Federal grants to support student success, equity initiatives at UC Santa Cruz

Two U.S. Department of Education grants totaling $3.6 million are the culmination of a campuswide effort to support Latino student retention and excellence in research

Students walking across campus

The two HSI grants are an instrument of a larger campus vision for educational equity and student success.

Maximizing Achievement through Preparedness and Advising

Under the grant, UC Santa Cruz will redesign Math 2. Historically, this course has been taken by many students of color, women and students from a low-income background, many of whom repeat it or do not continue in math based majors after failing this class. The redesigned course will take an active learning approach, rather than being lecture-based. Additionally, it will allow the campus to reduce the size of the class sections from 35 to 25 students, as well as have them meet twice a week instead of once with a goal of creating a learning community. An EOP intervention counselor will also be available to monitor and support students with non-academic barriers in their transition to the university.  Expert math lecturer Nandini Bhattacharya will lead the development of the course redesign.

For writing, which can be another academic hurdle for many students, the campus will develop two new ways to help hone their composition skills.

First, UC Santa Cruz will offer "Reading for Writing in College Institute," a 10-day summer seminar designed by Sarah Hope-Parmeter and her faculty colleagues from the Writing Program that focuses on the skills needed to better prepare incoming freshmen for college-level reading and writing, and success in their transition. The seminars will be held in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Central Valley, where students have low scores on the UC Analytical Writing Placement Exam.

The second component will have undergraduate tutors using video conferencing to lead reading groups for three additional weeks at the end of summer of reading and writing practice as a ramp-up to writing in college.

To increase the sense of belonging amongst Latino and low-income students, the grant will support events throughout the state to help ease the college transition for students and their families. Plans include holding multilingual regional conferences for admitted students to help families develop plans for college, transition to college, and workshops on financial education and how to navigate the matriculation process. Additionally, the campus will use social events to welcome incoming students and expand the El Centro Internship Program to broaden opportunities to explore Latino identity in college.

On the advising front, the campus will deepen existing academic coaching during critical points — when students are having a difficult time in class and when they're less than a quarter away from completing the degree and when they are in academic difficulty through EOP’s Crossing the Finish Line and iMAP (Improving My Academic Progress).

Two grants from the U.S. Department of Education will help UC Santa Cruz increase achievement for Latinos and all students on campus, as well as partner with San Jose City College to help transfer students earn their bachelor's degrees at a research university.

Totaling $3.6 million, the awards from the Title V Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Program are the result of a campuswide effort to look at how UC Santa Cruz can best serve Latino and other students who have a difficult time when they start college.

"At its core, UC Santa Cruz is committed to enabling all of its students to succeed," Chancellor George Blumenthal said. "These two grants will help us to focus and further meet the needs of a community that is critical to the state's economic future, and moreover will help bring diversity to the campus and to our workforce."

Enrollment of Latino undergraduate students at UC Santa Cruz hit 28 percent in 2012, crossing the 25 percent threshold to be considered a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Achieving this status allowed the campus to apply for federal HSI grants, accomplishing one of the 5 for 2015 goals set by Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway. This is the first time UC Santa Cruz has received institutional funding from the federal government because of this distinction.

Pablo Reguerin, executive director for Retention Services and Educational Opportunity Programs, and Professor Juan Poblete with the Literature Department co-chair the task-force that worked on one of the two HSI grants the campus just received.

"These HSI grants will not only help us level the field for Latinos and other underrepresented students at the very start of their UC Santa Cruz career, but - given the combined impact of a 30 percent demographic presence and their lower overall graduation and retention rates - will also, if successful, allow the campus to significantly increase its chances of achieving its long-term strategic goals," said Reguerin and Poblete. "Latino success is now absolutely key to UC Santa Cruz's success."

The two HSI grants are an instrument of a larger campus vision for educational equity and student success, Reguerin and Poblete explained.

"This can help move us beyond compositional diversity to better cultivating the talents of all our students," they said. "With this grant we have an opportunity to innovate, experiment, and reform UC Santa Cruz and build institutional capacity to better serve all students.

"For UC Santa Cruz, the challenge is how to fulfill its public education mission and help California be a more just and productive society when more than 63 percent of its students are what is still, but inadequately, called minorities, and often from working class backgrounds with low cultural and social capitals," Reguerin and Poblete said.

"When underprivileged minorities become most of the students the institution must educate, present and future success in achieving its goals depend crucially on its capacity to adapt and respond to that change. UC Santa Cruz is well on its way to do just that and these two grants will help us see one path to get there."

The first grant, $2.6 million spread over five years, is for the Maximizing Achievement through Preparedness and Advising (MAPA). It focuses on four areas that the HSI team found to restrict achievement early on for underrepresented students: college algebra for calculus (Math 2), writing, sense of belonging, and advising.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Richard Hughey established the HSI Team in 2012 to consider the true meaning of becoming HSI, how to best serve UC Santa Cruz students, and to prepare for funding opportunities.

"For the past three years, the team has worked to tackle the four most key issues entering student success with thought and innovation," Hughey said. "The hard work of the entire team coupled with this Department of Education funding will have a transformative effect on our campus that will touch all students."

San Jose City College and UC Santa Cruz collaborated to receive a $3.2 million grant for the Cultivamos Excelencia Project, which over five years seeks to motivate and retain Hispanic and other high-need students to complete a degree at a research university.

The two campuses will work together using a combination of tutoring, mentoring, research skills instruction, transfer advising and participation in undergraduate research to encourage self-efficacy, skill development and motivation to complete their bachelor degrees on-time with a strong set of analytical and writing skills.

"Moving forward, our work together will not only promote educational opportunity, but it will also strengthen the transfer pipeline for San Jose City College students to UC Santa Cruz," San Jose City College President Byron D. Clift Breland said. "We are pleased to partner with our colleagues at UC Santa Cruz to launch this valued and historic initiative for the students and the communities we are charged to serve."

The project will give students a chance to take courses on research methods for transfer credit, as well as participate in research projects for university credit while they're still enrolled at the city college. The two offerings strive to help students realize they can succeed at a research university.

One of the objectives is to increase the percentage of two-year college Hispanic students transferring from 33 percent to 43 percent by the end of the grant period, as well as decrease the time-to-graduate by a year for students in the program.

San Jose City College (SJCC), established in 1921, enrolls more than 10,000 students each semester. The city college met the U.S. Department of Education standard to become a HSI in 2000. Latino enrollment at SJCC is now more than 40 percent. In 2008, federal HSI funds for SJCC lead to the development of the Metas Program, which has since evolved into a campus model for improving the way in which SJCC serves Latino students.

Robert Gutierrez, director of the Metas Program, is responsible for multiple academic programs integrating instructional and student support services. The new project, Cultivamos Excelencia, will spur the development of an undergraduate research program housed in the Metas Program. Gutierrez attended SJCC and transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he earned a bachelor's degree in literature.

"It's full circle for me to have the opportunity to serve students at two institutions where I accomplished more than I could have possibly imagined despite tremendous odds as a son of immigrant parents from El Salvador and Mexico," Gutierrez said. "I'm the first in the family to go to college, so I have an inherent will to serve underrepresented students."