College Excellence Program
College Excellence Program
Santa Barbara City College
Perched on a bluff with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) serves a student population that is predominately transfer-oriented. Understanding the need to prepare its students— the vast majority of whom arrive below college-ready standards—for ongoing higher education, the college has organized itself to strive for every student’s success. A deeply embedded culture of shared governance has been used to integrate what the college offers educationally with student services. Exceptional writing labs, tutoring centers, and programs tailored to support at-risk students supplement classroom education taught largely by a full-time Ph.D. faculty. The college also works hard to serve the local community, with a third of the student body enrolled in continuing education courses. Deep connections result, allowing the college to attract significant local support for scholarships, the library, and a new arts center.
Speeding toward success
When Pam Guenther, a professor at SBCC, first heard about a plan to speed some of the school’s neediest students through two developmental math courses in one semester, she thought it was crazy. They need instruction to move slower, she figured, not faster. Several years and 130 successful students later, she’s sold.
The southern California college’s Express to Success program provides an accelerated track through developmental classes and represents one of many ways SBCC is working to improve outcomes for its 20,000 credit students, particularly its growing population of underrepresented minorities. Though Santa Barbara is known to most as an affluent, intellectual beach community, nearly one-fifth of the county’s residents live in poverty and the college does not shy away from the challenge of educating them with high expectations.
Express to Success students spend one semester in a learning community that over several hours each day tackles elementary and intermediate algebra—normally separate semester-long courses—as well as an online class in math study skills and a personal development class called College Success. Guenther likes that she can take a topic from its initial explanation all the way through to complicated examples, with no review necessary, and that her students have to do homework every day, leaving no time to forget anything. The students like the built-in community and the speed.
Hector Solano, 25, failed math in high school. At SBCC, he started last spring in the most basic level of developmental math and, thanks to immersion courses, will be taking calculus just a year after that. “They’re giving you all the tools that you need to succeed,” he said. “You don’t have to wait forever to move up.”
SBCC, with a student body that is nearly one-third Hispanic, aims to increase the number of minority students studying math and science. Solano is one. He has embraced a math major and is working as one of more than 300 “gateway tutors”—students who succeeded in a developmental or introductory class and are trained and assigned to a section to assist their peers—the college hires each term. The college has expanded all its tutoring efforts, but the gateway tutoring has special resonance with Solano’s classmates because they feel he has walked in their shoes, and because they see him so often. Solano benefits too. “I get to understand math on a deeper level,” he said, “and it gives me a sense of satisfaction that I get to explain things that they don’t understand.”
Strong support for transfers
“We’ve always prided ourselves, as a college, on transfer,” said Jack Friedlander, SBCC’s acting president. About half of students indicate when they enroll that they intend to transfer, and a quarter do so within three years. But it’s becoming harder to get into the most common transfer school—the highly selective University of California Santa Barbara 10 miles away—and other California colleges, and transfer numbers in general have not satisfied administrators. So SBCC is making an institutional push to increase transfer numbers and decrease time to transfer.
The school reaches out to colleges to strike deals guaranteeing admission to qualified SBCC graduates—15 schools have such agreements with SBCC right now. A new effort called Express to Transfer invites students who enter the school with skills at or just below college level to sign on to a rigid program of coursework and support, including assistance in their transfer applications. For students who follow through, graduation in two years is guaranteed.
Student services and academic faculty now work together to define efficient pathways and communicate them to students. Faculty members attend workshops about the transfer process and invite counselors to their classrooms to present to students. Academic departments have been changing requirements to make sure the courses needed for their majors line up with the courses required to transfer to the most popular schools.
The math curriculum, for example, was reworked when counselors noticed that physics majors could make a smooth transition to UCSB, but not to UCLA. Now the major courses cover what a student needs at either university. Before, according to Manou Eskandari, chairman of the political science department, requirements in various departments consisted of whatever the program chairs found interesting. “This is a major improvement,” he said.
“Margin of Excellence”
The campus of Santa Barbara City College feels like a traditional university, as seen on TV—long stretches of green, students killing time outside, the Pacific Ocean twinkling just over a bluff. It’s a place that has no trouble attracting faculty candidates and a place where community members want to spend time: in hundreds of adult education courses that enroll 11,000 people a term and at a rich array of lectures and cultural events.
It’s estimated that about four-fifths of Santa Barbarans have some sort of connection to SBCC: they or their children take classes there, or work there, or participate in college activities. In a city known for its philanthropy, those connections pay off. The Foundation for Santa Barbara City College raises more than $3 million a year—funds that college leaders say enable them to provide a “margin of excellence.”
Money from the foundation and widespread support of bond initiatives enables the school to build the kinds of facilities that sustain community engagement, such as a new performing arts complex. But first and foremost, the wealth is devoted to ensuring that all students succeed. A phone campaign last year raised $750,000 for initiatives such as Express to Success and Express to Transfer. Foundation money has backfilled state cuts to SBCC programs for minority students. Donors fund student scholarships, internships, child care, tutoring, library programs, and book grants.
In addition, the college aggressively seeks grants and has made itself an attractive place for out-of-state students, who pay much more than the in-state tuition. SBCC has welcomed international students, who are not eligible for financial aid. The school doesn’t just admit them, it makes sure they fit in, starting with a special two-week orientation.
Whatever resources SBCC takes in, the college makes an outstanding commitment to make sure they are targeted where they are needed most. That is paying off for students. As Oscar Zavala, a counselor with the Express to Success program, which gets support from the foundation, said, “During a time when most colleges are just trying to survive, our college is thriving.”