Many factors contribute to inequitable success rates in higher education. Some factors seem very difficult to resolve, such as the primary and secondary educational gaps, longstanding cultural issues, poverty, language barriers, and educational funding. These issues are not insurmountable. They are complex, but effective practices that address and alleviate some of the barriers to equitable outcomes are exemplified in the remarkable stories of two cities where community colleges combined efforts across educational systems, partnering with community groups to take on those persistent barriers to success. One core principal in both of these stories was a focus on success for all students, rather than a single population, that created a microcosm of efforts wherever educational barriers were encountered. Although the reported indicators focus on the Latina/o population, indicators for all student populations showed increased success as a result of the efforts.
Equity Efforts in Santa Ana College
When Santa Ana College looked at future trends and predictions, it became apparent that the demographic shifts were going to be of a historic proportion. Santa Ana (population 350,977) was evolving into the most Latino, most Spanish-speaking, and youngest city in the United States (Census 2000). In anticipation of those shifts, a strategy which included an across-the-system (K-16) community-centered approach to diversity was constructed. The results of this forward-thinking are clear: Santa Ana has successfully eliminated gaps commonly found in higher education with regards to Latino educational achievement. The story is exemplary and should be a lesson for many communities in California.
Santa Ana’s feeder high schools are approximately 97% Latino with the overwhelming majority being native speakers of Spanish. In the early 1980s, when the pace of demographic change began to accelerate in Santa Ana, educators noticed that as the community was becoming more Latino, it was becoming less college-ready. This became a “Call to Action” for the transformation of the public institutions serving the community and resulted in a partnership dedicated to developing the talent of all the young people and maximizing educational achievement in the Santa Ana community. Core educational partners included the K-12 school district, Santa Ana College, CSU Fullerton, and UCI. Educational efforts have been supported strongly by the City of Santa Ana, the Chamber of Commerce, and a host of community based organizations. Since the late 1980s, the partnership has been led by Sara Lundquist, as part of her job as Vice President of Student Services at Santa Ana College (see Appendix E).
One product of this partnership and carefully planned and monitored strategy is a considerable amount of longitudinal data used to track the upward progress of students from K-12 to the community college to the university. Although the original data might have suggested a solitary focus on the growing Latino population, instead the approach has been systemic and holistic, designed to benefit and impact all students in the system.
Santa Ana’s overarching and inclusive approach links policy and practice, which have been the fundamental key in areas where there has been progress. These changes were not viewed as addressing a particular program per se, but rather as a set of coordinated strategies across institutions, customized to reflect and respond to the unique barriers that the community faced related to upward advancement educationally. While Santa Ana still has challenges ahead and areas where they would like to improve, there is a great deal of evidence that their strategies are effective and reproducible, worthy of consideration by all community colleges seriously addressing equity issues.
In an Equity-Minded approach for the entire community, educational barriers were identified. The goals of the strategy targeted three major barriers to academic achievement: 1) secondary school achievement, 2) financial support for students, and 3) parent involvement and empowerment.
Strategy 1 - Secondary School Achievement
The strategy to address the first barrier, secondary school achievement, targeted increased knowledge and skills of English Language Arts (ELA)/Math as evidenced by an improvement of students’ California Standards Test (CST) scores and an increase in the number of A-C letter grades in these courses. The results were that in the first year, students’ Math and ELA proficiency increased by 5%; in the second year, Santa Ana Unified School District students gained 21 points in the Academic Proficiency Index (API) and overall SAUSD’s API rose from the 300s to 700s and is now approaching the state’s target threshold of 800 points overall.
In addition to improving CST scores, a strategy to build a comprehensive college/career program in grades 6-12 was developed with a goal to prepare all students to be successful in higher learning beyond high school. The high schools targeted A-G course completion and college preparation with great success, doubling the number of students that completed college preparation courses over five years. At the community college level, the goal was to address assessment and placement trends in English and math. Although obviously work remains to be done, a clear and significant shift in academic preparation is occurring with a consistent trend reflecting fewer students placing at the remedial levels and more students placing into degree-applicable courses over the ten year period. The success of these efforts is seen in Table 3.
The ultimate, long-term target was enrolling students in higher education. Currently the college-going rate for full-time and part-time students in Santa Ana is 78%. This compares to 51% for the overall statewide college-going rate according to the California Post-secondary Education Commission (CPEC At Santa Ana College the goal was to increase transfers to university. The college employed a constellation of associated strategies to reach this goal, ranging from college learning communities for core courses to transfer mentoring and residential pre-transfer institutes. The biggest achievement here is that there is no transfer gap by ethnicity. Santa Ana College transfers to universities rose from 606 in 1997-1998 to a record high of 1,791 in 2008-2009. Latino student transfers rose from 109 to 716 and currently comprise the largest group of transfer students at SAC as seen in Table 4.
Table 3 Students Completing College Preparation Courses In
Santa Ana High Schools 2003-2007
Table 4 Santa Ana College Transfer Rates 1998 and 2008
Strategy 2 - Student Financial Support
Without the supplemental financial assistance provided to students at every juncture, the progress in Santa Ana would not have been possible. The complexity and labor-intensity of this dimension has been extensive and collaborative within the community, signifying the importance of a holistic view of student success which includes social and economic issues beyond the classroom. These efforts are summarized below:
The Santa Ana 2000 Futures Fund is supported by individual donors from the City of Santa Ana, SAUSD, and SAC who contribute monthly from their paychecks so that students from Santa Ana can attend college.
The Santa Ana College Foundation awards more than 500 scholarships per year. The newest initiative, the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, is a partnership with the Academic Senate to support immigrant students working their way towards permanent residency while attending SAC. Some awards are renewable through to the achievement of the BA at partnership universities.
The Hispanic Education Endowment Fund distributes resources from its $2 million endowment to students annually to support college, university, and graduate study for Latino students in the region.
The Greater Santa Ana Business Alliance funds college scholarships for Santa Ana students annually through its student recognition awards dinner.
Bank on Santa Ana and Communidad Latina are entering into a partnership to offer residency-blind micro loans to help students pay for classes they might otherwise lose and purchase textbooks for the first week of class.
Strategy 3 - Parent Involvement and Empowerment
About a decade ago, the Santa Ana Partnership invented the Padres Promotores because although the collaborative had parents involved, it was not in a sustained way or at the leadership level. In an effort to create a sustainable strategy that addressed leadership, Santa Ana College provided office space, administrative oversight, and funding to a program directed at educating parents about the value of higher education and training parents to take the message to the community in a structured way. College leaders met with parents and provided flyers and information about higher education and then sent them out to make house to house visits, particularly to parents of grammar school students, diffusing the information throughout the community. The effects of this organized strategy are impressive:
Nearly 500 parent leaders have been trained and deployed since the Padres Promotores was founded in 2000.
The Padres Promotores have made more than 8,660 home visits to talk with parents about the educational system and the pathway to college since the program’s inception.
The Padres train approximately 4,000 parents annually through workshops at school/college sites and in the community.
The Padres have written and published a bilingual guide for parents, Padre a Padre, to support their grassroots efforts to empower and connect parents with the education system.
Santa Ana College has been deeply involved in achieving equitable student achievement outcomes for decades as is reflected in early work in the Classroom Assessment movement and the creation and extensive expansion of academic learning communities. Santa Ana College has an extraordinary group of faculty leaders that are both scholarly and innovative in their work (and determined to avoid the deficit-model2 trap that is so prevalent) as well as visionary administrative leaders that facilitate these impressive results. Basic skills funding has been a boost to this work and has helped to sustain student-centered efforts over the past three years.
The unique efforts of Santa Ana are spanning across disciplines and lines of authority at the college and are deeply intersegmental. Deep engagement with feeder schools and principals has been key. This engagement includes tracking and supporting high school and middle school students and collaborating to implement College and Careers curriculum as part of the academic core in Social Science and English at SAUSD from 6th through 12th grades to all students. In addition, the university partners have coordinated across segments, working to align policies and coordinate the delivery of academic and co-curricular supports to students and their families.
Santa Ana College rejected the system of higher education as it was formerly structured, including “right to fail” and the replication of inequalities at every level, feeling those policies were the equivalent of aiding and abetting the very things they became educators to change. They know they still have a long way to go, but they summon the courage to look at the road ahead every day. The community of Santa Ana has vowed not to give up, as incremental as progress may be at times, because the result would be a world in which the dreams of children and learners in Santa Ana were left unfulfilled and the next generation of students was condemned to be unprepared for the working world that awaits them.