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In The News

Santa Rosa Junior College Lands Federal Grant to Aid Latino, Low-Income Students

Santa Rosa Junior College will soon roll out a new program to boost retention and graduation rates among its growing population of Latino students, who now comprise more than a third of the student body.

College officials said they can now go ahead with the program after securing a five-year, $2.65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions grant is available only to colleges with an enrollment that is at least one-quarter Latino.

“As the population of our district has grown and shifted, there are many students who have nobody in their family who has gone to college,” said Ricardo Navarrette, the college’s vice president for student affairs. “For us, this is an opportunity to make a shift in families for generations to come by providing a pathway to college, then getting students to graduate or earn a certificate.”

Just four years ago, the college wouldn’t have been eligible for the program. Latino students in 2009 made up about 22.5 percent of the campus population. This fall, about 35 percent of students are Latino, Navarrette said. Based on demographics in local school districts — not to mention those statewide — Navarrette expects that number only to grow.

Last year, 42 percent of 12th-graders in Santa Rosa City Schools were Latino, he said. And when they looked even farther down the pipeline to kindergartners, they found that 60 percent were Latino.

With the grant, the college will start a program called Meta4, which stands for Multicultural Education Transfer Acceleration. It’s meant to help Latino students stay enrolled and complete degrees or certificates by providing extra training, tutoring and advising. There also will be a focus on training instructors to better assist such students.

By next summer, officials hope to have created an intensive summer session for students who are behind in English and other subjects. It will allow them to quickly finish remedial classes so that they can focus on college-level instruction in the fall.

Right now, earning a two-year degree can take four to six years for a student who has to enroll in remedial classes at the same time as college-level courses, said Catherine Prince, interim dean of instruction and strategic program development. “They often get frustrated and drop out before they can complete their degree,” she said.

The summer program would help participants get ahead and build a cohort of students who could be a support network during the college experience.

The college also plans to build a center called Mi Casa, which students can use as a home base and resource center.

Meta4 will expand on the work of Rafael Vazquez, SRJC’s outreach specialist, who for a decade has been talking to Latino and low-income high school students about why they should go to college and how they can make it happen.

College President Frank Chong was off campus and not available to comment Friday, but in a statement he said receiving the grant was “a transformational moment not only for SRJC but for the entire community.”

Latino students are not the only ones meant to benefit, Navarrette said. The grant program is designed to help colleges improve the way they work with low-income, first-generation or otherwise disadvantaged students, regardless of ethnicity.

“By increasing our support for professors, our community outreach,” he said, “we’ll be able to help other students.”

The grant represents a small fraction of the college’s general fund budget, which last year was $117.5 million. Still, it’s the largest federal grant the college has received, Prince said.

“We are doing a little happy dance over here,” she said. “They funded between 20 and 24 colleges in the country, and we are one of those.”

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