By Steven Bartholow
For many young students the gap between high school and college seems insurmountable.
“I didn’t know what to do… I needed help to get to college,” said Esther Rodriguez, a sophomore at San Diego State University.
In 2001, an agreement between SDSU and the Sweetwater Union High School District guaranteed Sweetwater students admission to SDSU if they could meet a series of requirements throughout high school. Known as the Compact for Success, it aims to get students to attend college, succeed and benefit the community in the process. Once they enter college, they become members of the Compact Scholar program to help them continue their academic success.
Rodriguez is among the original class of Compact Scholars, who will be graduating from college in the next couple years, offering evidence of how successful the Compact really is.
SDSU benefits from the deal because the Compact Scholars must be proficient in English and math before being admitted to the school. This automatically decreases the overall number of students who need to take remedial college classes, which saves the university money.
SDSU’s Latino student body population is about 10 percent shy of the San Diego County demographics. Seeking to further fulfill their commitment to diversity, SDSU is reaching out to the Sweetwater School District, which is 70 percent Latino.
Seven years after the Compact began, SDSU’s Latino student body population is on the rise and the Sweetwater District has increased the number of its students accepted to college. And although the level of preparedness of incoming SDSU students has yet to improve overall, SDSU’s incoming proficiency is about 18 percent stronger than the average California State University.
Admission into SDSU is competitive. Last fall, SDSU received 58,055 undergraduate admission applications for 9,813 open spots. In addition, all CSUs are faced with reduced budgets and will be decreasing the number of seats available to entering freshmen. This makes guaranteed admission a valuable thing.
But guaranteed admission is by no means automatic. Scholars must maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 throughout high school, complete a regimen of advanced classes, take the SATs and test out of remedial English and Math courses at SDSU. In fact, the average high school GPA and SAT scores of entering Compact Scholars is higher than the average incoming freshman at SDSU. Most Compact Scholars would be regularly admitted to SDSU, regardless of the Compact. But the Compact provides them with additional resources and incentives they may not otherwise have, according to Janet Osterbye, director of the Contract Scholar program at SDSU.
The Compact also introduces students to college early and gets them interested. “During the seventh grade trip, it hit me, it was the first time I had thought about going to college,” said SDSU sophomore Genoeva Romero.
“We start telling the kids in the seventh grade, college is good for you, they have no idea why until later, but it’s in their mind that college is important,” said Mike Govea, assistant principal of Sweetwater High School. “Then they start seeing their friends getting ready for college; the social aspect is drawing more students to college.”
As a result of the Compact, college is becoming trendy at Sweetwater High School, one of more than a dozen high schools in the Sweetwater School District eligible for the Compact.
“If your friends are filling out admission forms and going on college trips, you want to as well,” Govea said.
“College is really important, if you want to live here, get a good job, and raise a family,” said Rose Umali, a senior Compact Scholar at Sweetwater High, whose parents came from the Philippines.
The Compact is a stimulant for students, teachers and the community. Students and their parents are made aware of the importance of college, given the goal, and shown a clear path to get there. The Compact fosters a high school community that is college conscious.
“Most people I know, their parents didn’t go to college and they can’t help them, so it’s good that the school helps us know what to do,” Umali said.
Counselors and student advisers check in on Compact Scholars throughout high school to make sure they are meeting the benchmarks and that there is a poster about the program in every classroom. This guidance extends into college with a class and Compact advisers.
“We provide a community of scholars on campus so that they have a place to go if they have any questions,” the Compact Scholar Program Director, Janet Osterbye said.
The number of Sweetwater students admitted to SDSU has grown 120 percent since 2000. The Scholars have even completed more units per semester than the average student.
The final benefit to the community will be seen with the first wave of Compact Scholar graduates.
“Many college grads come back to teach at Sweetwater or get good jobs and come back to enrich the community,” Govea said.