Recognizing the valuable but often overlooked role that community organizations play in partnering with universities to improve student success, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) recently announced a grant for California State University, Los Angeles to scale-up its partnership with East Los Angeles College (ELAC).
The $50,000 grant to Cal State LA is one of 12 awarded to public institutions across the country to advance university-community partnerships as a means to boost student success. The awards, known as Collaborative Opportunity Grants, support innovative approaches that link student success with an institution's community engagement.
Through the funding, Cal State LA will create a peer advocate program to support the timely graduation of transfer students from ELAC. The program will use a non-traditional, student-centric approach, in which the concepts of kinship and critical consciousness are central, to identify practices that will foster greater success for transfer students.
"I believe that a sense of kinship--a feeling that allows students to believe that they belong at Cal State LA--is important for educational justice and it is at the heart of how our program will engage East Los Angeles Community College students to be well prepared and ready to take on their higher educational goals," said Cal State LA Professor Bianca L. Guzman, who will serve as director for the peer advocate program at Cal State LA.
Other Cal State LA faculty members involved with the program include faculty advisor Celina Benavides, faculty coordinator Claudia Kouyoumdjian, and peer advocate trainer Kortney Hernandez. The team also includes several undergraduate and graduate students who serve as peer advocates and research assistants.
The peer advocates will be trained to conduct interviews with groups of students from ELAC in order to provide mentoring, outreach services and workshops geared toward students' academic success. These groups will include ELAC students who applied to Cal State LA and were admitted and enrolled, ELAC students who were admitted and not enrolled, ELAC students who were denied admission, and ELAC students who had incomplete applications.
The program aligns with the GO East LA initiative, which is a collaboration between Cal State LA, ELAC, and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The initiative supports a college-going culture in East Los Angeles. Guzman also directs the GO East LA program.
This month, representatives from Cal State LA and the 11 other universities awarded grants will convene in Washington, D.C. to strategize and collaborate on their initiatives. USU and APLU will disseminate key findings from the institutions' work after the Collaborative Opportunity Grant program has concluded to help promote best practices that other public universities can adapt.
In addition to collaborating with an external partner and aligning with investment priorities, Cal State LA and the other grantees demonstrated that their programs are using an emerging approach to student success and that their institution has capacity to sustain and scale the effort. Finally, grantees had to outline a quantitative and qualitative assessment plan to track the program's efficacy.
The universities' partners involved in the grants span a wide variety of organizations and institutions--including non-profit organizations, local governments, health agencies, and school districts. The grants must involve one or more of five priority investment areas: engaging faculty; rethinking financial aid; leveraging community assets; engaging employers and workforce organizations; and integrating and strengthening K-16 systems. All grants are supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.