Boot Camp, Regional K-12 Meetings Are Next Steps in Valley Education Consortium’s Goal of Building and Nurturing a College-Going Culture in the Central Valley

by Dr. Barbara Hioco and Cheri Cruz

Figures released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office have shown that the Central Valley of California has far fewer high school students who seek college degrees or training to develop job skills than the statewide average.

Throughout California, some 51 percent of secondary school graduates go on to college to seek a degree or specialized technical training. In the Valley, the corresponding number is 25 percent.

There are socioeconomic and demographic reasons for the disparity, linked to the fact that the Central Valley is the state’s agriculture center and farm work is often unsteady and seasonal and attracts a large number of workers for whom college isn’t a requirement, not even an option.

Education has always been the pathway to a brighter future for the next generation. In the modern age, delivery of education has become more complicated while at the same time more necessary than ever before.

The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC) is bringing all existing resources to bear on the problem. Much of what the group of higher education leaders is trying to accomplish, with support from public and private grants, the community and advocacy partners, will be on display January 6-9 at Fresno State.

Those are the dates for College Next! Boot Camp, an intensive program for high school juniors from throughout the Central Valley at which they’ll learn everything they need to know about planning for their post-high school education.

CVHEC’s mission is to increase college participation, show students how to access the education system, and support student success initiatives by collaborating with like-minded organizations.

Those goals all come together at Fresno State on Jan. 6. More than 75 high school students will meet at 11 a.m. at University Square to register for 30 hours of instruction designed to teach them how to get into college and succeed once they get there.

These high school juniors have been recruited from campuses in Fresno, Kings, and Tulare counties. The idea of attaining a college degree or advanced skills training was just a dream to many of these students, who would be the first generation in their families to go to school beyond grade 12. Boot Camp will translate their dreams into reality.

The four day camp, sponsored by the Fresno Regional Foundation, will prepare students for the college admission process. In addition, those students will be trained to become college opportunity ambassadors and go back and empower their high school peers. They’ll be visible on their campuses wearing t-shirts that state, “Ask Me How to Go.”

College readiness is the top priority for the Consortium, which receives primary funding from membership dues, with added support from the California Education Policy Fund. A second goal is to foster cooperation – rather than competition – between regional colleges and universities and to work with area high schools to better prepare graduates for college.

This cooperation was in evidence a few months ago when 15 college and university CEOs gathered at Fresno State to develop an action plan. They adopted a goal of closing the gap between those that are prepared to pursue higher education and those who are not. Out of this meeting came a plan to meet with K-12 leaders in 2014, and the first in a series of regional meetings is being planned for March 21.

This is what makes the consortium unique: It involves the leaders of all the colleges and universities in the Central Valley and brings them together with K-12 administrators so they can work on the problem together. These cooperative efforts have already borne fruit in the past two years, as a subset of the Consortiums colleges have worked closely with one another to expand and streamline job training under a Department of Labor grant.

It is said that it takes a village to educate our children. In many remarkable ways, our village is coming together to make higher education and a better life an attainable goal for potentially thousands of students in the Central Valley. It will mean a better tomorrow for all of us.

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Dr. Barbara Hioco is Executive Director of CVHEC and past president of Reedley College. Cheri Cruz is Associate Director of CVHEC. For more information, visit the website collegenext.org, or contact bhioco@csufresno.edu or ccruz@csufresno.edu