How the City College of San Francisco helps under-represented students succeed

The City College of San Francisco (CCSF) leads the way when it comes to helping under-represented students realize their higher education dreams. Amy Glynn, CampusLogic VP of Financial Aid & Community Initiatives, spoke to Guillermo Villanueva, CCSF’s Dean of Financial Aid & Student Success Programs, about some of the ways the college engages its diverse student body.

Amy: Thank you so much for taking time today to chat. Can you tell us a little about you and the City College of San Francisco?

Guillermo: We’re an urban community college serving about 63,000 credit and non-credit students annually at centers throughout San Francisco. Founded in 1935, being embedded within the community—driving value and leveraging community resources for student and City success—are important to us. Today, we’re one of the largest community colleges in the United States. Roughly 35% of our students are between the ages of 25 and 39; 33% are under 24. Almost 26% of our students are age 40 or older. 

With such a diverse student base, Learning Centers are a key part of the CCSF experience. These centers provide academic support—free tutoring services for students, both in-person and online—and college success courses and workshops that help students develop confidence by learning effective study techniques.  

We have a very diverse student body at CCSF. Predominantly Asian, we also have Latino, white, and African American students. One of our goals is to be recognized as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Overall, the demographic makeup of our institution is very much an immigrant population, so we see a lot of English-as-a-Second-Language students, while others come to us a bit underprepared.  

We cater to helping our immigrant, low-skill, lower-income students succeed, improve, and change their lives. For the 2017–18 academic year, 36% of our students were classified as first-generation students. It’s been such a part of our institution’s history; of who we are and what we stand for—access. 

Amy: CCSF is leading the way in supporting students through graduation. Many schools are struggling with student engagement and support. Could you highlight some of the ways you engage with minority students, and other diverse student populations?

Guillermo: There are always activities going on for all our student populations. We have what we call a multicultural retention program. For instance, we have the Latino Services Network. It includes support groups for students, computer labs, targeted recruitment, and a counselling component, which plays a significant role in helping Latino students reach their educational goals. It’s open to everyone regardless of your background. We also have other targeted programs, for example an African American student success program, a Pacific Islander student success program. We have numerous retention programs to help multiple populations feel confident and have a safe space. In addition, our student activities resource centers provide the campus life experience to all students with a variety of interest and cultural engagement. I think that’s what sets this institution apart.

At CCSF, we also support undocumented students and actively attract a diverse range of undocumented students—Latino, Asian American, Eastern European. We created the VIDA program to offer greater support. Vida means life. It stands for Voice of Immigrants Demonstrating Achievement.  We are in the process of implementing the DREAM Center, where the program will provide personal, counseling support and academic support, but more important a safe place for undocumented students to complete assignments and participate in group activities.

Previously, undocumented students were not allowed to access our book loan program, which allows low-income students to borrow textbooks. In 2009, the former student trustee brought a proposal to the board to extend the program to undocumented students. It was enacted and it’s something we’re really proud of.

Amy: I know our programs are kind of like our children and we love them equally, but is there one CCSF program that’s been a game-changer?

Guillermo: They’re all good here! But there is one program that stands out: Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS). It’s a state program that was established back in 1969 during the civil rights movement here in California. It’s for low-income, at-risk students. It provides a counselling component, a book voucher, a transportation voucher. These students are given access to a computer lab and multiple workshops to study life skills. I have a special connection to it because I participated in the EOPS program and it impacted me personally.

Amy: It’s a program that takes a holistic view of the student, not just an academic one. That’s what makes it powerful. That comprehensiveness is a culture at CCSF. But let’s say you were talking to a colleague from a different school—without this culture you’ve fostered—and they were interested in building similar programs from the ground up. Where would you tell them to focus their resources and energy?

Guillermo: That’s a really great question. I think if you want to build something from the ground up, you should start with the students. The student government, the student association, and go from there. Look at their views and ideas. Get others to buy in such as the faculty and classified staff, then present it to the administration. Don’t just share complaints. Come in with a solution and show how the problem can be addressed differently.

Amy: Is there anything you think is lacking within the industry that could better facilitate these types of programs and initiatives?

Guillermo: I think the challenges we face at this moment are concentrated around funding. Can improvements be made? Of course. But it all depends on the funding aspect.

Amy: Do you see technology as a way to build efficiencies within these programs?

Guillermo: It’s an e-generation now. Technology plays a significant role in how we communicate with our students. They don’t use email anymore, it’s all about their phones. Verification, for example: we send are in the process to text saying, ‘You haven’t completed your verification process’ and the student can immediately tap a link to complete the process on their phones. We’re also looking at ways tech can improve our scholarship office and counselling services.

Our vision is to provide innovative services to maximize students’ learning experiences. That’s what Student Services should be doing. Really, that’s what colleges should do overall. My staff is fully committed to our students and create an environment where they feel appreciated and respected. CCSF also has great faculty that are heavily engaged with the student population, creating that great campus life experience. It’s not just Student Services’ job.

Amy: Definitely. Student Support Services isn’t the responsibility of a few people in the admin building. It’s the responsibility of every single person on campus to support students every day in every interaction. That’s a culture your organization has built and has continued to foster, and that’s why it’s so great to speak to you and hear your insights.

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About the Author

Amy Glynn, VP Student Financial Success

Amy Glynn joined CampusLogic in 2013, focused on helping colleges and universities deliver student financial success through automation, advising, and analytics. Ever-focused on improving staff efficiency and the student experience, Amy has spent more than a decade optimizing the financial aid process while ensuring institutions maintained compliance with Federal Title IV regulations. A sought-after national-stage speaker, Amy champions ideas that can help turn the tide for the nearly 3 million students who drop out of higher education every year for reasons related to finances. Student financial success has become a strategic imperative for all higher education institutions and Amy often lends her voice to policy discussions focused on improving accessibility, driving informed borrowing, and increasing completion. Amy earned her Master of Science in Higher Education from Walden University.

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