Transition Studies at South Puget Sound Community College: Learning English and Earning Diplomas

South Puget Sound Community College Transition Studies building
“I am the first in my family to go to college and it has positively impacted my life and now I want to pay it forward. I have started a scholarship in my daughter's name to support documented and undocumented immigrants to help give everyone equal access to college," says Evan Skytte, SPSCC director of development. Photo credit: Kate Ubermuth

South Puget Sound Community College’s (SPSCC) Transition Studies program helps students move forward with their educational goals. These programs prepare students to enter college-level courses, professional/technical programs, and the workplace. The completion rate at SPSCC is 43.7%, which is high for a community college. Many students choose go on to pursue careers in medical, paralegal, government, nonprofit, and other community-oriented fields. Regardless of vocation, it is clear that students want to not only better their own lives, but also to help others.

South Puget Sound Community College Transition Studies building
“I am the first in my family to go to college and it has positively impacted my life and now I want to pay it forward. I have started a scholarship in my daughter’s name to support documented and undocumented immigrants to help give everyone equal access to college,” says Evan Skytte, SPSCC director of development. Photo credit: Kate Ubermuth

“The more education they have, the more they can do that,” says Jennifer Barber, associate dean of Transition Studies at SPSCC. “It’s been a point of pride for me that the institution I work at is wholly committed to and focused on serving students.”

The classes provided through this ABE (Adult Basic Education) program include I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, HS+ (High School+), GED (GED Preparation Classes,) and ESL (English as a Second Language.) The goal is for students to receive their education with as few interruptions as possible. By eliminating achievement and equity gaps, students can focus on their careers and dreams.

These are adults who were not given the opportunities and support they needed to be successful in their past educational experiences. They come to us with a lot of educational trauma, a lot of fear of failure, a lot of anxiety about whether they can be successful. Our program provides them with that opportunity to be successful, and it makes a huge difference in income if a person has a high school diploma or not. It ripples out into the community if you have someone that can make a living wage and support their families. And, if they have the skills to help their kids with their homework.  – Jennifer Barber

Transition Studies are made more accessible through quarterly tuition. For a flat fee of $35, students can take as many Transition Studies classes as they would like. “We are serving some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” shares Barber, “For some people, $35 is completely out of reach.” If students need help with this fee, they can fill out a form to have the Foundation cover it. “We use those fees to pay for materials and trainings for professional development. It benefits students, and it benefits our program.”

Art lining the wall of the Transition Studies building at SPSCC
The Transition Studies building was once the library on campus. It has since been remodeled to provide students with computer labs, study rooms, lockers, and opportunities to share their art. Photo credit: Kate Ubermuth

English as a Second Language (ESL) classes help students open doors to their future. ESL Students come to SPSCC with a variety of educational backgrounds. Some may have had no formal education, others made it through high school. Some have college degrees. All have one thing in common: “They all need to learn English to start building their lives in a new country, and again, support their families,” explains Barber.

Another significant way Transition Studies helps students is through GED preparation, High School+, and I-BEST programs. These programs help people who do not have a high school diploma, which is the majority of their students according to Barber. The I-BEST program is unique with a two-teacher model: one teaches the content, the other teaches strategies to successfully tackle the content, while also providing support and advice on how to be a successful student. This approach helps students who may normally have to take several years of basic education before getting into college-level classes, she adds.

Whether taking Transition Studies classes, pursuing an associate’s degree through guided pathways, professional-technical programs, or getting two years of college tuition-free through the Running Start program, students save money by attending SPSCC. “And it’s really good quality education,” shares Barber. “Our instructors have advanced degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs. It’s the same education, and we have to have that because we articulate with the four-year universities,” Barber says.

SPSCC outside grounds, grass and a bush by a fence
“I think access to education is a game-changer for many families, so I choose to invest in education as a way to support generational prosperity for individuals, families, and our community,” says Tanya Mote, SPSCC Foundation executive director. Photo credit: Kate Ubermuth

“Community colleges are really an extraordinary concept, serving so many different populations in so many different ways,” Barber continues. In addition to education, the arts at SPSCC offer theater productions and music productions. The college also has served as a testing site and a vaccine location. “We even had drive-through voting during the pandemic,” shares Barber. Community colleges sometimes get missed in the midst of K-12 and 4-year universities, but they really are extraordinary in what they do, she adds.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us all that we need to adapt quickly, which is why, as a part of their scholarship offerings, the SPSCC Foundation provides emergency funds to students, among other things. “Any contribution is life-changing,” Barber shares. “To be able to move through your community and communicate and be understood is life-changing. To be able to go to a job and check the box, ‘Yes I have a high school diploma,’ is really an extraordinary achievement.”

The SPSCC Foundation is currently on its largest-ever fundraising campaign to grow the Student Success Fund and help students thrive in programs like these. “Data shows when the SPSCC Foundation provides financial support to students, these students have higher GPAs, higher likelihood of staying enrolled in college, and a higher rate of graduation,” says Evan Skytte, Director of Development. The results show donor support genuinely makes a difference.

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