Southwestern College lies between San Diego and Mexico. Geographically and metaphorically it is a college on the edge, experimenting with ways to best serve a border culture that, in varying degrees, is a part of every California community college. The Hewlett visiting team saw institutional planning at Southwestern that validates students' intercultural identities and recognizes the imperative of a skilled, bilingual workforce in California. Central to this work is the growing integration of academics and student services and a whole-scale transformation of ESL that aligns vocational training with basic skills education.
Curriculum Aligned for Effectiveness
Spanish-to-English Child Development is an intensive two-year sequence of courses taught initially in Spanish then progressing to English as language skills develop. The success of the program depends upon close collaboration with many student services. It has high retention rates, and about half of its graduates go on to an associate degree, some to a bachelor’s. Based on the success of this program, the college launched a parallel sequence in electronics.
Southwestern College by the Numbers
Average age: 25
More than 1,500 faculty and staff
More than 130 associate degrees
More than 100 vocational certificates
Ranks number three nationally in associate degrees awarded to Hispanic students
Source: Southwestern College
Other departments use variations of this model for students who enter with some English proficiency. Bilingual instructors lead three-course sequences to prepare students for work in general, medical, and legal offices that increasingly require mastery of two languages. In a software class students learn web design while receiving strong reinforcement in spoken and written English. Janet Martinez-Bernal, a member of the Hewlett visiting team called this content-rich approach to language competency “innovative, pedagogically sound, and very motivating to students.”
A number of faculty-driven strategies have strengthened the math curriculum. One example is the use of standardized final exam in pre-collegiate math. This practice can help align curriculum, enhance the consistency of teaching, and provide data for measuring course objectives and student learning outcomes. The pilot began with a few classes is 2000. Now all basic math courses give departmental finals. In preparation, students take 90-minute exam workshops that teach study techniques and test-taking strategies.