A five-year grant of just over $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education will create an Educational Opportunity Center run by the UW’s Office of Minority Affairs.
Educational Opportunity Centers, of which there are 82 nationwide, are designed to help low income adults 19 or older to pursue higher education by providing them with information on such things as admission procedures and financial aid. The centers are especially interested in those who are first generation college attendees.
“We were told by some of the other centers that the average age of their clients is 30,” said Julian Argel, who is administering the program. “Some already have college credits but have had to drop out for financial reasons. This program is designed to help them get back on track.”
In order to reach the people who most need the services, the UW is partnering with three community agencies — the NewHolly Park Community Center, El Centro de la Raza and the Seattle Indian Health Board. A full-time counselor who will be a UW employee will be placed at each site.
According to Argel, the sites were chosen because they are in low-income neighborhoods and serve a diverse population. “We learned from other centers that community-based projects work best,” he said. “These agencies already offer a variety of services, such as Head Start, food banks, etc., so they attract the kind of people who can use our services.”
Services offered by the center will include tutoring, mentoring, and assistance in completing college admission and financial aid applications. The aim, Argel said, is to move clients into some form of higher education, not strictly to the UW. For some clients, community college or technical school might be more appropriate.
The UW will, however, sponsor campus visits for those interested. The Collaborative Access Network on Diversity and Outreach (CAN-DO), a campus group which includes about 20 departments, has agreed to help out.
Argel, who also runs UW Talent Search, a program that provides similar services for middle and high school students, is just beginning to set up the centers with the help of administrative coordinator Fernando Morado. The two plan a reception in late November or early December at the NewHolly Park Community Center. Staff from all three agencies will be invited and will receive information about the new center, which is designed to serve about 1,100 people a year.
“We hope they’ll be referring people to us,” Argel said.
He and Morado will be working with the agencies as they hire the on-site counselors over the next few months. “We want to get the best fit for each site,” he said.
For Morado, the work is a kind of payback. The son of farm workers from Ferndale, he came to the UW because of the presence of Talent Search in his high school and graduated last year.
“I can testify that these kinds of programs work,” he said. “I wouldn’t have even thought of going to college if it hadn’t been for Talent Search.”