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Many students eventually figure out what they need to succeed in higher education, but not because they learned about it in high school, or because it was written down in any official handbook. Instead, they succeed because they uncover resources and help that exist if only you know where to look.The name for this idea is hidden curriculum. As one scholar puts it: “The hidden curriculum is the rules of the game that some people get the rulebook for and some other people don’t."(Read: You Can Succeed At College Once You Figure Out All The Little Things No One Tells You About.)The students featured in our ongoing Hidden Curriculum series successfully navigated higher education while faced with particular challenges because of their background and life circumstances.

University of California Leaders Want To Make 'Hidden Curriculum' Less Hidden

An illustration of a student with a ponytail looking at a laptop with her face in her hands and elbows on the table.
How to effectively study in college can be part of what's known as the hidden curriculum.
(Illustration by Alborz Kamalizad
/
LAist)
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Nearly two in every five University of California undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college, and all 10 UC campuses have resources to help students navigate college life. Yet first-generation students still lag behind their peers in retention and graduation rates.

Uncovering The Hidden Curriculum
  • Many students eventually figure out what they need to succeed in higher education, but not because they learned about it in high school, or because it was written down in any official handbook. Instead, they succeed because they uncover resources and help that exist if only you know where to look.

  • The students featured in our ongoing Hidden Curriculum series successfully navigated higher education while faced with particular challenges because of their background and life circumstances.

At a board meeting this week hosted at UCLA, the university’s governing board discussed these disparities and how what's known as the hidden curriculum might affect student success. The hidden curriculum is a term sometimes used to describe key skills for success in higher education — for example, how to study, how to make connections with faculty — that aren't explicitly taught. The term also describes the unspoken rules and norms of a college's culture.

Frances Contreras, dean of the School of Education at UC Irvine, said programs designed to support students as they transition to college, like summer bridge programs, break ties with students too early.

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"We need to think about how to extend first-year experiences throughout the tenure of an undergraduate's trajectory," she said.

Contreras also noted the need for more faculty mentors, which she said were critical to her own success as a low-income, first-generation college student. "They helped me understand the system and how to navigate it. And they, in part, are the reason why I'm here today," she said.

Regent Maria Anguiano, also a first-generation college graduate, questioned why the UC system wasn't incorporating hidden curriculum into a student's overall education rather than asking students to opt-in to support programs.

"How do we systemically embed this into our operations, in the very core, so that every single student is actually experiencing these things they don't know they're supposed to ask about,” she asked. “Well why should they know? Why can't it just be part of the UC programming?"

Have a question about access to higher education?
Jill Replogle covers the pathways to higher education and the obstacles students face along the way.