San Jose Evergreen Community College District explores bringing satellite program to East San Jose
The East Side Union High School District office is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

San Jose Evergreen Community College District (SJECCD) is looking to expand its presence in East San Jose as it focuses on low-income high school students of color.

SJECCD, which runs both San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College, is exploring plans to bring an early college high school program to the East Side Union High School District, which will enable students to obtain an associate’s degree or college credit while working towards their high school diploma.

Rolando Bonilla, vice chair of the San Jose Planning Commission, said he approached the district with the idea of investing in East San Jose, recognizing a “dire need” to access community college education.

“From the very beginning of my term, I have wanted to focus my energy on bringing investment and resources to East San Jose,” said Bonilla. “It is unquestionable that East San Jose high school students must be provided the opportunity to access community college courses in their own backyard. As we have seen throughout the current pandemic, an investment in East San Jose is also an investment in the city as a whole.”

Unlike traditional middle college programs which typically require students to attend classes on a separate college campus, early college allows students to take a mix of both high school and college courses within their normal school day. The courses would be taught by faculty from SJECCD.

The district began offering a similar program at Milpitas High School in 2017, where it built a physical community college extension on campus. The district already offers some college courses throughout East San Jose, but has yet to build a robust, early college program in the area.

Rosalie Ledesma, executive director of government and external affairs for SJECCD, said the district sees an early college program in East San Jose as an “investment in educational equity for students of color.”

“The problem is the low performing academic rates in East Side Unified School Districts, particularly with Latinx students,” said Ledesma. “A whopping 84% of Latinx 11th graders in the  East Side Union High School District are not proficient in math and 57% are not proficient in English. This creates an underprepared pool which then creates a multitude of challenges and a very bleak outlook for Latino families, the community colleges who enroll them and then the taxpayers who rely on their workforce.”

While Latinx college acceptance and enrollment rates have risen over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to erase those gains, said Ledesma at a community meeting hosted by District 5 United on Oct. 20.

“It’s critical that we get moving on this work as soon as possible because we are seeing the devastating and disproportionate impact to East San Jose, in particular with the coronavirus,” Ledesma said. “We’re also seeing an alarming number of students across the nation that are having to reduce the number of college courses that they’re taking. They’re either completely forgoing college this year or having to decide that they are not going to pursue college in the near future.”

She added that 50% of these families have lost one or more sources of income and have had to place college on the back burner as a result. Early college programs save students and families thousands of dollars on college and up to two years of time, she said.

“All the data show that these early college programs on high school campuses improve high school graduation, improve college readiness, boost the number of certificates and increase baccalaureate attainment,” Ledesma said. “If you don’t address increasingly inequitable education gaps to keep these students on track for college, we are going to lose them.”

SJECCD has yet to determine which school the pilot program will take place in and if the courses will be elective, by application or part of students’ normal coursework. Ledesma said the district will be channeling its existing resources to get the program started but will need partners in the private sector and in legislature to build the program.

“While we are still in the early stages of developing these important partnerships and programs, we are working to build a broad coalition of educators and community organizations that are invested in the success of East San Jose and its residents,” said Byron Clift Breland, SJECCD chancellor.

“The high schools in East San Jose do not have the financial or programmatic resources to be able to do this vital work alone. By working together in this fashion we will be able to make a significant impact on educational outcomes in East San Jose. It’s important that this work be done correctly, be developed together, and be implemented now,” he said.

Bonilla said access to education is a basic human right.

“If you don’t have a car or have two or three jobs, having a community college offer courses in your community can be the difference between you breaking that chain or staying with that cycle so that we’re having this same conversation in 30 years,” Bonilla said.

Contact Devin Collins at [email protected] or follow @dev_collins2 on Twitter.

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