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RCC awarded prestigious grant

By Takahiro Kuorsaki / Staff Writer, Mailee Virgen-Aguilar / Staff Writer

By Takahiro Kuorsaki / Staff Writer, Mailee Virgen-Aguilar / Staff Writer

After going through a competitive process among 13 cities in the United States, the City of Riverside and Riverside City College won a grant to launch their innovative project to improve college access and success in the city.

On Sept. 27, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would award Riverside a $3 million grant over the next three years to support implementation of the Communities Learning in Partnership Initiative, a coordinated community partnership project to boost their postsecondary completion rates.

The City of Riverside and RCC had already gathered with key educational, business and community institutions and groups over the past nine months to devise new ways of helping more students successfully complete an education after high school.

With the grant, RCC implements the project aiming to increase the associate degree completion rates from the current number of 14 percent to 20 percent by 2013.

“Four cities in the United States were chosen, and Riverside was one of those. So we feel very appreciative and fortunate,” said Riverside Community College District Chancellor Gregory Gray. “We believe we have the right plan at the right time.”

RCC is facing its lowest associate degree completion rates now.

According to a press release, it was shown that only 17.5 percent of the entering seniors in the class of 2002 had earned a degree or certificate six years later.

The low college completion rates indicates a number of students who are not academically ready for college-level work, who juggle school and family responsibilities and who must work full-time while attending classes.

“Our vision of success is a community where all students who have the desire to earn a degree or credential will also have a way to get one rather than fighting barriers,” Gray said. “We will remove them. That’s the goal.”

With the grant, RCC will take several strategic approaches including: working with the city to create an environment where college completion is valued and aligning academic standards between high school and college.

“The way that they shared the data is never happened before, which means we’re finding out a lot more. So we can help our students,” said executive dean of workforce development Shelagh Camak.

Although the approaches require a community concerted effort among higher education institutions, government agencies and other business and community groups, the planning process has shown the solidarity of a citywide partnership and effort within Riverside.

“The beautiful thing was the partnership among the two school districts, the Mayor’s office, the Chamber of Commerce and ourselves,” Camak said. “The partnership was really cemented throughout the process, and even if we did not receive the funding, we knew that we could work together so well.”

In addition to receiving a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Henry W. Coil, Jr. of Tilden-Coil Constructors Inc. donated $5 million to the RCCD.

The $5 million donation, the largest ever to the district is going to fund programs at the Riverside School of the Arts, which will be named after Coil’s parents; The Henry W. and Alice Edna Coil School for the Arts.

This $60 million school is scheduled to be finalized by 2014 on University Avenue and Market Street.

Other projects in the works on that intersection include a new culinary center and the Mine Okubo Center for Social Justice, with an art gallery featuring works by the Riverside born artist.

This project is due for opening on June 27, 2012. All of the projects together are estimated to cost $88 million to build, incorporating renovations and new construction.

Chancellor Gray, publicized Mr. Coil’s gift to a group of Riverside leaders during an engagement at the Mission Inn.

He said in The Press Enterprise that the construction costs for the new school for the arts will be paid for with public funds and the $5 million gift from Coil will be utilized to fund programs for the school, as well as endowed professorships.

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