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Cal State LA receives national grant to drive student success

July 12, 2017

By Cal State LA News Service

Grant will fund expansion of Cal State LA’s partnership with East Los Angeles College through the GO East LA initiative

Los Angeles, CA — Recognizing the valuable but often overlooked role that community organizations play in partnering with universities to improve student success, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) recently announced a grant for California State University, Los Angeles to scale-up its partnership with East Los Angeles College (ELAC).

The $50,000 grant to Cal State LA is one of 12 awarded to public institutions across the country to advance university-community partnerships as a means to boost student success. The awards, known as Collaborative Opportunity Grants, support innovative approaches that link student success with an institution’s community engagement.

Through the funding, Cal State LA will create a peer advocate program to support the timely graduation of transfer students from ELAC. The program will use a non-traditional, student-centric approach, in which the concepts of kinship and critical consciousness are central, to identify practices that will foster greater success for transfer students.

“I believe that a sense of kinship—a feeling that allows students to believe that they belong at Cal State LA—is important for educational justice and it is at the heart of how our program will engage East Los Angeles Community College students to be well prepared and ready to take on their higher educational goals,” said Cal State LA Professor Bianca L. Guzman, who will serve as director for the peer advocate program at Cal State LA.

Other Cal State LA faculty members involved with the program include faculty advisor Celina Benavides, faculty coordinator Claudia Kouyoumdjian, and peer advocate trainer Kortney Hernandez. The team also includes several undergraduate and graduate students who serve as peer advocates and research assistants.

The peer advocates will be trained to conduct interviews with groups of students from ELAC in order to provide mentoring, outreach services and workshops geared toward students’ academic success. These groups will include ELAC students who applied to Cal State LA and were admitted and enrolled, ELAC students who were admitted and not enrolled, ELAC students who were denied admission, and ELAC students who had incomplete applications.

The program aligns with the GO East LA initiative, which is a collaboration between Cal State LA, ELAC, and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The initiative supports a college-going culture in East Los Angeles. Guzman also directs the GO East LA program.

“The public universities receiving these grants have undertaken efforts that represent a sea of change in the way we think about student success,” said Shari Garmise, vice president of APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives and executive director of USU. “For decades, institutions have applied a nearly singular focus on addressing academic hurdles students face once they’re enrolled. These institutions are saying that isn’t enough. We have to work with community partners to ensure students have the required resources to apply, the necessary instruction to be prepared for the rigor of college coursework, and the tools they need to thrive in the workforce and drive positive change in their communities.”

This month, representatives from Cal State LA and the 11 other universities awarded grants will convene in Washington, D.C. to strategize and collaborate on their initiatives. USU and APLU will disseminate key findings from the institutions’ work after the Collaborative Opportunity Grant program has concluded to help promote best practices that other public universities can adapt.

In addition to collaborating with an external partner and aligning with investment priorities, Cal State LA and the other grantees demonstrated that their programs are using an emerging approach to student success and that their institution has capacity to sustain and scale the effort. Finally, grantees had to outline a quantitative and qualitative assessment plan to track the program’s efficacy.

The universities’ partners involved in the grants span a wide variety of organizations and institutions—including non-profit organizations, local governments, health agencies, and school districts. The grants must involve one or more of five priority investment areas: engaging faculty; rethinking financial aid; leveraging community assets; engaging employers and workforce organizations; and integrating and strengthening K-16 systems. All grants are supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Photo: Cal State LA peer advocate program provides mentoring, outreach services and workshops geared toward students’ academic success. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)


About Cal State LA

California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 28,000 students and has more than 245,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit

About APLU

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  With a membership of 235 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations, APLU's agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement.  Annually, member campuses enroll 4.8 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.2 million degrees, employ 1.2 million faculty and staff, and conduct $43 billion in university-based research. APLU works in permanent partnership with USU, a president-led organization committed to enhancing urban university engagement to increase prosperity and opportunity in the nation’s cities and to tackling key urban challenges.

About USU

The Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) is a president-led organization committed to enhancing urban university engagement to increase prosperity and opportunity in the nation’s cities and to tackling key urban challenges.  The Coalition includes 36 public urban research universities representing all U.S. geographic regions.  The USU agenda focuses on creating a competitive workforce, building strong communities, and improving the health of a diverse population.  The Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) has partnered with APLU to establish an Office of Urban Initiatives, housed at APLU, to jointly lead an urban agenda for the nation’s public universities.