Practices that Promote Equity in Basic Skills in California Community Colleges

The Statewide Puente Project Model

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The Statewide Puente Project Model

The Puente Project targets student academic success, satisfaction, and retention within an integrated framework of counseling and academics. Puente creates a community with an interdisciplinary approach that combines counseling, mentoring, and writing with an overall goal to increase the number of California's underrepresented students that enroll and succeed in higher education. Information from the official Puente website states the following:

The Puente Project is an academic preparation program whose mission is to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees, and return to the community as mentors and leaders of future generations. Staff development and training programs prepare community college instructors and counselors with effective methodologies for improving the academic achievement of underserved students, working collaboratively across academic disciplines, and increasing community-based support for students and community college staff. Puente provides three areas of service to students: teaching, counseling, and mentoring. Instructional and student support services faculty work together, often in each other’s classrooms, to mentor the student into becoming a successful college student, graduate and future leader. (Puente, 2008, p 2)

Puente was founded in 1981 at Chabot College. The program’s purpose was to improve the number of underrepresented, disadvantaged students seeking to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. “Chabot’s Puente Program reports higher than average course completion and success in basic skills and college level English; higher term-to-term persistence; higher graduation rates; higher transfer rates; increased course completion and success in developmental and college-level English; increased persistence, graduation, and transfer” (Center for Student Success, Promising Practices Archive, 2008, p. 3). Puente represents an extremely successful learning community involving faculty, counselors and tutors in a culturally appropriate environment. This program addresses the needs of our fastest growing student population. Barbara Jaffe of El Camino College provided this snapshot of the typical Puente student profile that illustrates their basic skills pre-Puente status:

Puente Student Profile

  • Latino students have the highest dropout rate in community colleges (94.1% of Latinos in CA won’t complete their AA Degree)

  • They generally come from families with no college experience

  • Financially they are from low-income areas

  • Students often have a record of low performance for participation in college-track classes

  • Most test at pre-transfer level English course skill level

  • These students are fluent English speakers

  • Many are second or third generation Mexican/Americans

  • These student generally avoid counselors and English classes

  • They are inexperienced writers

  • Their grade point averages are quite low

  • The students have unclear career goals

  • Few are likely to transfer to four-year colleges and universities

This profile clearly demonstrates that a simple curricular change is not adequate. Helping these students succeed requires a holistic approach. This is the philosophy and structure of Puente, which results in extraordinary outcomes in one of our most fragile student populations.

Puente Outcomes

  • Only 7% of the first-time freshmen who enter CA community colleges with the goal of transferring actually do so.

  • Among Puente students who have transferred to the UC, 95.6% graduate within four years, as compared with 73% for all transfer students and 62% for Chicano transfer students.

  • Nearly twice as many Puente community college students transfer to four-year colleges or universities as do underrepresented students statewide.

  • Term-to-term retention rate of Puente students is 92%, compared with 60% for community college students statewide.

  • Among students who have transferred, 91% believe that the Puente class prepared them for college-level reading and writing and 83% believe their Puente counselor did a good job preparing them for transfer.

According to the annual Puente Project 2003 internal evaluation findings report,

  • Nearly twice as many Puente community college students transfer to four-year colleges or universities as do underrepresented students statewide; the rate is also significantly higher than that of the general community college student population.

  • The term-to-term retention rate of Puente community college students is 92%, compared with 60 % for community college students statewide.

  • From 1996 to 2000, an average of 80% of Puente community college students completed the pre transfer-level English course, compared to 51 % of non-Puente students. During the same period, 68% of the Puente students completed the transfer-level class, compared with 53% of non-Puente students. (Puente, 2008, p. 5)

College of San Mateo (CSM) - Writing in the End Zone (WEZ)

College of San Mateo developed a unique learning community to address low success rates in at- risk students that paired football team physical education courses with English writing courses. Basic and developmental composition, two levels and one level below Freshman Composition or English 1A, targeted African-American and Pacific Island students on the Football team. The learning community model actually helped meet the needs of student-athletes, coaches, and even English faculty. Bringing these three usually disparate areas together enabled a strong sense of community and team membership that built trust and understanding and established and enforced academic standards. The community builds a precedent for success immediately and facilitates the exchange of expertise, English to football and football to English—the power of the local expert. Positive behavior and high-quality work in class is named, rewarded, and praised. The structure of consequence used in athletics is applied in the classroom. For example, missing class or assignments means the student or entire team may have to run bleachers. The coach attends class regularly to model appropriate academic behavior, and the English faculty attends practice and games to reinforce the importance of community. Rules and guidelines for course participation are consistent with the rules and guidelines coaches use for team participation.

The curriculum for this unique strategy has a premise that less is more, debunking the myth of remediation and “basic skills.” Reading and writing are taught as composing processes involving audience awareness, purpose, planning, drafting, revision, and reflection. Academic criteria for reading and writing assignments are made absolutely clear. All writing assignments are text-based and rely heavily on inquiry. Assignments begin “close to home” or in “comfort zone” and finish in an abstract and academic End Zone. Modeling expository writing is essential. Grammar and usage are taught in the context of students’ own writing and on a need-to-know basis. To teach correct English usage, faculty address patterns of error in student writing in a carefully measured and systematic way. Students are provided numerous hands-on opportunities to read and write in class, in workshops, and in the college’s writing center.

There are many qualitative outcomes from this unique learning community. Coaches and classroom instructors come to appreciate each other’s challenges and accomplishments. Student-athletes, coaches, and faculty are joined in a common purpose. The team dynamic is used to facilitate learning. Peer pressure is used in a positive way to build confidence and reinforce positive behavior. Support services are made readily available. English and football are aligned—both are made equally important. Collaboration between coaches and instructors creates an added safety net for student- athletes. The quantitative outcomes are very impressive when considering the national and statewide lack of success for African American male students and the low rate of transfer.

Table 5 Comparison of English Course Success between Writing in the End Zone Students and the General Population

Development English Course

General CSM Population

Course Success

Writing in the End Zone (WEZ)

Course Success

African American Success



Basic Composition

Course Success




(n = 35)




Composition Course Success





77.3 %


Persistence from Basic to Developmental



Because the program has been collecting data over several years, there is a remarkable history of improvement which validates the effectiveness in this strategy in long term goals. Before 2001, the core GPA for the football team was 1.78 and just two scholarships awarded. Last year, after three years of WEZ, the core GPA was 2.55 and students earned 20 scholarships totaling over $700,000. In 2007 to 2008, there were a total of 18 AA degrees or midyear transfers and 14 athletic signings with potentially 4-5 more expected.6 Successful transfers were notable, including transfers to the University of Massachusetts, Marshall University, Washington State University, University of Arkansas, San Jose State University, Missouri Western University, Portland State University, Mesa State University, Upper Iowa University, Southern Utah University, and Kansas State University.

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