Promising Practices in Student Affairs and Academic Affairs Collaboration

Article By: 
Author Image: 
iJournal Author Image

With the uncertainty of the economic crisis and accompanying surge in enrollments facing California’s community colleges, as educators we are faced with the difficult prospects of reducing or eliminating services to the neediest of our student populations. How will community colleges respond to the challenge of serving our mission to educate students? As a system we are at a crossroads. We have the resources in our model instructional and student service programs to meet the challenge. Our greatest challenge is to refocus our efforts and resources in ways we have not yet conceived…plan for the unexpected!

Delta College has partnered with Stockton Unified School District to address a staggering high school dropout rate and provide graduating seniors the opportunity to achieve the promise of a higher education through the College Opportunity Plan for Seniors. Delta College administrators and faculty leaders have to embraced the challenge. The change must be sustainable and will require exhibiting will, strength, and leadership. As community college educators we all must diminish and eliminate barriers, real or perceived, by reaching out to low-income, first-generation students, working together to help students achieve their academic goals…that is our challenge and our job!



I recently had an epiphany, plan for the unexpected. It was September, 2008. The moment Governor Schwarzenegger signed a highly questionable state budget that would get California back on track by providing services to the millions of California who rely of state services. However short lived the moment, it was a good feeling until the recession hit! Planning for the unexpected is an important lesson to remember as we think about change and innovation.

When the 2008 fall semester began we faced the prospects of having to reduce services because the California State Legislature and the Governor were unable to reach an agreement on the state budget. The legislature and executive leaders set a record for the longest period without a state budget. At that time the legislature approved a highly questionable budget, but many of us felt that the impasse was over. We believed the budget signed by Governor Schwarzenegger would get California back on track by providing services to Californians, including community college students. Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse they did! Fast forward to February, 2009!

The Impact of Economic Inequality on Educational Policy

As President Barack Obama steps into the Presidency the nation is in economic uncharted waters. Economists indicate that the United States has not seen anything like this since the end of World War II and maybe since the Great Depression. According to the U.S. Department of Labor the number of unemployed persons increased by 632,000 to 11.1 million and the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent in December 2008. California’s unemployment rate during the same period rose to 9.3%. Locally we are facing similar challenges. The unemployment rate for the Stockton, California metropolitan area was 11.9% for November 2008. The state of the national economy has exacerbated California’s budget crisis and the impact it will have on higher education.

Congress passed and President Obama has signed the $787 billion economic stimulus package intended to relieve the pressure on states. California has much riding on the stimulus package. The proposal passed by Congress will deliver about $11 billion to California through mid-2010 for education and for Medi-Cal according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This amount would reduce the state's general fund deficit from $40 billion to $29 billion over that period.

Contrast: Federal & State

The contrast between the federal stimulus plan and the state budget is stark. President Obama has called for a $500 tax credit for most workers while Governor Schwarzenegger proposes raising the state sales tax by 11/2 cents on the dollar. According to figures from the Internal Revenue Service, each one percentage-point (1%) increase in sales tax costs the average California family of four, $127 a year. The President’s stimulus package calls for shoring up spending on health care and schools. In California both Democrats and Republicans say significant cuts to both are unavoidable. It soon becomes obvious that balancing the state budget and stimulating the economy fundamentally work in opposite directions. Plan for the unexpected!

In addition to the economic and budget crisis, community colleges are experiencing additional challenges with significant (record) enrollment growth and demands from our new students. The Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) high school dropout rate reached an alarming 52.6% over the four-year period of 2003-2007, according to the California Department of Education. The average dropout rate for California high schools is 21.5 percent during the same period. How will community colleges manage while still serving our mission to educate students? Community colleges will have to assess their local conditions and resources to be able to respond to these challenges.

Why College Success Matters

The pressure for our students to remain competitive in the global economy is greater than ever. Community colleges must continue to be the gateway for students who enter college and succeed in completing a bachelor’s degree. Efforts to provide access and success need to focus on low-income, first generation populations to close the achievement gaps and help break the cycle of poverty. Current disparities in educational attainment and the population projections by race and ethnicity indicate that California will lose ground in the percentage of its workforce that is college-educated (Kelly 2005). A similar trend is projected for personal income. California’s personal income per capita will decline relative to other states, falling below the U.S. average for the first time, which will also have a negative impact on the tax base of California and its ability to provide services to its citizens (Kelly 2005).

In California, 22% of 25 to 64 year olds have less than a high school education, second only to Mississippi, and 25% of 25 to 34 year olds have less than a high school diploma, the highest percentage in the US (Kelly 2005). Despite increases in educational attainment for the entire population in California, educational attainment among African American and Latino males has actually declined over the past 20 years (Kelly 2005).

How Low-Income, First-Generation Students Fare

A recent report by the Pell Institute, Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students indicates that low-income, first generation students do not fare well in college.

  • They are four times more likely to exit college after their first year, 26 percent to 7 percent of their peers.
  • After six years nearly 43 percent have left college without earning a degree. Among those who left nearly 60 percent did so after the first year.
  • In four year public institutions, only 34 percent earned a bachelor’s degree in six years compared to 66 percent of their peers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the demand for opportunity and education is greater than ever. What change has occurred in the last 40 years? In the United States, since 1968 to the present, the number of whites with 4 or more years of college has increase almost threefold, from 11.6 percent to 31.8 percent. African Americans with 4 or more years of college increased comparably, from 6.1 percent to 18.7 percent. Data for Latinos was first collected at the national level in 1980. In the last 28 years Latinos with 4 years or more of college has increased twofold, from 6.7 percent to 12.7 percent. In 2000, the percentage of adults in California with a two-year or four-year college degree was 45.7 percent for whites, 27.3 percent for African-Americans, 12.4 percent for Latinos and 53.6 percent for Asian American.

Disparities Among Female Racial & Ethnic Populations

Women have made progress in educational attainment relative to males but sizable disparities still exist among female racial and ethnic populations. Less than 10 percent of Latinas have a bachelor’s degree or higher while nearly 40 percent of white women have attained a bachelor’s degree, which is among the largest of any state.

There is a need to develop academic and student service programs and assess their effectiveness in the preparation of low-income, first-generation students. Community colleges must address the constraints faced by low-income first-generation students. We know they disproportionately come from ethnic and racial minority backgrounds with lower levels of academic preparation. They tend to be older, less likely to receive financial support from their parents, and more likely to have multiple obligations outside of college (e.g. family, work, etc.) limiting their full participation in the college experience (Engle & Tinto 2008). Taking into account these challenges and difficult economic times these students are still at greater risk of failure in postsecondary education, suggesting that the problem is as much the result of experiences students have during college as it is attributable to the experiences they have before they enroll. (Engle & Tinto 2008)

College Opportunity Plan for Seniors (COPS) – The Stockton Unified School District/ San Joaquin Delta College Collaborative

Delta College is working with Stockton Unified School District to address these challenges. In 2006, Delta College’s EOPS Program expanded outreach service to Stockton area high schools by offering graduating high school seniors assistance with completing Delta College’s on-line application, the COMPASS assessment, FAFSA application assistance and enrollment in Delta College’s orientation course, Guidance 11. The first year, Delta College’s outreach team served approximately 250 graduating seniors from Stockton Unified School District high schools. This year, Delta College’s EOPS staff has teamed up with staff from the Outreach Office, Financial Aid Office and the Assessment Center to visit Stockton’s four comprehensive high schools and three magnet high schools serving over 2,200 graduating seniors. The College Opportunity Plan for Seniors (COPS) collaboration with the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) was designed to help reduce the district’s high school dropout rate and promote the success for the area’s low-income first generation students.

Through COPS, SUSD’s new Superintendent Anthony Amato has outlined a strategy to tackle the high dropout rate among Stockton high schools. Prior to his arrival at the district, less than 9% of all SUSD high school graduating seniors took the SAT. This winter Superintendent Amato guaranteed all seniors (100%) on track to graduate in May 2009 would take the SAT. The district has provided all eligible seniors a five week SAT preparation course through Kaplan. The district also provided babysitting services for single parent students, transportation to and from the test sites for students and they received a 6 a.m. wake-up call to remind them of the test that morning.

Improving Student Academic Preparation

By teaming up with Superintendent Amato, Delta College is committing to help improve the academic preparation for low-income first generation students for college. Through the Superintendent’s priorities for 2008-09, SUSD has committed to provide 1) more information and counseling about gateway courses before high school; 2) support for students to complete challenging coursework given gaps in prior preparation; 3) greater access to rigorous college-preparatory courses with well prepared teachers; and 4) a strong college going culture in their high schools with adequate support from well trained teachers.

Similarly, Delta College and SUSD are serving graduating high schools seniors so that all qualified students will be prepared to enter a post high school educational program. If seniors are not been accepted at a UC, CSU, or private institution, then they will apply to Delta College. Delta College staff will be on hand to assist students and counselors during the application and assessment process. Students will take the COMPASS in February and March affording those students scoring low in reading, English or Math to take an on-site (high school) intervention class to prepare them to re-take the assessment test in May. The objective is to improve the placement level for the student(s) prior to enrollment at Delta in the fall. Simultaneously Delta College financial aid staff is working with SUSD seniors and their families by helping them complete the FAFSA/Cal Grant by the March 2nd deadline through the “Cash for College” project. At these events students and their parents learn about the financial aid process, including help completing the FAFSA. They also receive advice about improved financial literacy learning about their options for covering the cost of attendance at four-year institutions, including the prudent use of student loans. Finally, they receive information about grant aid from institutional, state and federal sources.

Special Programs for First Generation Populations

Participation in special programs for first generation populations that “scale down” the college experience is essential. Planners of the SUSD/Delta College Collaborative focused on the need to ease the transition to college for first generation college students. These students will have a better chance of success by enrolling in early intervention bridge and orientation programs such as Delta College’s EOPS Summer Readiness Program, a learning community, and the Counseling Department’s Summer Program which offers over 50 sections of Delta’s Guidance 11– College Orientation course. A recent study completed by Delta College’s Office of Planning and Institutional Research points to the success of Delta College students who enroll and successfully complete a Guidance 11 course, enroll in a small learning communities, participate in the academic alert program, and utilize supplemental instruction and tutoring services at the Learning Centers.

By having a clear vision of the long-term pathway from high school to a two-year college and then to a four-year college through pre-college counseling, students will have a better chance to transfer to a four year college. Delta College already offers effective developmental courses to address shortcomings in preparation. Students receive strong transfer counseling from advisors and the college has favorable articulation policies with regional four year institutions

End Notes

We are living in a critical time where educational opportunity for those most in need is under siege. Talking about change has almost become cliché among educational leaders, however in order to achieve sustainable change it will require exhibiting will, strength, and leadership. When push comes to shove, the prevailing attitude in a struggling environment is, “you do your job, I’ll do mine.” It’s everybody’s business to shatter the silos.

Community colleges will have to provide the leadership to promote change with the same intensity that altered the landscape of American colleges and universities 40 years ago. The very same programs that gave generations of low-income first-generation Americans educational and economic opportunity are on the verge of elimination in California. The hard work is to retain effective programs that support educational opportunity and success for our students. Administrators and faculty leaders alike must diminish and eliminate barriers, real or perceived, by reaching out to low-income, first-generation students, working together to help students achieve their academic goals…that is our challenge and our job!


Amato, A., (2008). Superintendent’s Goals for 2008-2009, Office of the Superintendent, Stockton Unified School District, Stockton, CA.

California Department of Education, High School Dropout Rates for Stockton Unified School District, 2008.

Engle, J. and Tinto, V., (2008). Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income First-Generation Students, Pell Institute.

Kelly, P.J., (2005). As America Becomes More Diverse: The Impact of State Higher Education Inequality, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

United States Census Bureau, (2004). Public Use Microdata Samples: Five Percent Samples for Each State - Based on the 2000 Census.

United States Census Bureau. Current Population Survey - 1960 to 2000.

United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment Situation Summary. December 2008. http://www/

Wetstein, M., Nguyen, A., Hays, B., (2009). Indicators of Student Success: A Focused Inquiry for Faculty Discussion, San Joaquin Delta College, Office of Planning, Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Stockton, CA.

About the Author


Jose Michel, Ed.D.
Director of EOPS
San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, California

Dr. Jose Michel is Director of the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA. Dr. Michel received his Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco in International and Multicultural Education. He has extensive state level policy and program experience in the areas of student development, student access and success and workforce preparation.

Dr. Michel’s 28 year career in higher education administration and instruction include service with the California Community Colleges System Office, Sacramento State University, the University of California, Davis, the California Student Aid Commission in Sacramento and Sierra College in Rocklin, CA as a Political Science instructor.

Dr. Michel may be reached at