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Spring 01
Campus-Community Connections
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The Santa Ana Partnership Increases Access for At-Risk Students
By Lisa Bernstein, Guest Editor, Diversity Digest and Program Coordinator, AAC&U


Working within a collaborative structure that effectively and broadly represents the interests of all major student constituents in central Orange County, California, the Santa Ana Partnership has created a comprehensive institutional model for increasing access to higher education for traditionally underrepresented students. The partnership has developed innovative collaborations with K-12 schools and community partners to focus on the vulnerable points of transition from high school to community college and from community college to four-year universities for Santa Ana's overwhelmingly Latino student body.

Sara Lundquist, Vice President of Student Services at Santa Ana College, serves as the director of the partnership. Lundquist works in close coordination with local work groups and with the partnership's leadership team, which includes representatives from each participating educational and community based organization. The model is "based on the premise that the educational system must reach and serve students in new ways, engage many partners who are equally committed to student success, and that the educational systems and segments themselves need to align along a non-exclusive K-16 continuum that prepares students for meaningful work and opens the door to post baccalaureate study."

Comprising 75 percent of the state's minority student enrollment, the California community college system is the bridge institution for creating access to post-secondary education for underrepresented students. Through its participation in Project STEP (Student/Teacher Education Partnership) founded by Dr. Manuel Gomez, Vice Chancellor for Students Services at University of California, Irvine, and in the Ford Foundation's Urban Partnership Program, the Santa Ana Partnership has succeeded in dramatically increasing the participation of the area's Latino students in higher education.

Begun in 1991 as part of the Ford Foundation's Urban Partnership Program, the Santa Ana Partnership grew out of the region's 1983–84 partnership created under the auspices of Project STEP. The original coalition included the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), Santa Ana College (SAC), University of California, Irvine (UCI), California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), and Chapman University. This precursor to the current project focused on SAUSD, the state's sixth largest school district. At the time of the project's inception, the SAUSD student population was over 90 percent Latino, an ethnic population significantly underrepresented within the California university system.

The project has collected data on student outcome/completion rates, using system-wide assessment of student achievement for strategic planning throughout the region. The partnership has recently expanded to include additional funding partners as well as extensive participation from community-based organizations (CBO's) and parents. This inclusive collaboration has served as a catalyst for opening an alternative high school on the Santa Ana College campus and for establishing scholarships endowed by the city that guarantee all students graduating from a Santa Ana high school funding to attend college.

Over the past decade, the Santa Ana partnership has made amazing progress. SAUSD's college-bound students have increased from 50 to 80 percent. Santa Ana College's transfer rate has more than doubled, jumping from 44th to 6th in the state among community colleges in terms of Latino transfer to the University of California system. UCI now ranks 6th in the United States in terms of the number of African American and Latino graduates in math, science, and engineering.

Building on the project's achievements, the Santa Ana Partnership has received continued funding from the Ford Foundation to strengthen the K-20 educational pipeline for at-risk students, and is in the process of launching a policy studies institute. The institute plans to engage educators, researchers, and policy makers in a series of action-oriented dialogues on educational policy and practice in California. Santa Ana College is also the lead institution for one of 13 partnerships awarded new funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of its ENLACE Initiative, which focuses specifically on access to college for the Latino student population. "The partnership's success has carried us to new funding sources and allowed us to continue the good work," notes Dr. John Nixon, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Santa Ana College.


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Photo of Santa Ana students