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UC Merced, West Hills College share grant for college preparation

August 22, 2006

MERCED - In each of the next five years, the University of
California, Merced, and West Hills College Coalinga will each
receive $325,000 to help improve the college-going rate of Central
Valley students.

UC Merced will work in partnership with West Hills College
Coalinga, and share a $3.25 million grant from the U.S. Department
of Education to help prepare community college students for UC
Merced. The Title V grant is designed to help colleges and
universities enhance and expand their capacity to serve Hispanic
and low-income students by helping strengthen academic quality,
institutional stability and management.

Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey and West Hills Chancellor
Frank Gornick said the grant money will fund academic support
centers, tutors, faculty collaborations and summer bridge
activities designed to help more students earn college degrees.

In the Central Valley, between 12 and 14 percent of adults hold
college degrees, compared to 29 percent statewide, according to the
Central Valley Higher Education Consortium and the California Post
Secondary Education Commission.

One reason is because the Valley has a higher high-school
drop-out rate than many other regions, and those who do graduate
are less likely to go to college than many of their peers. They are
also less prepared for college-level work when they do go, the
consortium’s studies show.

“This grant couldn’t be more important,” Chancellor
Tomlinson-Keasey said. “UC Merced is dedicated to helping more
Valley students reach college and succeed at their higher education goals.”

UC Merced is aiming for designation as a Hispanic Serving
Institution, a title West Hills carries. To earn that designation,
a school must have a Hispanic student population of at least 25
percent, and half of those students must meet low-income
classifications. UC Merced meets or exceeds those criteria,
however, has not yet gained full accreditation - also a
requirement, said Jorge Aguilar, Director of UC Merced’s Center for
Educational Partnerships.

Through the Center for Educational Partnerships, hundreds of
Valley parents have learned how to get their sons and daughters on
the college track and help keep them there. Aguilar said the grant
with West Hills College will help further that mission.

“It’s a very exciting partnership,” Aguilar said.

The 75-year-old West Hills College serves the west side of the
San Joaquin Valley from Firebaugh to Kettleman City. Almost 60
percent of its students are Hispanic, but only about 4 percent of
the adults in that region hold college degrees. The community
college plans to use some of its grant funds to establish an
endowment fund, add library books and resources and update campus technology.

The grant money is part of the $20.5 million awarded to 33
Hispanic Serving Institutions around the country. U.S. Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings said it’s incumbent upon schools to
continue encouraging Hispanic students to improve their educational
levels so they will be ready for the challenges of the future.

That’s especially important in the changing, growing Central
Valley. The Valley must provide college-educated employees for
companies wishing to relocate here. And college-educated citizens
will remain here if jobs that use their talents and skills are
plentiful, Tomlinson-Keasey said.