Monthly Archives: June 2018

Free Tuition Increases Interest in Columbia College

Article written by Alex MacLean

The Union Democrat

Columbia College believes it’s on track to increase full-time enrollment of June high school this fall due to a new program that pays tuition for the first year.

About 120 students who graduated from high school this spring in Tuolumne County or Angels Camp have enrolled for the fall semester, according to Amy Nilson, the college’s director of development.

Nilson said between 75 and 80 percent will get their first year free thanks to a new fee-waiver from the state, while the rest are expected to qualify for free tuition through the Columbia College Promise program.

The numbers at this point give Nilson and others involved with the program optimism that they will at least meet their goal of getting 25 percent of all graduating seniors from schools in Tuolumne County and Angels Camp enrolled in the fall.

“We’re hearing from parents and counselors that this has really been an encouragement to them and helping to make college seem doable,” Nilson said. “We’re really looking to encourage them to start right out of high school at building their skills or preparing for transfer.”

Eligible students must have graduated in the spring from a high school in Tuolumne County or the Bret Harte Union High School District based in Angels Camp, because those are the schools that lie within the boundaries of Columbia College.

When the Columbia College Foundation conceived of the program, it used the percentage of graduating seniors from local schools in 2015 who had enrolled full time at the college that fall as a benchmark for improvement.

There were 711 graduating seniors in 2015 who graduated from a school within the college’s footprint, and 114 of those enrolled for a full-time schedule at the college that fall, which was about 16 percent.

A full-time schedule is considered 12 units per semester, though the Promise program offers to cover up to a total of 30 units between two semesters.

Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin, who serves on the foundation’s Board of Directors and as chairwoman of the Columbia College Promise committee, said there were about 485 seniors who graduated in the county this year.

Nilson said the school is still working to get the number of graduating seniors this year from the Bret Harte Union High School District for tracking purposes.

The total number of incoming freshmen enrolled at the school for the fall was not immediately available, but Nilson said that number is expected to increase between now and the enrollment deadline a week before the semester begins on Aug. 27.

“It’s just not precise at this point,” she said.

A full year of study at the college typically costs between $1,200 and $1,500 for tuition, as well as an additional roughly $1,700 for books and other related fees and costs. The Promise program cover tuition only.

About one in five students enrolled at public high schools in Tuolumne County take classes and necessary requirements to make them eligible to be accepted at a four-year university after graduation, but Bulkin estimated the cost of tuition is a barrier for about 75 percent of the county’s population.

“For a lot of people in our community, the option of going to state university is a challenge, least of which is capability and most of which is financial,” Bulkin said. “We wanted to promote this concept that you can get to college and we will remove that barrier to open the door for an opportunity at a two-year degree or transfer to a four-year university.”

Bulkin said statistics show students are more likely to graduate in four years if they start at a junior college and transfer to a university. She added that studies also show that they’re more likely to finish if they enroll full time, which is why that’s a requirement of students who receive free tuition through the Columbia College Promise program.

There will also be a counselor to provide specialized guidance and support for students in the program.

“We are investing in their success not just financially, but we’ll also have a support system at the college,” Bulkin said. “The college is really interested in increasing their two-year completion rate.”

The program is funded entirely through grants and donations from the community.

Nilson said the foundation was about $65,000 away from raising the $270,000 it estimated is needed to cover the number of eligible students over the next three years.

A more than $2 million endowment gift was also bestowed upon the college from the Wise Family Charitable Trust in September to provide support for the Promise initiative as well as a mini-grant program.

Last month, the Sonora Area Foundation provided a $20,000 grant to support the Columbia College Promise program as well as a mini-grant program.

Sonora Area Foundation representatives presented the $20,000 check to outgoing College President Angela Fairchilds at a reception on May 24 in honor of her retirement at the end of this month.

Fairchilds will be replaced in mid-July by Santanu Bandyopadhyay, who most recently served as executive vice president of educational programs and student services at Cypress College near Long Beach.

Half of the $20,000 grant comes from a number of funds at the Sonora Area Foundation, including the Black Oak Casino Resort Community Fund, Comazzi Family Fund, Comcast Community Fund, McMillen Jacobs Associates Community Fund, Boyd Family Fund, Geer Family Fund, Reb and Susan Silay Fund, and the Sonora Sunrise Rotary.

All of the funds were matched by a $10,000 donation that came from an anonymous donor.

Youth Firefighters Complete Columbia College Fire Science Course in Pine Grove

Story by Ike Dodson, PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Former CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Lee Winton left his expectations at home in his favorite chair when he ditched retirement to teach a semester of Fire Science 1 for Columbia College at Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp in early February.

Sixteen weeks and 17 passing grades later, Winton isn’t sure who learned from whom.

“I knew going in the door that I had never talked to an audience like this, and that it would be a challenge to work with people who have struggled so much in their lives,” Winton said. “But it was a good challenge, and it became a very rewarding endeavor.

“I may have gotten more out of it than they did.”

Transfers and discharges can make the cast of a correctional classroom fluctuate, but 17 of the 23 students who enrolled in Winton’s class stayed the course and etched three units on their Columbia College transcript April 25.

“The results were much greater than I had anticipated,” Winton said. “I was very pleased they hung in there.

“It was challenging for them, but I saw them grow as we worked through the semester. I saw lights coming on in their heads once they were used to the routine and my expectations.”

The challenges were remarkable.

Sixty-six youthful offenders at Pine Grove work with CAL FIRE in state and county parks during the day, performing stream clearance, wild land fire prevention tasks and restoration work. During the fire season, youth crews are involved in wild land fire suppression throughout the state.

Pine Grove youth also combat area flooding and in 2017, put in over 80,000 hours on fire lines and over 200,000 hours of community service.

They arrive at class amid the dogged pace of those camp duties. To successfully complete a college course, youth must demonstrate tireless resolve.

The reward rationalizes the effort.

“The Fire Science 1 class was most beneficial since being a firefighter is the career I want to pursue,” youth firefighter Julian Rodriguez-Ortiz said. “The information and the visitors Chief Winton provided were inspiring and informing. Chief Winton taught me so much and encouraged me to go after my goal 100 percent.”

Those visitors’ ― representatives from CAL FIRE, the US Forest Services and local government ― encouraged youth to stay out of trouble and pursue rewarding fire service careers.

“This class opened my eyes to what is really available to me, since I want to pursue firefighting as a career,” student Alexander Romano said. “Chief Winton brought a variety of people representing different areas of firefighting. The most inspirational was Armando Perez, a ‘hotshot’ from El Dorado National Forest. I identified with his life story and realized I could accomplish success after all the struggle.”

A hotshot crew is an elite team of highly- trained wildland firefighters, tasked to battle the most serious fires in the country. Many consider the crews to be the “Navy Seals of firefighting.”

Youth firefighter Chance Pike said interactions with the hotshot crew member was his most inspiring moment in the 16-week class.

“I started out taking this class with no intention of enjoying it,” he admitted. “Instead, it turned out to be a class that opened my mind to possibly going on to become a firefighter.

“The people and equipment Chief Winton brought to class were exciting and changed my mind about becoming a firefighter.”

Students supplemented the course with study sessions with Pine Grove instructor Judy Levenson three times a week. She also participated in classes and was ecstatic when 17 of the youth completed the course in April.

“I believe the most important thing Chief Winton brought was encouragement and support of these young men,” she said. “He opened a future none thought possible and I’m sure several will pursue firefighting as a career.”

Winton said his curriculum followed the same path he developed when teaching the class at Modesto Junior College, pre-retirement, but he modified his delivery.

“I had to adjust the pace of the class that was appropriate for the students, because you really couldn’t make any assumptions about anything,” he explained. “They have experienced a lot, and their reading comprehension, word comprehension and understanding of basic theories is just different than other students.

“The kids seemed to embrace it, and the support from staff was amazing. Everyone was super supportive.”

Winton said Columbia College has asked him to teach more Fire Science 1 classes at Pine Grove. After the success of this year’s course, his retirement may take another vacation.