AT THE WHITE HOUSE: San Jacinto College commits to expand college access

San Jacinto College System Chancellor Brenda Hellyer attended the summit, and committed to increasing the graduation rate.
San Jacinto College System Chancellor Brenda Hellyer attended the summit, and committed to increasing the graduation rate.
San Jacinto College System Chancellor Brenda Hellyer attended the summit, and committed to increasing the graduation rate.

PASADENA, Texas December 4, 2014 – Today in Washington, D.C., San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, will join President Obama, the First Lady, and Vice President Biden, along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders, to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.

The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps support the President’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help our nation reach its goal of leading the world in college degree attainment.

Making sure students complete what they started has always been a priority for San Jacinto College, and participation in today’s White House Summit will build on existing initiatives and efforts already in place to promote completing a college degree. Among those initiatives are Intentional Connections, College Success Interventions, Men of Honor and Women of Integrity, Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM), student success courses and faculty advising attached to the course, and an integrated reading and writing program.

“Student success is at the core of every decision and action we take at San Jacinto College,” said Dr. Hellyer. “We want our students to complete their associate degree, and our success initiatives are helping them do that. When our students succeed, we succeed. An associate degree provides our students the opportunity to transfer to a four-year university, or enter the workforce with the skills they need to start a meaningful career. This is the focus of our entire College, from the Board of Trustees and throughout the College.”

The San Jacinto College Intentional Connections initiative provides guidance and mentoring for students who struggle with core subjects and who previously had not been successful in any course, but want to complete college and improve their lives. It allows students to “test drive” different programs prior to enrolling in a full semester course to determine if that area of study is a fit. The College Success Interventions identifies at-risk students and provides face-to-face advising early in the student’s college career to insure the student stays on track and understands the support available through tutoring and counseling.

Men of Honor and Women of Integrity serve to provide mentors for African American and Latino male and female students, respectively, offering support, guidance, and encouragement along their educational journeys. Aaron Moore, a Men of Honor student, said about the program, “I found mentors and began to follow their good examples. We learn from each others’ experiences, and we check on each other for accountability.”

The AIM, and integrated reading and writing courses, are collaborative learning models developed by San Jacinto College faculty. The Acceleration in Math program is a one-semester course that pairs instruction and concepts in developmental mathematics and college algebra, scaffolding instruction so that the appropriate algebra concept immediately follows the developmental one. Students complete the two courses in one semester, expediting their time to degree completion. With integrated reading and writing, students learn critical reading and academic writing skills together in one course. This has reduced the number of developmental reading and writing courses from five to two, again accelerating a student’s time through developmental and into college-level courses.

One of the most successful strategies at San Jacinto College has been the faculty advising through the required developmental and college-level student success courses. Advising sessions are required at several points during the course, which makes students aware of support services and creates strong connections between students and faculty members. That personal meeting with a faculty member often keeps a struggling student in class and gets them back on the right track.

“Initiatives such as these are designed to help our students be better prepared, so that when they graduate, they have all the tools they need to be successful,” added Dr. Hellyer.

As part of the commitment to the College Opportunity Summit, San Jacinto College will join other colleges and universities throughout the country in declaring a commitment to increase its overall six-year graduation rate by 10 percent; increase the overall transfer rate to a four-year university by 10 percent; and reduce by half the achievement gap between underrepresented and non-underrepresented students.

“Over the last five years, we have nearly doubled the total number of San Jacinto College graduates,” added Dr. Hellyer. “This is significant progress that comes by creating a culture

focused on student success and continuous improvement, taking a fresh look at where we are and what we are doing, and measuring what is important.”

Today’s White House College Opportunity Day of Action participants were asked to commit to a new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion; creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness; investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative; and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The President will announce new steps on how his Administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. Today’s event is the second College Opportunity Day of Action and will include a progress report on the commitments made at the first day of action on Jan. 14, 2014.

Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class. Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.

“I am extremely honored to be representing San Jacinto College at today’s White House event,” concluded Dr. Hellyer. “I applaud the Administration for bringing together a diverse group of higher education leaders and experts. We are all in this together, and together we can make a difference.”