Making a great first impression

By Anne Krueger

The outreach teams at the San Diego Community College District serve as the colleges’ connections to the community – from spreading the word about free tuition offered through the San Diego Promise to networking with public organizations that work together with the district to serve students.

“We put a huge emphasis on reaching out the community and making our presence available to them to help with information and enrollment support,” said Luke Menchaca, the district’s dean for outreach and student affairs.

The results of their efforts are most apparent in the record number of students who enrolled in the San Diego Promise for the fall 2022 semester – 2,439 students in addition to the 1,400 Promise students now in their second year. The Promise program, which provides up to two years of free tuition and fees at San Diego City, San Diego Mesa and San Diego Miramar colleges, received almost 4,500 applications for the fall, also a record-setting number.

The San Diego Promise was initially limited to first-time college students, but through private funding is now providing pathways to education for special populations that include former foster youth, the formerly incarcerated, undocumented students, adult learners transitioning from College of Continuing Education and those who could not attend full time due to special circumstances.

The expanded scope of the Promise has meant that outreach to new communities has also grown. For example, outreach met with the leadership of the San Diego County Probation Department so that probation officers would be knowledgeable about the Promise for clients who had just gotten out of jail.

“We’re out there providing direct support services and we’re also providing services to the professionals who are delivering those services,” Menchaca said. “The information is going beyond a single meeting. It’s going to live on.”

San Diego College of Continuing Education has a partnership with Lindsay Community School, a school for pregnant and parenting teens who are referred by probation, social services, or school district officials, said Valeria Ramirez, acting outreach coordinator. It also partners with PATH San Diego, a community in downtown San Diego for the homeless. The colleges have also been connecting with elementary and middle school students so they are aware at a young age about college opportunities. Karla Trutna, outreach coordinator and assessment supervisor at San Diego Mesa College, said the college has been holding events for students at Rosa Parks, Spreckels, and Wedgeforth Elementary schools to communicate the importance of college.

She said the activities are fun and interactive, such as visiting with a llama and pony in the animal health program or getting a behind-the-scenes look at the performance of a play.

“For a lot of them, this is the first time they’re hearing about college,” Trutna said. “They’re flattered that they may not only be able to go to Mesa College, but have it be fully paid. They’re really impressed by that. One student said, ‘Can I apply already?’ ”

Chantal Hernandez, acting outreach coordinator at San Diego Miramar College, said her outreach workers never assume that young children know much about their options after high school.

“We begin with ‘What is college? Have you heard of that word?’ ” she said. ” ‘What is a job and what does that mean?’ We try to make it as engaging as possible.”

San Diego City College has partnerships with the Jackie Robinson YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of Encanto, providing activities and building relationships to support a college-going culture and to encourage the youngsters to explore possible careers, said Clarissa Padilla, acting outreach coordinator at the college.

Although the outreach teams at the colleges focus on connecting with potential students and the community, Menchaca said many people at the college district are supporting the efforts.

“The thing that’s special about our district is the involvement of different folks without an outreach title, whether it be faculty members, administrators or staff,” he said. “A lot of these folks are sharing information about their specialty, whether they work in an academic program or financial aid or admissions and records.”

This article was originally published here.

Anne Krueger

Anne Krueger is director of communications and public information for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.