Inland Education Collaborative Awarded $5 million

Partnership of UC Riverside, Cal State San Bernardino, K-12 schools and businesses shoot for more college degrees, and better college readiness by 2020

Pamela Clute walking in classroom surrounded by students

Pamela Clute leads one of the many mathematics workshops she did for students and classroom teachers. ucr file

By Jeanette Marantos

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — The Federation for a Competitive Economy (FACE), a regional collaborative vision that began at UC Riverside, has earned a $5 million Governor’s Award for Innovation in Higher Education. It was selected as one of the top plans of the 57 submitted from around the state to improve college graduation rates in California, a committee of the California Department of Finance announced today.

The Governor’s Award proposal, prepared by California State University, San Bernardino in partnership with UC Riverside, multiple Inland Empire community colleges, school districts, governments, businesses, the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, is fairly straightforward:

The “Inland Empire” of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is one of the most populous regions in California, with 4.3 million people, or about 10 percent of the state’s overall population, yet its students are less likely to earn college degrees. That’s a bleak statistic considering that California already ranks 45th in the nation in terms of students earning BA degrees.

FACE and its subcommittees are tackling the problem from two sides: make sure inland high school students are ready for college when they graduate, and increase the number of inland college students who actually earn a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s rare to see this type of broadly-based regional effort,” said UC Riverside Provost, Paul D’Anieri. “What’s truly innovative and important about this grant is that it is a unique collaboration of all sectors of public higher education along with the private sector. This should become the standard for how we collaborate to promote college success in the Inland Empire.”

The Governor’s Award proposal, submitted by Cal State University San Bernardino President Tomás Morales and Rachel Weiss, CSUSB’s director of research of sponsored programs, sets specific benchmarks for meeting those goals by 2020:

  • Use FACE and its 175 members to align educational policy and initiatives between the two counties to both improve college outcomes and keep those college graduates here, working jobs in the Inland Empire
  • Reduce the number of college freshmen who need remediation classes by 20 percent by increasing college readiness at the high school level, particularly in math.
  • Increase the number of bachelor degrees earned at inland universities by 15 percent
  • Increase the number of students completing their bachelor’s degrees within six years by 10 percent
  • Strengthen partnerships with Inland Empire industries to better align education with workforce needs, such as creating more college internship opportunities to give students a chance to better understand what employers need, and help them develop business relationships while they’re in college.

Beefing up math instruction at the high school level is a key part of the proposal, because math is one of the biggest hurdles to college completion, said Pamela Clute, a Ph.D. math instructor, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) advocate and UC Riverside’s special assistant to the chancellor.

According to the Governor’s Award proposal, more than half of CSUSB’s entering freshmen require extra classes in math, English or both, to make them capable of completing college level courses. University of California schools require a higher high school GPA for entering freshmen, said Clute, “but even UC schools have students who need additional help with math. The truth of the matter is, many high school students aren’t ready to handle the college math expected of them, and you can see it in how many students drop out of STEM majors after their freshman year. The just can’t cut the math, so they head for another major.”

Clute developed the FACE collaborative in 2009, at the behest of then-Chancellor Timothy P. White, who has since gone on to become president of the California State University system. UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox has continued UCR’s support for the project, and now co-chairs the FACE-IEEP Educational Council with Morales.

FACE committee members have proposed several solutions to the remediation problem, including regional adoption of the Early Assessment Program test to see whether high schoolers are ready for college, and summer academies to help college-bound high school graduates brush up their math and English skills before entering college. But Clute said one of the most popular suggestions is requiring a fourth year of high school math for IE juniors students who score as “conditionally ready” on the Early Assessment Program test.

“Right now, only 6 percent (of IE’s high school juniors) are ready to take college math, based on that test, and 42 percent score as conditionally ready, so the idea is to create a structural math program for these ‘conditionally ready’ students in their senior year, so they can go into college without needing remediation,” Clute said.

“Everyone loves the idea, but the reason it hasn’t happened yet is you need to have a group of people who span all the grade levels, K through college, sitting down and designing curriculum. We have the team in place, but while that’s taking place, the assessments for juniors are changing because of Common Core. The old assessments have been thrown out and how they’re trying to realign everything and it’s a process to get everyone to sit down and figure it out.”

The Governor’s Award is important for many reasons, she said. It’s expected to trigger additional funding from private foundations such as the James Irvine Foundation and the California Futures Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have expressed interest in FACE’s unique collaboration and its commitment to helping Latinos and other underrepresented groups have better access to and success in college, improving their career opportunities and the regional economy as a whole.

“The beauty of FACE is that we really have buy-in from all the different levels of education, along with local governments and industry,” Clute said. “The task seemed so daunting when we jumped into it, no one believed we could get this far, and the synergy isn’t just from higher ed. For instance, the only reason we have the Gates Foundation interested is because the Riverside County Office of Education floated this idea out to them. That’s buy-in.”

But perhaps the most important thing, Clute said, is the message the award sends to the region as a whole. “The Inland Empire is getting attention for what we’re doing right,” she said. “The governor received 57 applications, and we were among the top five.”

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