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June 30, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed life and learning circumstances for the entire CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) campus, but it also meant an expanded role for the University as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

To that end, University leaders recently launched the “CARES Summer Grant Program,” which will provide funds for tuition for eligible students interested in taking summer classes. The funds come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted by the U.S. Department of Education to aid institutions of higher learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic took us all off track,” said Transfer Student Success Activity Director Veronica Montoya, who is heading the grant program. “The transition to virtual has been tough. The CARES Summer Grant Program is to help students stay on track.”

As a proud recipient of the Seal of Excelencia, from the Washington, D.C.-based organization, Excelencia in Education, CSUCI leaders recognized the need not only to increase enrollment and retention among Latina/o and other underrepresented groups of students, but also to support them during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, CSUCI became one of only nine institutions in the country to be awarded the Seal of Excelencia.

“The Seal recognizes our University’s high level of commitment and effort to serve Latina/o students successfully, and we take that commitment very seriously,” said President Erika D. Beck, Ph.D. “We fully realize that the hardships the pandemic has caused for the nation and the world fall disproportionately on those with fewer economic and social resources. Many of our Latina/o and other students of color fall into that category, so we are strengthening existing programs and launching other initiatives to help them stay focused on their educational goals so they can make it to the finish line and graduate on time.”

Students who receive the grant will be able to cover tuition for Summer Session B, which will be through CSUCI’s Extended University and will allow students to get caught up or even get ahead with coursework that may have suffered during the transition to virtual learning in the spring.

Excelencia co-founder and President Sarita Brown applauds CSUCI’s actions and initiatives for its Latina/o students, stressing that recent events in the U.S. have underscored the call to action for institutions of higher learning who have pledged to serve Latina/o and all students disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“This moment in time highlights the urgent need for people to secure employment, strengthen their communities, and become active in a civil society,” Brown said. “Specifically for institutions of higher education, it's time to prepare all students to do this. Channel Islands is an institution that is leading by example the opportunity for all of higher education.”

Montoya explained that the pandemic hit CSUCI’s Latina/o families harder because in many cases, the CSUCI student is the first in the family to attend college, and may have a difficult time explaining why it’s important that they see their educational commitment through to graduation when the family is in immediate crisis.

“It’s already a challenge for them and it’s especially pronounced in a pandemic when their families are experiencing financial difficulties,” Montoya said. “There’s a feeling from our students that they need to provide and support their families financially. They wonder how to juggle their changing identities as college students. A lot of our students are working multiple jobs or covering family members who were laid off. Or they may be taking care of family members who are sick.”

The CARES Summer Grant Program is linking to the Channel Your Success: Believe, Belong, Become campaign, which is well underway. The campaign is also aimed at keeping first-time freshman and second-year students focused on their educational goals with peer mentorship and other ongoing practices designed to help students feel a part of the campus, assisting them with the transition to virtual learning.

“Hispanics are the growth population in our county, and looking at what happens to us in education and the workforce has significant implications for all of us, whether or not you're in this demographic,” said Excelencia co-founder and CEO Deborah Santiago. “Channel Islands is answering the call. That benefits everyone and our nation.”

The five-week Session B session begins July 13 and lasts through August 14 and registration lasts through July 20.

For more on the CARES Summer Grant Program, visit: https://ext.csuci.edu/programs/summer-programs/.

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