Luchadora Profile: Michele Siqueiros, Daughter of a Seamstress, Has One of the Most Important Advocacy Leadership Roles in Higher Education in California

Michele Siqueiros is a higher education advocate. In short, she’s a troublemaker, always pushing elected and appointed officials to be just and equitable when it comes to creating education policy. Michele works to expand access with tried and new remedies for the  challenges facing California students who are working on getting into college and graduating with a degree. She does this by vocalizing public awareness to the existing obstacles now facing students who are attempting to move forward on their higher education journey.

Michele mobilizes a coalition of higher education supporters. That coalition then targets champion policymakers in Sacramento that continue to serve the public. These state senators and assembly members advise their various committees of the needs facing students in California universities and junior colleges. The coalition then explains these issues to the press and various stakeholders, and then lobbies to make changes.

The college experience is a life-changing encounter, and Michele will be the first person to tell you how precious that experience is for the student who graduates with a degree, and the impact that a baccalaureate degree will have on one’s immediate culture and earning potential.

Born in Los Angeles to an immigrant mother who worked as a seamstress, Michele began her educational journey in Echo Park. She was identified in Logan Elementary School as a gifted student. That designation changed her status within the Los Angeles Unified School District, opening up additional opportunities. Michele was then enrolled in a gifted magnet curriculum school in El Sereno, and she was bused to El Sereno for the next three years. This change gave Michele access to some of the best teachers in the LAUSD. By the time she was in high school, her family had relocated further east to Rosemead. At Rosemead High School, Michele was fortunate to meet with UCLA students who helped qualified senior students fill out their college applications. This event was greeted with positive support from her family, despite the fact none of them had attended college. The excitement of making the next scholastic leap propelled Michele further into the selection process. She was accepted into Pitzer College, a highly regarded private liberal arts institution in Claremont, California. She was also accepted to UC San Diego.

Ultimately, Michele’s decision on which college to attend eventually came down to cost. Living on campus is pretty much a requirement for newly enrolled students at any of the Claremont Colleges. These small colleges require this so that students attain the social and scholastic benefits of the college experience. This was not a prerequisite to attend UC San Diego. This became an issue for her mother, despite the fact Michele was not planning to attend a school out-of-state and Claremont was less than 23 miles away from the family home in Rosemead.  When her mother was pushing against the idea that Michele had to live on campus while attending a college that wasn’t far away from the family home, the two had a mom-daughter spat. Surprisingly, a determined high school senior not only held to her decision, but she had a rewarding undergraduate experience at Pitzer.

Michele’s education was made possible by federal grants, state financial aid, and other assistance.  

“You really don’t know how much college is going to cost until you get accepted and begin running the numbers,” Michele said. “I discovered Pitzer was actually less expensive than UC San Diego for me. I always tell students and parents to never assume that the private school is more expensive.”

After attending Pitzer College, Michele went on to earn an M.A. in urban planning from UCLA.

Currently, Michele serves as the President of The Campaign for College Opportunity, where she works to expand access and success in higher education for California students. The organization’s goal is to increase college attendance and completion rates.

In recent years, we have seen the UCs and the CSUs turn away qualified high school seniors because they are struggling to find space and resources for these students. This is an issue that concerns Michele and her organization because for the state to remain a leading economy, an educated workforce is necessary.

One piece of legislation that The Campaign for College Opportunity was instrumental in getting passed was SB 1440, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act. This bill was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2010. SB 1440 enabled the California Community Colleges and California State University system to collaborate on the creation of Associate Art Degrees (AA) and Associate in Science (AS) Degrees to transfer directly into CSU schools with junior standing. In essence, this bill helps prevent community college students from lingering at the two year institutions accumulating a lot of units that they don’t need, which adds to the cost of the student’s education.

Michele mentioned that while community colleges are great because they are open access and where many students in our communities begin their higher education journey, these school can also become places where “college dreams go to die,” especially if students are placed in remedial courses. Aligning the courses between the California Community Colleges and the CSUs aims to prevent students from being stuck at the two year college with a streamlined process to help students at the two year colleges transfer more efficiently.

Fortunately for California students, Michele Siqueiros and The Campaign for College Opportunity work a three pronged approach to engage in policy advocacy, partnerships, and public awareness around improved college going and completion rates.

When asked what parents can do to make sure that their children will have a place at a California public institution of higher education, Michele said, “Parents really need to be engaged and put pressure on their assembly members and state senators expressing their concerns about making sure that these colleges that they help support with their tax dollars are accessible and available to their children.”

To learn more about The Campaign for College Opportunity, click here.

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Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas is a Southern California-based freelance writer and education professional. Her writing has been published in NBC Latino,,, Alternet, and The Electronic Intifada.

She has worked in the non-profit sector, in the K-12 system, and in higher education in various capacities. When she's not writing stories or working on media projects, Adriana trains instructors to teach online at the University of California, Irvine.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.

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