By: Salome Block, AmeriCorps VISTA- Grant Writing, Best Practice Research and Communications
Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) is one of the leading community colleges in the nation.
As a Birth to Career partner, their programs address everything from early childhood to career and workforce development, taking the phrase "birth to career" literally. The school says their involvement in collective impact and alignment of their outcomes and strategies has been a part of their success as an institution of higher education. SFCC has seen a 75% increase in graduation and completion rates over the last five years (see this month's data spotlight). This is largely attributed to successful outreach to local high schools.
The college draws diverse students from all around New Mexico to enroll in its degree and certificate programs. Randy Grissom, SFCC President, says that for many students, taking a tour of the college made all the difference. "They get to go see real projects happening in different labs or in different classes," said Grissom. "Some of our students, especially young Hispanic males and Native Americans, have been attracted to some of those sustainable technology programs. Partially because they want to do something with their hands and partially because they understand the environment that they’ve inherited and they want to be part of the solution.”
This is certainly true of many of students at SFCC. Kyle Pacheco, a Culinary Arts student from Santo Domingo Pueblo, says that SFCC’s influence in his college journey began on one such tour while he was a student at the Santa Fe Indian School. “I didn’t know that there was a community college here in Santa Fe,” Kyle says, “We got a tour here and we came across the culinary labs and they were big so I got excited right away. I saw some students cooking and I saw the chefs talking to them.” This school tour paved the way for Kyle to get his Associates Degree in Culinary Arts and a Certificate in Patisserie.
Meeting the needs of the students: financial and transportation are key obstacles
Kyle commuted to SFCC every day from Santo Domingo Pueblo on the train and bus. However, like many of his peers, there were financial obstacles as well. “I give thanks to the community college for helping me out with financial aid, scholarships and stuff,” Kyle says. “It’s really hard to come to school and not have money. They helped out a lot in trying to help me find any source of money I can get so I can keep going to school. But it changed my life a lot. I live [in] two worlds as a Native American. I have my own traditions and I am strongly connected so I have to weigh out both worlds. Not only did the community college teach me how to become a chef, it gave me life lessons that I never expected that I will have.”
Financial obstacles are one of the biggest factors affecting graduation rates at SFCC. As Grissom states, “We did a survey of our graduates this past year. We did it in the middle of the term. We only asked them three questions: 'What was their biggest obstacle to overcome to graduate?' 'How did they overcome that obstacle?' and 'What would they say to incoming students?' The number one obstacle was financial...And how did they overcome it? Well, they got scholarships and financial aid and they took advantage of resources.”
Addressing a broad spectrum of education demands in the community
While graduation rates are vital to the success of colleges around the country, Grissom encourages us to look beyond the numbers and see how the SFCC addresses a need in the greater Santa Fe community for furthering education.
As President Grissom explains, the two largest age groups of students enrolled in credit programs are 18-24 year-olds and 55 year-olds and above. “The graduation rate, the way all higher education institutions are measured, really is only a small portion of our community because it’s based on those first-time full time students who entered in the fall and graduate within 150 percent of their expected time,” Grissom says, “That’s a very small percentage of our students because 70% of our students do go to school part time. A lot of our students are older students and they’re trying to keep up with the changing times or they’re re-careering or they’re self-employed and they’re trying to add a new skill to what they can sell to their customers. So, they come here for a class. Sometimes its credit, sometimes its noncredit and they’re here to get, what I would call, a nationally recognized industry certificate as opposed to a college certificate.”
Collective Success for Institution, Community and Students
The SFCC is proving that aligning outcomes and strategies with the community’s collective impact agenda and action plan can be beneficial both for the institutional goal and for the success of the greater Santa Fe community. Not only is this institution preparing our young students for entering the workforce, it is engaging a broad adult population and current workforce in expanding their skill-set to face the ever-changing job field. This success in graduation and completion of certificate programs is furthered by the fact that the minority population including Native American and Hispanic students in our community are benefitting from these programs.
“I’m just amazed at what our students go through to finish." Gissom says. "You know one of the things that they said in that survey last year: How did they overcome? It was sheer determination.” We second Grissom’s amazement and commend the students and administration at SFCC for their achievements in furthering education in Santa Fe!