Every spring at DCP we pause to honor the moment in which a young person commits to the college of their choice. We do this with the awareness that it is a monumental, life-changing decision. But after two decades of doing this work, we also recognize that this moment does not represent the entirety of the experience. It is just one milestone along the journey to college completion.
That journey can feel simultaneously triumphant and incredibly isolating. No one knows this more deeply than our Alumni Success Counselor, Dulce Bermudez Grant. She graduated from DCP in 2011 and went on to attend Mills College. In her own experience, she was caught off guard when she found herself struggling academically for the first time in her life. And like many of the challenges faced by first-generation, low-income students, her academic difficulties didn’t exist in a silo. She suddenly found herself asking more unnerving questions like, “Is something wrong with me? Is it the school or am I just not supposed to be here?”. At the time, she felt like she couldn’t share with anyone, including her family. “I felt like I had to keep performing. Acknowledging my struggle to my family would make them stress out and worry, and I didn’t want to let them down.” Dulce eventually found her footing and even went on to create a mentorship program Sister Sister for local high school students in Oakland. After a brief stint in local politics, Dulce came to DCP with a passionate vision for DCP’s Alumni Success Program and the type of culture she wanted to create.
Now in her fourth year as alumni counselor, Dulce is proud of the culture that exists. She finds that DCP graduates, especially it’s most recent cohorts, feel comfortable seeking out support from their alma mater. And perhaps one of the most critical pieces of this culture building strategy is her team of alumni mentors. Composed of DCP graduates who are either in college or recent college graduates themselves, they are focused on supporting students in their first and second year in college. This can include any mix of being present on their college campus, setting up individual appointments and being available via phone/text. And while the student checklist is lengthy, especially in that first year — a lot of times, these connection points are about giving students space to process the spectrum of emotions they are experiencing. Dulce shares that there is an inherent trust that exists when the person sitting across from you has walked in your shoes in such a familiar way. There is the shared experience of DCP and the empathy of being first-generation. “When there is trust, students are open to sharing their struggles. The conversations become about topics you can’t get from a checklist.”
DCP’s Alumni Success Team has begun producing short videos on trending topics for first-generation college students: “Tips for a Successful First Day of College” and “Balancing All Your Adulting Responsibilities”.
These conversations often center around sustainable financial planning, academic progress and compatibility, campus/community engagement, and social life vis-à-vis family, friends and partners. And perhaps most critically, getting students to build their 4-year plan in order to put them on a trajectory towards timely transfer and graduation. “We are making sure our alumni arrive on their first day of college as prepared as they can be for what to expect that first year. A strong first-year means students can go into years 2, 3 and 4 much more confident and equipped”, adds Dulce.
In addition to their work on the frontlines, Dulce along with DCP’s College Success Team are partnering with Dr. Rebecca Covarrubias, who is an Assistant Professor and Lab Director of the Culture & Achievement Collaborative at UC Santa Cruz on a longitudinal research study. The study is examining the cultural transition to college for first-generation, Latinx students with the ultimate goal of transforming the way in which postsecondary institutions understand and serve this growing student population. Early findings in the study show that many first-generation, low-income students of color come from cultures, families and communities that value and thrive/survive on a shared value of interdependence; whereas colleges and universities expect and reward independence and individual achievement. While some may consider the Alumni Success Program’s holistic approach to student support superfluous or a deterrent to developing independence, we understand that communal support is critical to our alumni’s success in college. We are privileged to have our very own graduates leading that effort.
DCP’s Alumni Success Program supports over 500 college-age graduates that are attending 2 and 4 year colleges, as well as alumni who have reverse transferred or have stopped out and wish to resume their postsecondary education. On average, 95% of DCP graduates enroll in college directly after high school. 53% of DCP graduates have graduated or are on track to graduate within 6 years compared to 14% nationwide for low-income students who earn a Bachelor’s degree. Since 2004, DCP has graduated over 1100 students.