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Activating Change in California: Michele Siqueiros Leads the Charge for Improved College Success

April 18, 2019

By Julie Bos, ECMC Foundation Contributing Writer

The year was 1970. A young woman emigrated from Mexico to the United States in search of a better life. As a single mother, she settled in Los Angeles, and did her best to raise her daughter alone. With only a sixth-grade education, she worked her entire life as a seamstress—earning a low income, struggling to make ends meet, and hoping for a brighter future for her daughter.

It’s a story that’s all too common—and one that’s truly personal to Michele Siqueiros, President of the Campaign for College Opportunity (the Campaign). It’s the story of Michele’s mother.

“My mom knew that if I could get a good education, I would have many more opportunities than she ever had,” said Michele. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of mentors and teachers who supported me and helped me do all the things my mom couldn’t do—like complete college applications, apply for fee waivers and fill out FAFSA forms so I could get financial aid.”

Thanks to that support , Michele enrolled at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif.  after high school and earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in political studies and Chicano studies. She then went on to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to earn a master’s degree in urban planning.

“I felt very lucky that I had the chance to go to college, but very quickly realized that it’s not luck—it’s the result of having good people around to help you navigate an unfamiliar process, as well as having good policy and access to financial aid,” said Michele. “I would not have gone to college had I not had access to state financial aid, federal subsidized loans, and grants from both Pitzer College and UCLA—all of which made those degrees possible. That’s really why I’m passionate about the power of good public policy, which can make college opportunities possible for people like me.”

Today, Michele leads the Campaign, which is dedicated to ensuring that all Californians have an equal opportunity to attend and succeed in college, contributing to a vibrant workforce, economy and democracy. It raises critical issues through public awareness efforts, builds alliances to advocate for students, and works with state-level leaders to advocate for policies that support students through legislation and practice reform at California’s colleges and universities.

This work is much needed. By 2030, California is estimated to have a shortage of 1.1 million college graduates (Public Policy Institute of California). This gap means the world’s sixth largest economy is predicted to fall behind in producing the skills and talent needed to keep up with the rapidly growing and evolving economy.

California has also experienced a decline in the direct college-going rates of students from high school to college (40th in the nation), and a problematic college completion rate (46th in the nation), according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The Campaign’s ongoing work seeks to change this landscape through statewide transfer reform, keeping policymakers informed of critical issues facing student success, and development of a strong coalition of allies, including business and civic leaders.  A large part of what Michele does through the Campaign is sharing information about what they learn. She and her team are recognized experts in higher education and are regularly called upon to testify at Congressional hearings and provide critical perspectives on higher education issues.

In five to 10 years from now, Michele would love to see a stronger California.  “In a perfect world, we would have 60 percent of all Californian adults with a degree or credential—that’s the goal we want the Governor and state leaders to adopt and implement,” she said. “We should also be number one in ensuring that our diverse students earn degrees and credentials of value. At the end of the day, this is all about ensuring that no Californian—regardless of race, gender or income status—ever feels like a college opportunity is not available to them.”

ECMC Foundation’s Support of the Campaign for College Opportunity   

In 2016, ECMC Foundation provided the Campaign a $150,000 grant for general operating support, furthering the Campaign’s efforts under their Student Pathways initiative for transfer reform. The funding also resulted in two reports:  “The Transfer Maze: The High Cost to Students and the State of California”, which highlights the obstacles California community students face when navigating the transfer process to the state’s two public school university systems; and  “Left Out: How Exclusion in California’s Colleges and Universities Hurts Our Values, Our Students, and Our Economy”, which presents  the discrepancy in California’s higher education governing boards, leadership, and faculty, and how they don’t reflect the racial and gender diversity of California and its student population.

In January 2019, ECMC Foundation provided the Campaign an additional $500,000 grant to continue its support of the Student Pathways initiative, as well as its Graduate Fellowship Program, which will provide opportunities for graduate students to contribute to the Campaign’s policy research.

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