By Craig Petinak, San Bernardino Valley College
Todrianna Holt was headed for the Army in search of any way to pay for college, but would have had to wait several years before earning G.I. Bill benefits.
Semiya Holman was accepted to the University of California, Riverside, but as one of seven family members surviving on the support of one parent's salary, things simply didn't add up.
Tyler Votaw's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time while he was finishing up high school -- a reality that precluded him from even considering college.
All three of these class of 2010 high school graduates eventually found themselves in college this fall at San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) by way of the Valley-Bound Commitment.
Launched by SBVC President Dr. Debra Daniels with 36 students as a pilot program in 2008, the Valley-Bound Commitment is a student success program that is increasing the college-going rate within the Inland Empire one family at a time. By covering all enrollment fees and textbook costs and a variety of ancillary expenses for the first year of college, the Valley-Bound Commitment effectively eliminates all economic barriers for graduating high school seniors to begin pursuing their educational dreams.
Results from the first two years of the program are revealing how Valley-Bound Commitment students are performing at a higher level of success, reaching their goals of transfer and graduation more rapidly, and helping improve their community, creating a new trajectory for their future and the economic future of the region as a whole.
Program Growth and Student Success
The Valley-Bound Commitment was developed in response to the reality that the Inland Empire area has one of the lowest college-going rates in the state; only about 25 percent of adults have attained any type of college degree while that same 25 percent figure signifies the number of 12th graders in the region who continue directly to college immediately after high school. The program targets graduating seniors at the 12 local feeder high schools that may not have continued on to college for financial reasons. To be eligible, students must have graduated from one of feeder high schools, be recognized as financial aid eligible, write a 1,000 word essay, enroll as a full-time student (including student development courses), and serve 30 hours of community service over the academic year.
Supported by the SBVC Foundation via generous grants from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and other community and individual donations, the program expanded in 2009–10 to include 89 graduating seniors. Of these students, 62 were the first in their family to attend college; only two Valley-Bound Commitment students' parents possessed any type of college degree. For the 2010–11 school year, over 400 applicants applied for 150 spots in the program.
After the first two years of the program, the average grade point average for Valley-Bound Commitment students that completed the program approached 3.0—significantly higher than the 2.57 GPA of the typical SBVC student. In addition, Valley-Bound Commitment students are remaining in college well after their free first year is complete. Of the 31 students who completed the first year of the Valley-Bound Commitment, 28 returned to SBVC to continue their college career at their own expense. This persistence rate of 90 percent is nearly double the rate of their comparable peers and has continued in subsequent years.
Effectiveness of the program can be attributed to a variety of factors such as mandatory student development courses, workshops and seminars on college and personal success, accessibility and availability of counselors to ensure student success in and out of the classroom, and student exposure to programs and services as a result of their hours of community service.
In addition, program participants are able to focus on their studies as full-time students without the outside pressure and time constraints of full-time employment that would otherwise be necessary to fund their education. All of these factors helped cement the idea that Valley-Bound Commitment students have all the tools and support available to be effective and successful at San Bernardino Valley College.
Inclusive Program Provides Hope
"When I first heard about this program from our high school principal, I thought it was too good to be true," says current Valley-Bound Commitment student Semiya Holman. "But there really is a support system here for us every day."
For those financially-challenged families who never even considered college as an opportunity for their high school graduates, a program like the Valley-Bound Commitment levels the playing field for all. Those who might have otherwise disqualified themselves by the assumed exorbitant expense of college now have the same opportunity to access the bountiful benefits of attending college regardless of the ability to pay for it—a realization not previously comprehended nor imagined.
SBVC and the Valley-Bound Commitment have provided an open door and a great deal of support to light the way to a brighter future for those who may never have imagined college possible. For students like Andrea Galicia from the 2008 pilot program, the Valley-Bound Commitment led to something that had never been done in her family—her graduation from SBVC in May 2010 and a transfer to California State University, San Bernardino, only two years after completing high school.
Around campus and in the surrounding community, Valley-Bound Commitment students have also given back to the campus by volunteering over 2,200 hours at charity events, fundraisers, and outreach events, including returning to their local high schools to talk about the opportunities available via the Valley-Bound Commitment. The positive economic impact on the region will only multiply over the years to come, as nearly 70 percent of SBVC graduates remain in the Inland Empire after graduation, creating a more educated local workforce.
Thanks to the boost provided by the Valley-Bound Commitment, individual student dreams are now one step closer to becoming reality. The next decade may find Todrianna Holt teaching her elementary school students about the importance of college to their own future, Semiya Holman wrapping up her graduate school studies in journalism at New York University, and Tyler Votaw keeping our community safe as a police officer.
"The professors here are very helpful and my counselor calls me and asks me how they can help me," says Votaw. "If I wouldn't have been accepted into this program, I wouldn't be in college at all."