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Press Releases - 2010

CONTACT:  Kristin Fabos
Director, Marketing & Communications
(831) 479-6158
krfabos [at]

March 8, 2010

Cabrillo College’s Academy for College Excellence Receives $3.6 Million to Expand Academic Support Program for Under-prepared Students

Aptos, CA.—The Cabrillo College Foundation (CCF) today announced more than $3.6 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to expand the college’s Academy for College Excellence (formerly the Digital Bridge Academy) for under-prepared college students. The program is designed to bridge the gap in education for young adults who are not typically encouraged to aim for college.

Since its founding in 2002, the Academy for College Excellence (ACE) has transitioned more than 675 at-risk students into Cabrillo College’s regular college courses. The grants will fund the program’s expansion to three additional California community colleges and one out-of-state community college.

“ACE provides a place for students to become the people they never knew they could be,” said Diego Navarro, founding director of the Academy for College Excellence. Navarro started the program with the goal of developing a national model for the recruitment, preparation, retention and acceleration of unprepared community college students.

According to a recent report from Jobs for the Future, nearly 60 percent of students enrolling in the nation’s community colleges must take remedial classes to build their basic academic skills. For low-income students and students of color, the figure topped 90 percent at some colleges. Remedial classes cost taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, money that is mostly wasted as few of these students continue on to graduate.

The ACE program doesn’t look at their students as liabilities, or as long shots. Instead, teachers take time to help their students understand their own learning styles, strengths and goals. The program offers structure and support, helping students build academic momentum and a realization that their success is not just possible, but probable.

A recent Columbia University Community College Research Center study examined nine ACE cohorts from 2003 to 2007 and compared them to over 11,000 Cabrillo College students. The study found that while more than two-thirds of ACE students tested two levels below college-ready in math or reading, 80 percent passed associate degree level English within two years. The strength of these results has led to the addition of accelerated classes this year and highlights the potential impact of acceleration—moving students quickly and effectively through their academic deficits.

The grants announced today will enable the ACE to expand its reach to 1,440 students while preparing to serve colleges nationwide. In addition, the funding will also support a longitudinal study over five years to measure the program’s continued impact.

“Colleges throughout the country are faced with the enormous challenge of bringing under-prepared students up to speed while keeping them engaged and committed to finishing school,” said Brian King, Cabrillo College President. “The ACE has helped so many Cabrillo students realize their dream of becoming a college graduate. I’m thrilled that now more community college students will have the opportunity to benefit from the program’s proven model of success.”

ACE is an intensive, full-time program that immerses students in a new vision of what academic life entails and how they can succeed in higher education. Students first complete an intensive two-week course designed to “light the fire for learning.” Using curriculum approaches adapted from graduate and corporate management education, students examine the educational experiences and personal challenges that have influenced their prior academic performance. They then enroll in a 13-week Bridge Semester and Team Self-Management (TSM) Course that combines accelerated academic work with appropriate levels of academic and personal support. Since its inception, about 1,300 students have participated in ACE cohorts at Cabrillo College, Hartnell College, Las Positas College and Berkeley City

College Cabrillo College graduate and ACE alumna Martha Naranjo is proof of the program’s effectiveness. Naranjo had nearly given up on college when she decided to sign-up for the Academy for College Excellence. “At ACE, I learned how to value myself,” said Naranjo. “I learned how much there is to do in life; I learned how to have a vision and how to imagine myself doing something I’d never done before.” After completing a two–year degree, Naranjo transferred to San Jose State University where she plans to eventually earn a master’s degree in social work. She is the first in her family to attend a four-year university.

Education beyond high school is critical for both a strong economy and the financial security of American families. Employees with higher education are more productive and they earn more money than those who only graduated from high school.


About Cabrillo College
Cabrillo College is a leading California community college serving Santa Cruz County with locations in Aptos, Scotts Valley and Watsonville. It is ranked #1 in transfers to UC Santa Cruz. Founded in 1959, the college offers more than 100 academic and career technology programs that serve multiple educational goals such as A.A. and A.S. degrees, certificates of achievement, skills certificates, transfer to four-year institutions or for lifelong learning and personal enrichment. Its mission is to enhance the intellectual, cultural and economic vitality of its diverse community by assisting all students in their quest for lifelong learning and success in an ever-changing world.

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