Liberal Education

Ventura Beyond the Campus: Outreach Propels CSU Channel Islands' Work to Promote a College-Going Community

The 1.2 million acres that make up Ventura County, California, run along forty-two miles of coastline in the west and stretch north and east to the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, where the elevation rises to 8,831 feet at Mount Pinos.1 It then plunges south to the valley farmland that makes the county a leading agricultural producer. Ventura’s population of around 851,0002—the eleventh largest of the state’s fifty-eight counties—is 42.9 percent Hispanic and 7.8 percent Asian.3 Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu is the area’s largest employer, followed by the county government and the Port of Hueneme, California’s only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco.4

This is the region that California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) was founded to educate and enhance. Plans to build CSUCI began in 1965 when the state passed a bill calling for the establishment of a four-year public university in Ventura County. But with no resources or land on which to build, it took nearly four decades and support from the county’s residents to make the case for converting the former Camarillo State Hospital into a university rather than into a prison.

In 2002, with 629 transfer students, CSUCI opened its doors in the city of Camarillo and became the youngest of the twenty-three campuses in the California State University (CSU) system and the only public four-year university in the county. The first freshman class of five hundred students enrolled in 2003, and the university chose red and silver as its colors: red for the strawberries grown in the area and silver for the dolphin, selected as the mascot for its sacredness to the local Chumash tribe.

Today, the campus of 1930s Spanish and Mission–style architecture has around 7,100 students and is truly local-serving: 52 percent of all students enrolled in fall 2018 were from Ventura County, 26 percent came from neighboring Los Angeles County, and most other students hailed from other nearby counties. The composition of the student body also closely matches the demographics of Ventura County’s college-age population, with 52 percent of CSUCI students identifying as Hispanic or Latinx in fall 2018, 28 percent identifying as white, 6 percent identifying as Asian, and 2 percent identifying as black.5 Designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in 2010, CSUCI continues to invest in supporting a college-going community. The University Culture program, for instance, provides high school and community college students with information about attending a four-year university. The program focuses on developing the talent of the youth whose parents saw that building a state university—instead of a state prison—would be liberating for their region by providing a path to higher education for thousands of students, many of whom would be the first in their families to obtain a baccalaureate degree.6

California’s degree deficit

CSUCI’s relationship to the local area and its residents is about more than classroom instruction. It’s also about helping the region thrive economically and as a community. But if college attendance rates do not increase, one million fewer college graduates will enter California’s workforce in 2025, leading to a degree deficit.7 California’s future economic prosperity depends on a supply of diverse, college-educated workers from groups that have been historically underserved by higher education.

Adding some 500,000 new college graduates to the state’s population would reduce the anticipated degree deficit by about half. One way to achieve this is for the CSU system to improve the overall four-year graduation rate by 21 percent and the six-year graduation rate by 18 percent, while partnering with the California Community Colleges to realize a 20 percent increase in transfer rates by 2025.8 With an eye toward this goal, CSU launched Graduation Initiative 2025, calling on all twenty-three campuses to reduce the time to degree completion, eliminate student achievement gaps, and ensure that every student has access to the tools, resources, and guidance needed to achieve.

But merely lowering the time to degree completion will not be enough to narrow California’s degree deficit. The state’s institutions of higher education must also shift practices to serve the increasing number of students who have evolved beyond the traditional student profile. These post-traditional students include the growing Latinx population, as well as low-income students, first-generation college students, adult learners, full-time employees, commuter students, and working parents.9 The access-retention-success model designed for traditional students is passive and has always been a poor fit for open-access institutions like those in the CSU system and the California Community Colleges, which enroll increasingly diverse student populations.

As an open-access institution, CSUCI accepts all applicants who meet the requirements for admission. Therefore, our responsibility for supporting students from historically underserved groups must go beyond access and retention. We must reimagine our model for student success, one that embraces equitable outcomes for all students and reflects our mission and HSI identity, commitment to serving the region, and responsibility for dismantling institutional structures that create barriers for post-traditional students.

The community college connection

CSUCI has embraced an outreach-engagement-equity model to construct a different student experience, one that serves the growing numbers of post-traditional students and will lead to bridging the degree deficit. We must get out into the community to find prospective students who might not see college as part of their plans but who are capable of attaining a four-year degree.

Through Project ALAS (Aligning Learning and Academic Success), CSUCI, two-year HSIs, and other regional community colleges are working together to improve practice, curricula, and policies that support students as they transfer to four-year institutions and complete their undergraduate education. For many students in our region, the journey to earning a university degree is not a straight pathway through a single community college. Students often attend two or more community colleges before transferring, and some continue taking community college courses while enrolled at a four-year institution.

As part of the ALAS partnership, CSUCI hosts an annual Transfer Success Student Academy, inviting community college students to spend a day at CSUCI with faculty, staff, and peer mentors (former community college students). Sessions include discussions on financial aid and transfer preparedness and faculty-led roundtables offering insight on majors and career preparation. Both university and community college faculty offer guidance on course selection. Transfer students meet CSUCI peer mentors and get a chance to become familiar with the campus and the transfer process.

Academy participants also interact with other community college students from across the region. Students from Oxnard College, for instance, begin to realize that students from Santa Barbara City College have similar questions and concerns about transferring to a university.

“I really enjoyed the different workshops that were available,” says one community college student who participated in the academy. “I learned a lot from the peers who were teaching about differences between [community] college and university, and about student life on campus.”

CSUCI is less than ten miles from Oxnard College, yet many students there do not explore CSUCI on their own. Project ALAS, however, has helped excite students about the possibilities that transferring to CSUCI can offer, while ensuring that they have information and support for navigating the process. Oxnard College now needs a bus to accommodate all its ALAS academy participants.

A shared responsibility

As HSIs with a commitment to student success and equity, CSUCI and community colleges in Ventura County share students and a common purpose. We coordinate outreach efforts to increase transfer preparedness, including shared undergraduate research opportunities that expose students to high-impact teaching and learning practices regardless of when they start down the path to a four-year degree. With multiple avenues for student engagement, we can better align practices and curricula at CSUCI and regional community colleges. These efforts prompted Money magazine to rate CSUCI fourth in the nation for best colleges for transfer student success.10 CSUCI and community college partners call this work “aligning to one degree,” which recognizes that, together, both the two-year and four-year systems can provide the coursework upon which the baccalaureate degree is awarded.

In support of this alignment philosophy, the ALAS partners created a cross-institutional professional learning community, Regional Transfer Success (RTS) Fellows. The program brings together faculty from regional community colleges and CSUCI for a year to identify curricular, programmatic, or policy changes to institutional structures and practices to improve the transition from a community college to the first year at a university. One group of RTS fellows was made up of CSUCI academic advisors and community college counseling faculty members. Santa Barbara City College and Oxnard College counselors uncovered a core issue: a large number of CSUCI transfer students were returning to their community colleges to receive advising on course selection. This insight informed the redesign of the CSUCI transfer-student orientation so that participants now leave with a first-semester class schedule. CSUCI also created a transfer boot camp, during which participants learn about technological tools, various campus resource centers, career services, and graduate studies services. In addition, transfer students now review academic expectations with faculty advisors, learn about the availability of emergency funds and food security issues, and meet with peer mentors (former community college students) who are pursuing similar majors and career pathways.

To amplify the power of these cross-institutional networks and expand the community beyond the RTS fellows, the ALAS partners created the annual Regional Transfer Success Summit. Open to all area community college and CSUCI faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as P–12 educators, the summit highlights RTS fellows’ innovations for improving the experience of the region’s transfer students. One example of this work is the annual Communication Studies Articulation Summit, at which CSUCI and community college communication faculty members align upper- and lower-division coursework. This ensures that upon transfer to CSUCI, communication majors will be “true juniors”—meaning they will have only upper-division coursework remaining, significantly reducing time to degree completion. The Regional Transfer Success Summit is the only event at which the presidents of Ventura County’s four public postsecondary institutions, all of which are HSIs, come together to discuss our institutions’ shared responsibility in ensuring students obtain their degrees.

Culturally responsive

Creating a college-going culture in our region is a culturally responsive student success strategy. Many local students are the first in their families to pursue a college education, and they live in communities where access to college resources is limited, with particularly few resources available for Spanish-speaking families. Through the RTS Fellows program, CSUCI convened Chicana/o studies faculty members from the region’s HSIs. Over the past three years, these faculty members met regularly, identified the role of community engagement as critical to fostering Latinx student success, and, as a result, conceived the first Chicana/o Studies Summit of Ventura County, which Oxnard College hosted in 2017.

At the inaugural summit, “Connecting the Community to the University with Self-Determination,” the region’s teachers, faculty, community members, and school district representatives were invited to create a Chicana/o Studies Disciplinary Council. The aim was to unify our efforts to build culturally relevant curricula and pathways from local high schools and regional community colleges to CSUCI.

Building on this momentum, the second annual summit, “Call to Action: The Development of Chicana/o Studies G-22 (Gestation to Graduate School),” brought together 167 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and community members to examine educational inequities in the P–20 pipeline. Attendees identified a lack of culturally relevant curricula in regional high schools, where Hispanic or Latinx student enrollment is more than 76 percent.11 Students participating in the summit voiced their concerns about not seeing successful Latinx role models represented throughout the high school experience and curriculum, specifically through the use of Latinx-authored books that portray Latinx history and culture as assets to society.

To sustain economic prosperity in California, we must inspire our young-adult Latinx population to graduate from high school, attend college, and, most important, obtain a four-year degree. The work and concerns raised at the second summit led educators to join with college and high school students in campaigning for the Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD) to implement an ethnic studies graduation requirement. On May 16, 2018, the OUHSD Board of Trustees unanimously passed a joint resolution supporting the requirement.

“Ethnic studies not only increases students’ self-worth through cultural affirmation but it also inspires students to do more for their community by exposing them to social injustices and offering potential interventions,” says OUHSD alumnus Martín Alberto Gonzalez.

This victory demonstrates how much we can accomplish by working with our community and collaborating with prospective students and their families as educational advocates.
In addition, organizing the annual Chicana/o Studies Summit inspired Ventura College to host its own summit in spring 2018 on increasing faculty diversity. In 2019, Santa Barbara City College and Oxnard College also held Chicana/o studies summits. The partnerships and work through Project ALAS have ignited a growing regional movement, showing how we can truly serve our community both on campus and off.

“Communities should be reflected in the history that is taught,” says Isa Sapo, a 2018 graduate of Oxnard High School and now a student at the University of California–Santa Cruz. “Showing young adults an academic perspective of their community and the people who come from it can have a strong positive influence on their choices of what to do after high school.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about this topic, check out “Using Transcript Data and Online Courses to Prepare More Students for College” in Diversity & Democracy (Fall 2018, Vol. 21, No. 4).


1. “Ventura County Executive Office,” Ventura County, California, accessed April 2, 2019,

2. “Quick Facts: Ventura County, California,” United States Census Bureau, July 1, 2017,

3. Ibid.

4. “Ventura County Executive Office,” Ventura County, California.

5. “CSU Student Information Dashboard: Enrollment,” The California State University, accessed April 28, 2019,

6. “Infusing a University-Going Culture in Ventura County,” University Culture, accessed April 28, 2019,

7. Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta, Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates (San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California, April 2009), 5,

8. Ibid.

9. Deborah Santiago, Using a Latino Lens to Reimagine Aid Design and Delivery (Washington, DC: Excelencia in Education, 2013).

10. “Money Magazine Ranks CSUCI 4th Best College in the Nation for Transfer Students,” Channel Islands News Center, December 20, 2018,

11. “2017–2018 Oxnard Union High,” Ed Data, accessed April 28, 2019,

Amanda Quintero is associate vice provost for student success and community engagement, Geoffrey Buhl is professor of mathematics and chair of general education, and Michelle Pajka Hasendonckx is assistant director of student academic success and equity initiatives—all at California State University Channel Islands. Carolyn Inouye is dean of mathematics and science at Oxnard College. Joshua Ramirez is chair of the Department of Psychology at Santa Barbara City College.

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