, the Half Steppers at Kennedy High School,” said Holmes. I used the money from talent shows to buy uniforms and stuff like that. It was a real big thing back then.”

This year Holmes was at it again, raising money to take the Half Steppers to a competition in Norfolk, Virginia in July.

The “Old School” reunion theme brought out talent both young and (a bit) older as many of Richmond’s OG dancers brought back dance moves like the robot to compliment the youngsters’ new styles like crunking and twerking.

The days’ winners were Ms. De’ Or in the elementary and middle school
division, Noah Simpson, Jalen Justice and Derrick Daniels in the high school division and the group First Contact in the open and old school division, who each won a $500.00 cash prize.

Many in an audience of over 400 people yelled and screamed with excitement throughout the show, even running up to the stage during some of the best performances.

Teijae Taylor, an employee at Bay Area Rescue Mission, brought 11 children and two adults from the Mission with her, in the hopes of inspiring them.

“A lot of the children have never seen entertainment like this,” she said. “For them to see other children their age able to show their skills, I thought it would a blast.”

Taylor added that she also came out to see the OG dancers perform. “I grew up with them and I know the skills they have,” she said.

The show also featured a performance by Richmond native and professional dancer, Ladia Yates who has danced with Missy Elliot and Janelle Monae, and most recently with Usher on the “Today” show.

“I choose to dance here because this is my home town,” said Yates, adding that she won the talent show twice when she has in high school.

Another previous winner, saxophonist Kalin Freeman, came after trying out for the television show, “America’s Got Talent, the day before.

“I’m waiting for them to call me back in about three weeks,” Freeman said.

“It was an amazing event and I’m really happy that it came back to life again,” said Tania Pulido, who performed a hula-hoop dance for the contest.

“I had no idea of the legacy of the event. Its awesome that they recreated the event to allow the younger generation to tap in into it and get a little taste of what Richmond used to be back in the day,” she said.


Community Gathers for a Summit on Peace

By Ann Bassette

Miracle Temple Apostolic Church on the south side of Richmond was the site of the “Get the Hell Outta Richmond and Put More Love Into It,” peace summit on Feb. 7. The gathering, organized by community advocates Rodney “Alamo” Brown and Steven Parker, brought concerned residents together to talk about remedies to violence, due to spate of violence (or “hell”) in this New Year.

The summit featured a number of speakers including Landrin Kelly of the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation; Khalid Elahi, a youth advocate; and Pastor Patrick Weaver of Greater Abundant Life Ministries.

Information about social service providers, mentors for youth and the criminal judicial system was handed out to attendees.

richmond_brown_2At the start of the event, Brown greeted every single person in the church with a smile and a handshake as the pews filled up. “We wanted to bring out the community to talk about the issues that are concerning our community,” he said.

“We want to make sure we can show them that we have their back,” he said of the need to support youth in the community, “to make sure that they get all the fortified information they need to uphold this legacy we call Richmond, California.”

IMG_7302Around the room, a grandfather captivated his grandson by teaching him new Spanish words as they waited for the session to begin. A mother watched her son suck on his pacifier and practice standing while holding onto her fingers.

Co-moderator Redge Dwayne Green, who acted in the movie “Boyz in the Hood,” commanded the room with a bold smile, strong voice and friendly nature as he introduced each speaker.

“I’m participating in this event as a community member to project more hope and healing,” said speaker Dameion King. King was formerly incarcerated and said he understands how he was once a part of what helped to keep the community down. Now, working with local non-profit Rubicon, he has spent the last 15 years being a part of the solution and actively promotes violence-prevention.

“Liking is for Facebook, respect is for community,” said Pastor Weaver, to applause from the packed house. “We are not going to change the world until we change our world, from the inside out,” he added. “If we do not start instilling what we want our children to become, we find our children not at home, but in the pen. If we keep placating, pacifying, and pretending as if this thing is going to cure itself, as if the politician is going to come in because we cry about it versus vote about it, we’re only recreating the problem.”

The crowd clapped and shouted in agreement.

“The dream is delayed because we haven’t been responsible for the vision, “ he concluded.

IMG_7372One of the days’ most powerful speakers, Elahi, shared his life story to serve as a solution. “This is where I come from,” he said, “I was a part of the problem once before.”

Elahi said he empowered over 150 young people as a football coach in Richmond, which helped them succeed on the field as well as in the classroom.

“Violence is a disease,” he added. “It’s a public health risk. It’s not these young peoples’ fault.”

Other featured speakers included Elaine Brown, a former chairwoman for the Black Panther Party, Minster Andre Bean and members of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety.

Ervin Roquemore, a Probation Counselor at Contra Costa County Juvenile Detention Center, said that he’s spent a lot of time in the community trying to ensure kids never end up needing his services.

By the time they reach the level of detention, the minors and their families are in crisis,” Roquemore said. “We’re not teaching respect, we’re not teaching love. A kid who doesn’t feel love doesn’t feel worthy and it’s hard to reach them. We have to let them know that they’re valuable to us, that they mean something to us.”

Photographer to Document Bike Culture in Richmond

By Joanna Pulido

Gracefully riding through the bike lanes of Richmond, Josue Hernandez gets to his destinations with speed and ease. At 23, he has the energy and athleticism to bike everyday, but is calm and soft-spoken, with a mix of confidence and down to earth personality.

Hernandez is a North Richmond resident working to beautify, teach and improve his community. And now, with a recently awarded Neighborhood Public Art Mini Grant, he is taking on the challenge of capturing the life stories of 60 Richmond cyclists.

10830590_2754196608186_8570842443455679319_oBorn near San Diego in Chula Vista, CA, Hernandez lived in Los Angeles and Oakland before his family moved to North Richmond in 2005. Despite the difficulty of having to start over in a new city, Hernandez quickly made friends in Richmond — but life wasn’t always easy.

During his teenage years he struggled with academics at Richmond High School, and was transferred to Gompers continuation school.

“Because of moving I needed to adapt to a new place, new people, new school, which made it harder,” he said. “I had a negative attitude about the whole thing like, ‘Why am I even here? I don’t really care.’”

Uncertain about his future goals, Hernandez dropped out of school and took a job in a fast food chain restaurant.

After almost a year of that lifestyle, Hernandez realized he wanted to get back to school, and joined the Literacy for Every Adult Project a night General Educational Development program, and successfully earned his degree.

“I didn’t want to be working dead in job,” Hernandez said. “Some of my co-workers had goals of finishing school and I wanted something like that too. LEAP opened up new opportunity for meeting people and with my writing and reading.”

While at LEAP, he also worked as a busser, waiter and host at restaurants on Pier 39 in San Francisco to help support his family.

After getting his GED Hernandez’ life changed as he pursued what he loved and cared about; photography and biking.

His passion for biking was sparked when he was 17, after purchasing his first bike, which he describes as one that needed some work.

“It was a way for transportation and it was cheap, like 50 bucks. I bought it but they didn’t tell me that there were issues with the bike,” he said. “So I watched Youtube videos and learned how to fix the bike. It wasn’t that hard.”

In 2012, Hernandez became the first youth leader for Rich City Rides, a cycling organization in Richmond that is building a bike culture, community riding skills and is also promoting healthy living and expanding the local economy.

Hernandez excelled at Rich City Rides’ program activities and was selected out of 20 youth to attend the United Bicycle Institute in Portland for bicycle mechanic certification and shop operation.

As an active employee of Rich City Rides, Hernandez’ hard work, personality and generous actions play a strong role in the shop, where he works part time as a sales associate and bicycle mechanic.

In this role, Hernandez paints and customizes bikes, sells merchandise, fixes bikes, has lead two bike parties and helps with Friday workshops. He also leads weekly rides to the Bay Bridge.

Executive Director of Rich City Rides Najari Smith, is a mentor and friend to Hernandez, helping him become more involved with the community. Through Smith, Hernandez was introduced to Urban Tilth, a non-profit organization in Richmond that helps build sustainable gardens and educates the public on health and just food systems.

10532349_927758083908393_1496969588146986915_nHernandez is now on staff with Urban Tilth and is working on the newest farm-building project in North Richmond. He is receiving training in urban agriculture, community organizing and leadership skills. And, he uses his talent for photography to document the work of Urban Tilth and Rich City Rides.

In addition to all of this, Hernandez plans to begin working on a project he for which he was awarded a Neighborhood Public Art Mini Grant in March. He says this is his first grant, and to win it he required learning how to write a competitive application, present his idea clearly and create a budget.

The project is a photo documentary in Richmond of cyclists interviewed in different locations. It will depict where they ride, how they ride and why they ride.

The project’s three set goals are to show that Richmond has a strong bicycle community, to showcase a form of alternative active healthy transportation and to document the expanding bike culture and how it impacts the city.

Moreover, Hernandez hopes to share his photography and promote healthy living at the same time. He dreams of opening his own bike shop in Richmond one day, where he sees himself continuing the work of customizing bikes and sharing his photography.

“I’m excited about this project,” Hernandez said. “I think it will show that Richmond’s bike culture is already here and it will also make it stronger.”

Ceasefire Walks, Rain or Shine

Commentary, Leslie Basurto

It was 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I was attending my first Ceasefire night walk — a weekly trek where members of the community walk together through streets where gun violence has occurred in the hopes of putting an end to it. In recent years Ceasefire has received a lot of credit for Richmond’s reduction in crime and violence, and I wanted to learn about their approach.

The night was dark and pouring rain, I was thinking maybe they’d call it off because of the weather. But, I figured I would at least knock on the door of the Bethlehem Missionary Church — the meeting point — in case anyone was there.

To my surprise, the door opened and I was greeted by a group of people sitting in a circle. The mood was palpably serious. Rev. Donnell Jones, Community Organizer for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, was telling them about recent deaths in the area involving gun violence. The men involved in the shootings were between 18 and 23 years old. “Babies,” Jones said, “robbed of the ability to dream.”

Jones explained the purpose of the walks and the strategy to end gun violence including “call-ins” where parole officers meet one-on-one with perpetrators, which has proven successful. Members of the group discussed the lengths they would go to get these youth help. Before we headed out, we gathered in prayer “for a generation of people that have been lost.”

After grabbing candles and signs reading a variety of things like, “Peace for Richmond” and “Honk to end gun violence,” we hit the streets, heading towards Cutting Blvd.

The signs we held suffered in the rain, but the enthusiasm and perseverance of the group persisted.

“I almost thought that maybe I wouldn’t come out to walk tonight because of the rain,” said Jane Eisenstark, a Richmond resident. “But then I realized that it was that much more important that I do.”

Throughout the trek the group chanted, “Ceasefire: Alive and Free,” and despite the poor visibility, drivers passing by honked in support.

We reconvened at the initial meeting point at the end of the walk, drenched from the rain. The gathering closed with a prayer and some words from Jones about taking the work to the next level outside of walking. The goal, he said, is getting at risk youth help through any means.

I left feeling overcome with emotion. I thought about peers who had been lost too soon and how senseless these deaths always are. Gun violence does not occur everywhere. We do not need it. It is hurting our community.

I also felt intense gratitude for the people who walk weekly, as well as those who are involved in the fight against violence in other ways. It is clear that these people have unconditional love for their community. Any of them would help if someone who needed it reached out.

Rich City Fashion

Photo Essay, Chanelle Ignant and David Meza

Joggers or skinny jeans? Snapbacks or bucket hats? If you’re wondering what the hot fashion trends are in Richmond right now and where can you get in on the action, look no further. On a recent afternoon at the RYSE Youth Center a group of fashion conscious models weighed in on the debate.

“It depends on which Richmond you at,” said Nya McDowell, 18, “because our Richmond [reflects] our creative people.”

The Merritt College freshman says that her style is mixed and matched. While some people rely on name brands, she tends to make her own clothes work for her.

“I wear what I’ve got, and only go shopping for what I need,” she said.

Overall the models said they don’t shop often, but when they do, they look for the best deals. Thrift shops trump big name stores and persistence, they say, is the best way to walk away with the goods.

“It’s patience. You have to go through every single rack,” McDowell said.

Maaika Marshall, 23, says she likes the mix-matched look, but feels like she can’t pull it off herself. “That look is hella cute. I wish I could do that.”

Instead, Marshall goes for a refined, professional look, opting to shop online at stores like H&M, Macy’s and Zumiez.

Elijah Holford, 19, says that no matter what you wear, you should wear it with confidence.

“Without confidence people will see right through you,” she said.

So what defines their personal style? Check out some of their favorite outfits in the photo spread.

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Seeing Gardens in the Blight

Photo Essay, Luis Cubas

Richmond is a city plagued with blight. While some areas are revitalized, too many lots are left empty throughout neighborhoods—standing out like gaps in a crooked smile.

While out on a walk down California Avenue, in the North and East neighborhood near Richmond High School, I passed three large lots in just a few blocks. They looked like they’d gone untouched for years; covered with weeds, garbage and old appliances.

Looking at them, I wondered, “What would happen if these lots were transformed into community gardens?”

Tim Higares, a code enforcement manager in Richmond, said the number of vacant lots is in the hundreds, and growing. But, he said there’s hope in the blight.

He cited the new community garden at Harbor 8 Park on the Richmond Greenway and the ongoing Mathieu Court greening project in the Iron Triangle as examples of efforts to beautify vacant, dilapidated areas.

“The city is in support of anything that will improve or stabilize the community,” he said.

“We would much rather see a beautiful green community garden than a ugly lot that’s full of trash and debris.”

Already some cities, and the state, have taken moves to support the idea of using vacant lots for growing food.

Last November the Oakland City Council approved changes to the city’s agricultural regulations to allow gardeners to grow vegetables on vacant lots and sell without a permit, as long as they receive permission from the property owner. And in 2013, California passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones, which gave private landowners a financial reason to consider turning their vacant lots into a garden oasis: a lower property tax rate for those who allow their land to be leased for urban agricultural for at least five years. Unfortunately this new law isn’t applicable in Richmond because it applies only in urban areas with a population of at least 250,000 people—Richmond has around 110,000 residents.

Nevertheless, I would like to see Richmond’s vacant lots transformed this year. By allowing these spaces to be used for gardening, the community of Richmond could benefit with fresh vegetables, and an improved landscape.

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The College Myth: Why Most Students Need More Than Four Years

by Joanna Pulido

The teacher smiled and held a hat as a line of about a dozen students looked at each other nervously. Inside the hat were small pieces of paper with each student’s name. Luck would determine who would be part of the class, and who would have to continue the search.

Those of us already enrolled in the class waited quietly, watching the smiles and frowns as lucky students moved closer to graduation, and others possibly further. In my four and a half years at San Francisco State University, I saw this scenario play out year after year. Some teachers tried to help us by taking into consideration the number of credits students needed, or by adding more students to the class than the limit stipulated — but often times getting into a class just felt like a matter of luck.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to SFSU, in many universities across California it’s difficult for students to graduate on time because of the space constraints in required classes, tuition costs, credits lost when transferring schools and generally not enough courses offered. And, a new study shows that the commonly held goal of graduating within four-years is unattainable for a growing number of students.

Four-Year Myth, a report from the national nonprofit, Complete College America, declares that a 4-year degree has become a myth in American higher education. The study finds that the majority of full-time American college students do not graduate on time, costing them thousands of dollars in extra college-related expenses.

Policy experts who analyzed the statistics believe a more realistic benchmark for graduation is six years for a bachelor’s degree and three years for a “two-year” certificate.

While in college I heard numerous friends and students debate whether higher education is worth the debt. It’s difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook with increasing tuition costs, long commutes and a bleak job market for graduates.

Fellow students frequently bowed to the pressure of not wanting to fall too deep into debt and would work part-time or full-time while in school, which usually meant extending their time in school. Not a great tradeoff.

Ideally, students would be able to make classes fit into the demands of the rest of their lives. As is, it works the other way around. Students are given a day and time to register for classes depending on a number of variables: what year of school they’re in, whether they’re athletes or in a special program because of disabilities or income level. Often, popular classes—and even those needed for graduation—fill up fast. Imagine being given a day and time to register only to discover that the classes you need are already full, with a full wait list too. This is the frustrating reality for many students.

We are told that education is the way to success and better lives, but for many it becomes a stressful cycle and may not guarantee anything more than years of debt and an unfinished dream.

As a solution, Complete College America suggests a more structured higher education delivery method, called Guided Pathways to Success (GPS), which would provide students with a direct route to graduation. Utilizing GPS, majors are organized into a semester-by-semester set of courses that lead to on time graduation.

My first two and half years at SFSU, I played for the women’s soccer team, which helped me obtain priority registration, and due to my low income background I was part of the EOP (Educational Opportunity Program), which also offered priority registration. Both of these programs also provided tutoring, counseling, money for books and guidance. To stay in these programs I had to keep a 2.0 GPA and complete 12 units each semester, which kept me on track for graduation.

Ultimately, these structured programs helped me complete classes, save money, and provided moral support that made me feel more confident in my college experience. If in practice, GPS functions the way the programs I was part of did, it may very well prove to be the answer to the increasing time and costs of college.