San Marcos,
15:43 PM

CSUSM's Alliance with Regional School Districts Reaches a Milestone

By David Ogul

A unique Cal State San Marcos initiative to improve college attendance and graduation rates—particularly among youth from underserved communities—reached a major milestone in May when the Lake Elsinore Unified School District became the tenth in the region to sign on with the Alliance to Accelerate Excellence in Education.

The 10 districts from Oceanside east to Valley Center and into Riverside County include almost 200,000 students.

“Signing a tenth district says so much about where we are and where we are headed as a region when it comes to collaborating on educational goals,” said Dr. Patricia Prado-Olmos, CSUSM’s vice president of Community Engagement.

“This alliance gives our students an opportunity to be better prepared for college,” said Alain Guevara, assistant superintendent of Administrative and Educational Support Services at the Lake Elsinore Unified School District. “It puts a laser-like focus on a college education from the time they’re in the seventh grade.”

The agreement with the Lake Elsinore Unified School District is typical in that it not only guarantees admission to CSUSM for those meeting minimum CSU eligibility requirements, but also offers an array of support services to help ensure students succeed. The Memorandum of Understanding, for example, calls for the Lake Elsinore district to provide “clear criteria for identifying and supporting incoming seventh-grade at-risk students,” and “academic support, pre-collegiate programs, and/or AVID program opportunities for middle and high school students.” Some districts also offer scholarships to those who qualify.

The pact calls for CSUSM to provide, among other things, academic advice, guidance and support to promote timely graduation; to assist in placing qualifying students in internships, summer placements, or senior project assignments within local community businesses; and to encourage CSUSM alumni to volunteer as speakers or mentors at district schools. Incoming CSUSM students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school; complete required college preparatory coursework; and take part in an Early Assessment Program that eliminates the need for remedial classes.

“These MOUs are not just about admitting students to CSUSM, they are about building relationships with our K-12 partners so that more and more students are not only able to go to college but are ready for college once they get there,” Dr. Prado-Olmos said.

And it’s working. Students who enroll at CSUSM through the Alliance to Accelerate Excellence in Education—more commonly referred to as the Alliance—have higher GPAs, higher SAT scores, enroll in more units per semester and better reflect the demographics of the region, according to CSUSM data. Of the students enrolling at CSUSM through the Alliance in the fall of 2013, nearly 6 in 10 were the first in their family to pursue a four-year degree.

The program continues to evolve. A new Family Empowerment Network is being developed to aid parents and gaurdians in supporting student achievement and a successful transition to postsecondary education.

Expanding access to and preparing students for a college education is becoming increasingly vital. The Public Policy Institute of California projects that by 2025, the economy will require 41 percent of workers to have a bachelor’s degree. Complicating matters is that the relatively well-educated baby-boom cohort is now beginning to leave the workforce, and demographic groups that historically have lower rates of college completion are now entering the workforce population.

"The focus of the Alliance is on making sure that every student in the region both has access to a quality higher education and is prepared for that quality higher education,” said Erika Daniels, director for the Alliance to Accelerate Excellence in Education. “We are committed to providing educational avenues for success to everyone, regardless of your background or socioeconomic status.”

Each school district joining the Alliance tailors its programs to meet the needs of its students. Veronica Catalan, 19, enrolled at CSUSM through the Alliance in the fall of 2014 through the Escondido Union High School District’s MAP program.

MAP is an acronym for Maintain (an academic focus) Attend (school daily) and Participate (in school/community activities). Veronica, who has earned an annual $1,500 scholarship through MAP, was required to maintain a 3.0 high school GPA (hers was 3.6), maintain a 98 percent attendance rate, and volunteer at least 100 hours in the community (she did so through her work at a nursing home).

“So many people I know of at Escondido High School meet those requirements,” Veronica said. “This gives them an option that many of them feel they don’t have. It definitely eliminated a lot of the stress for me, and it offered me a great opportunity to go to a good college. I was set on where I wanted to go when I was a sophomore.”

For Veronica and her family, CSUSM has become a family tradition thanks to the district/university partnership. Her three older siblings are all Cal State San Marcos graduates.

“The program is good for our entire community,” Catalan continued. “Students go to a university that’s local, get a great education, and then come back and contribute to their community.”

Guevara agreed. He noted that Lake Elsinore students who enroll at CSUSM would be invited to work as AVID tutors at local schools to help pay their way for college.

“It’s a great way for them to give back to the community and be good role models for our students,” he said.