Campus: San Diego State University -- October 17, 2005

Award-Winning Compact for Success Program To Bring Hundreds of College-Bound Kids to San Diego State

Hundreds of children determined to overcome the odds that they won't make it to college will be at San Diego State University on Saturday to celebrate their participation in a model college success program.

More than 3,000 seventh graders and their parents will attend a festive introduction to the award-winning Compact for Success program, a first-of-its-kind partnership in the United States between a major urban university and a large public school district.

The 5-year-old partnership between San Diego State and the Sweetwater Union High School District, California's largest secondary school system, simultaneously addresses the three biggest barriers to college graduation in this country: access, cost and retention.

Sweetwater also has a student population demographically most likely to hit those barriers because of historically low high school and college graduation rates among low-income, first-generation and minority students nationwide. Among Sweetwater's more than 40,000 seventh through 12th graders, 84 percent are from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and many of the district's schools serve some of San Diego County's poorer neighborhoods.

Hence, the decision to target students even as early as middle school. "Research shows that students who are successful are those who have had the motivation from the earliest years," said Gonzalo Rojas, co-director for the Compact for Success and director of the Office of Collaborative Programs in the university's College of Education.

The partnership, open to all students, is unique for guaranteeing admission to San Diego State to participating Sweetwater students as early as seventh grade who go on to complete the program's academically rigorous curriculum. It's also unique for guaranteeing scholarships to financially needy participants. Compact for Success will offer these high-achieving students a college support program to help them stay in college and obtain their degrees.

The first class of Compact for Success scholars will graduate high school and begin courses at San Diego State next year. Higher numbers of Sweetwater students already are being admitted to San Diego State based on the program's presence at Sweetwater middle and high schools.

More than 100 Sweetwater students are expected to attend San Diego State with a Compact for Success scholarship next fall. The Compact for Success Scholarship program is being funded with support from the Ellis Foundation, Eller Foundation and Stensrud Foundation. The Sweetwater Education Foundation last year also received $540,000 in federal funding to help support Sweetwater students who pursue a college degree at San Diego State.

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner of California, who led efforts to secure the federal funding, will join San Diego State President Stephen L. Weber, Sweetwater Superintendent Bruce A. Husson and others to address students and their parents at 9:15 a.m. Saturday at Cox Arena on the university campus. Mariachi bands will greet students outside Cox Arena at an event that also will feature music inside the arena, campus tours and information fairs.

Rojas said Compact for Success already is winning national attention as a model program with the potential for replication in other cities. "It's the only partnership we know of that joins an entire school district with a university, the only one to guarantee admission from seventh grade, the only partnership that also guarantees a scholarship to all who demonstrate financial need, and the only program to offer a retention program once they enter college," Rojas said.

Rojas believes that seventh grade is not too early to begin encouraging students to focus on critical thinking skills he believes are crucial to later succeeding in college preparatory-level classes in high school and then at college.

He believes that engaging parents early can reverse the findings of studies that show parents of low-income, first-generation immigrant and/or ethnically diverse children tend to be less adept at becoming pro-active at steering their children toward college.

For Rojas, "college begins at kindergarten," he said, adding that any parents can follow the standard question to small children - "What do you want to be when you grow up? - with: "Did you know you will have to go to college to do that?"

For more information, contact Gonzalo Rojas, Director of Collaborative Programs in the College of Education at San Diego State University at (619) 594-6027 and/or by email at

Renee Haines, Media Relations, San Diego State University, 619-594-4298. Cell: 619-997-1637,

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