Central Valley

Central Valley groups strive to boost college enrollment

Bolstering the number of Central Valley residents attending college takes everyone's help, from educators in preschools to those at universities.

And the change doesn't come overnight.

The San Joaquin Valley has far fewer people earning bachelor's degrees than the rest of the state, about 15 percent compared with 29.5 percent.

Valley educators, business leaders and community members partnered to address that gap and formed several groups, including preschool-through-college councils and the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, which serves 10 counties from Stockton to Bakersfield.

In the eight years since its inception, CVHEC has made strides, many of them indirect. For instance, CVHEC officials, schools and colleges have enhanced technology so high school and college transcripts can be electronically exchanged among campuses.

CVHEC and other groups also have strengthened communication among elementary schools, junior highs, high schools, community colleges and universities, such as through preschool-through-college committees.

Merced County Superintendent of Schools Lee Andersen has seen improvements. One of Merced's school districts has teamed with Merced College to make sure fewer students will need remedial classes once they reach college.Valley higher education advocates also have focused on gathering data.

"It's not the most exciting step, but it's so vital," said Cheri Cruz, CVHEC executive director. "We're beginning to answer some of the questions we have."

By tracking students and numbers, officials can tailor programs and services to students. For example, the data might show why those attending community colleges with plans to transfer to a four-year school don't make that transition. Depending on the results, colleges can make the leap easier to navigate, improve student preparation or brainstorm other fixes.

The statistics lead to reports such as "Why Access Matters: A report on college access, transfer and work force preparation in the Central Valley." Released this summer, the 26-page document analyzed collegegoing trends in the valley.

The findings showed an increase in the percentage of nonwhite students earning associate degrees at valley community colleges. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of nonwhite students earning that degree jumped 5 percentage points, from 49.2 percent to 54.2 percent.

Getting out the word about colleges and making it easier to register for classes are also accomplishments.Many community colleges recently have started registration events in the summer or fall to streamline entrance tests, registration, financial aid and other paperwork. Modesto Junior College's StartSmart and Columbia College's Xtreme Reg have been popular and successful.

"It's slow, we're not there yet," said CVHEC's Cruz, "but this region is moving so much farther ahead than others."