This article appeared in the February 2022 issue of Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine™.
By Chancellor Greg Gillespie
Ventura County is a culturally rich area of California, with over 43% of its residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino. The Ventura County Community College District (VCCCD)—comprised of Moorpark College, Oxnard College and Ventura College—is proud that its approximately 31,000 student body reflects the county’s makeup. Almost 54% of our students identify as Latinx.
As Hispanic-Serving Institutions, our initiatives and policies empower students—many of whom are the first in their families to attend college—to thrive personally and professionally.
The degree and certificate completion rates disaggregated by ethnicity shows 11% for Hispanic students, which was above the state’s 7% (2019-2020). The course success rate for Hispanic students was 77% for the 2019-20 academic year, compared to 73% statewide. The course success rate for White students was 84%. Yes, we have an achievement gap to close and work to do in significantly raising the completion rate.
As part of our efforts, our colleges offer more than 200 programs for students to earn a certificate or degree, which they can use to transfer to a four-year college or university or to start a rewarding career.
Integral to the educational experience for students, and for employees, is nurturing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Last year, the District’s Board of Trustees demonstrated its commitment to students, faculty and staff by adopting a resolution to promote DEI within VCCCD and the greater community. This commitment impacts – but is not limited to – the culture on our campuses, curricula, hiring and professional development.
We highlight our commitment to DEI by honoring cultural observances through districtwide events, including Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Week, National Hispanic Heritage Month and Undocumented Student Action Week. These observances provide opportunities to stand in solidarity with the Latinx population and remind us of the rich, varied perspectives this population brings to our community, state and nation.
Additionally, our colleges’ faculty and classified staff are ethnically diverse and engaged as role models for students of color.
To help students on their academic journey, the colleges’ student centers support DREAMers, or young undocumented immigrants, pursuing their educational goals. These DREAM centers steer students to campus and community-based services. Undocumented students can work with allies who understand their needs and experiences and receive financial assistance and free legal services, so they can concentrate on their studies and not economic constraints or their immigration status.
Students can also access Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), a state-funded program that encourages the enrollment, retention and transfer of students experiencing social, language and economic barriers and educational disadvantages. Through this program, eligible students receive access to admissions assistance, academic counseling and career development, financial assistance, bilingual staff and additional resources, allowing them to complete their certificate or degree.
Each fall and spring semester, the District hosts Cash for College events. These free workshops give students the opportunity to work with our colleges’ financial aid offices to access grants, work-study funds or low-interest loans to use for classes, computers, transportation and other educational needs. Bilingual financial aid staff assist students in completing the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application.
All three of our colleges have recognized career education programs tailored to Latinx students.
Moorpark College’s Project STEM Impacto supports Latinx and low-income students who want to establish careers in biotechnology, computer network systems engineering or biology. Those enrolled in the program are eligible for paid internships and financial incentives to enter high-demand occupations in these fields.
Two years ago, Project STEM Impacto received a five-year, $2.9 million Department of Education Title V grant, fostering STEM outreach to area high schools and peer mentoring, specialized counselors and academic tutors for program members.
Oxnard College also received a five-year, $3 million federal Title V grant in 2020 for its Proyecto Éxito initiative, which helps Latinx and low-income students pursue their academic and career goals. Through this grant, the college has increased staffing at its university transfer center, offered additional transfer workshops to students and provided professional development opportunities to employees who perform pivotal roles in creating a transfer culture.
The Campaign for College Opportunity named Oxnard College a 2021 Equity Champion of Higher Education for its Excellence in Transfer for Latino students through Associate Degrees for Transfer.
Through the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Program at Ventura College, historically underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students majoring in STEM fields receive support to successfully transfer to a four-year university. This nationally acclaimed program connects students with professional organizations to establish relationships and gain knowledge and leadership skills. MESA also hosts “Speaker Series” events where students seeking to earn engineering, math and science degrees can gain insights from industry experts.
The District will continue cultivating a culture that prioritizes DEI, which benefits Latinx students. Through developing additional initiatives and programs for Latinx students, we remain steadfast in our commitment to close the achievement gap, while empowering these students to experience the transformative impact of higher education, launch rewarding careers and realize their dreams.