Berkeley City College has a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
BCC is one of only two California colleges to receive the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant. The other was awarded to InterAmerican College in National City, near San Diego.
“This is incredibly good news during a time when we are in a disaster with funding at the community college level,” said BCC President Betty Inclan. “This in essence, gives us a sense of hope. We have a very fragile population and we want to make sure they can graduate at BCC or transfer to a UC or a CSU.”
The grant will be used to expand support for students—many of them minorities—who do not meet basic college skill levels. Current BCC assessments show that on average 70 percent of California students who enter community college do not have college-level skills.
The latest demographic data shows that BCC is 32 percent Caucasian, 22 percent African-American, 14 percent Asian, 14 percent Latino, 2 percent Filipino, 1 percent Native American, and 14 percent other or unknown.
“It’s definitely been my experience that many who enter BCC do not have college-level skills,” said Tra Holloway Boxer, BCC basic skills counselor. “Many times, students were not successful in the past, so they have this phobia about college.”
Boxer says that the best way to support students is to try to understand their situation. She meets with students for an hour when they begin the basic skills program to look at not only their academic records, but their family lives and physical and emotional health.
“One of the first things we do is look at who the student is and how their learning styles vary,” said Boxer, who is also a life coach and licensed psychologist. “We look at their strengths and their weaknesses. The most important thing to measure is their attitude.”
Boxer says that students are willing to put in the extra effort to achieve a greater education.
“They really want to change, but many of them don’t know how,” said Boxer. “Many of them are not even kids. Some are adults. ... I have followed up with many kids and they are changing and doing great things. They are walking prouder.”
“The money will go towards curriculum changes,” said BCC President Incan, “including curriculum development, curriculum assessment, critical literacy across the disciplines, faculty to work with counselors, and the expansion of student tutoring. ... With our money, we also plan to do more outreach to high schools and explain our expectations prior to students’ arrival and to have conversations with high school faculty and counselors about our institution.”
“The most important aspect is the extra tutoring and student services,” said English professor Terry Tricomi. “We have good classes and good teachers, but too many students in a class. We have a program called ‘Persist’ ... which puts students in study groups. For other colleges, it has been very successful.”
The Title III U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Institutions Program grant is a competitive program established by the Higher Education Act of 1965. According to the Department of Education, only 60 colleges were awarded this grant in 2009.
“One of the most challenging things we face as an institution is that Peralta is very underfunded,” said Nicky Gonzalez-Yuen, a Peralta trustee. “Berkeley Community College, among four colleges in the district, has the thinnest infrastructure within personnel. So the question was, if you bring a grant in, how do you staff it? I am pleased that Betty [Inclan] was successful in this effort. In the long term, it shows that we are going to be serving our students a lot better.”