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HomePublicationPasadenaPCF Scholars Find Nonprofits Have Their Back at PCC

PCF Scholars Find Nonprofits Have Their Back at PCC

As students across the region head off to college this fall, a contingent of Pasadena Unified School District graduates is proudly donning backpacks to attend an institution right here in town­ — Pasadena City College — in a quest to achieve a quality higher education at a lesser cost.
Through the guidance of a new program created by the Pasadena Community Foundation and called the PCF Scholars Grant Initiative, eight students have kicked off the fall semester with excitement, fully informed and confident about their class choices. The PCF grant has been awarded in collaboration with the college’s PCC Pathways program and the nonprofit organization College Access Plan, which together will provide financial assistance and social-emotional support to those students.
The collaboration provides free PCC tuition, as well as supportive “flexible” funding that can cover books, expenses and transportation, making the need to work outside of school less imperative and allowing students to focus on studies.
“We wanted to do something impactful with some surplus dollars we had left, and, while we’ve done some K-12 grants to PUSD lower-income families in the past, we really wanted to do something [at the] post-secondary level in the community this time,” said foundation CEO Jennifer DeVoll, who commissioned a community assessment project to determine where the nonprofit could best help. The research showed that tuition is only one small barrier when it comes to student success in community college.
“The research helped us identify some of the best practices for scholarships and supportive services, and showed us that other hardships, like food, housing insecurity, books, transportation — even navigating paperwork — were all factors in deterring completion of community college,” DeVoll said. “It really showed us the need and that we needed to broaden the scope to provide more flexible funding to achieve more successful outcomes.”
PCF, which holds more than 350 funds and manages some $80 million in charitable assets, will commit $1 million to support students for up to four years of community college. The collaboration with CAP and PCC Pathways also provides a multilayered supportive approach, one that the students said they immediately noticed.
Two of the aspiring scholars sat down recently to discuss the fall semester and their excitement at attending PCC.
“I feel completely supported here,” said Abigail Vides, Pasadena High School graduate who is the first in her family to attend college. “When I told my parents I got a scholarship, they didn’t know what that was. … I had to explain it to them. They were super happy! They wanted to celebrate.”
Vides said she hadn’t been sure she’d attend college, but with early encouragement from CAP, she decided to study child development, a focus that might later require a master’s degree. That’s another reason to save money by attending community college, she added.
“I decided I wanted a better life for myself … but I wanted to study something I really love. If I’m going to do all the work, I want to wake up every day loving my job and really wanting to go to work, like ‘Yes!’” said Vides, grinning. “My parents are happy for me, but they’re worried about me. … I know I’ve got to be responsible in what I do and how I do it.”
Meanwhile, PCC Pathways coordinator Carlos “Tito” Altamirano has spent a lot of time talking to kids and making sure they choose an academic path, stay on that path and complete the academic goals. PCC initially created Pathways to leverage federal, state and district funds to better give critical support to students in and out of the classroom through what are known as “impact practices,” which have been shown to garner higher graduation rates.
“This program will really allow students to customize their education; they will have one counselor their entire time here, who can give them constant contact on multiple levels, if they need it,” Altamirano said. “We have a lot of conversations that focus on an academic plan and a backup plan. … Some kids come to PCC only wanting to do one semester and then transfer. But then we look at all the credits they could complete here in two years, instead of paying $1,000 per class somewhere else, and that changes their perspective.”
Saving money and living locally might not sound like the most exciting option at first to young graduates, and even John Muir High School alumnus Jaylin Jenkins had scrapped that possibility.
“I was kind of a brat in my mind back when I would think about community college in high school — I thought ‘no way,’” said Jenkins, who had been accepted into Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. But then Jenkins didn’t receive as much of a scholarship offer as he had hoped for, and would have had to take on a lot of student debt to attend. He balked at the idea of being a “starving artist” graduate and having debt to pay off. Around that time, Jenkins became enamored with the arts and movie program at USC, which has a broad reach in the local film industry. He also applied there, but didn’t get in.
His plan to attend PCC and then transfer to USC is endorsed by Altamirano, who followed that same path: “You mean you didn’t get in yet,” he told Jenkins.
Jenkins said that now he is on campus, he really enjoys the ambience, his classes and his counselor, who’s helped him devise a plan with credits that will transfer to USC.
“You can do everything you wanted at a four-year college here, but for cheaper,” he said, noting that being at PCC will give him time to focus on an area of study and prepare to move out on his own. “I don’t really know how to drive yet or cook or clean or pay my bills … so in a way this just also gives me a lot more time to grow into a more mature person.”
The collaboration also wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for CAP, the nonprofit that is already present throughout PUSD, helping and preparing underserved students to succeed in college. CAP serves about 1,600 PUSD students and graduates with college applications, financial aid, SAT preparation and other forms of college preparatory and success support.
Joanne Do, CAP managing director, helped identify some of the students who would make great PCF Scholar Grant recipients.
“We knew we wanted to serve local students, with a special focus on kids who were the first in their families to go to school — we wanted to make sure this program is really filling a gap,” said Do, who has spent years helping CAP reach first-generation collegians. She herself was such a student, she recalled.
“We are so excited to be able to offer something like this to the students who could use a little more guidance. There are so many different reasons why people attend community college — sometimes it’s a safety net to get them to their dream school,” Do noted. “College is becoming increasingly expensive, so it’s wonderful that PCC is here for those who need a little more time.”
Do also noted that the PCF Scholars collaboration is working really well.
“Between us all, we are really connecting the students to the right resources and making sure they are following all the requirements to stay in Pathways. It’s been really important to set up that circle, so it’s not just one student on his or her own with one counselor; it’s actually a whole community of people who are helping,” she added.
Going forward, PCF is confident it can grow the program through more collaborations and partnerships. The nonprofit, for example, would love to be able to offer the PCF Scholars internships and work experience in their fields of study, DeVoll said. Just recently, the Webster Foundation stepped forward to help bolster the program, adding six scholarship students over four years. That means 38 local graduates will be able to complete PCC under the PCF Scholars initiative, and the foundation doesn’t rule out extending the program if it’s deemed successful.
“We are so excited to launch this and learn as we go on how to evolve the program, including the possibilities of other foundations joining us as community partners,” DeVoll said. “Together with CAP and Pathways, we hope to provide all the resources these students need to persist to graduation or transfer to a four-year college. At the end of the day, it’s about combining the social-emotional and the financial pieces together, because one without the other just isn’t enough.”

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