Community college Puente's influence on California's Mexican-American students: countering the statistics

Using a social justice and equity perspective, this qualitative research study focused on the California community college Puente project as a best practice and its influence’s related to transfer for Mexican-American students. The Puente project founded in 1981 by Patricia McGrath and Felix Galaviz is a three-component intervention consisting of writing, counseling, and mentoring. The two-semester long Puente program, supplemented by concurrent enrollments in career and transfer courses uses Latino cultural literature as class readings, as well as a team of Latino role models to help students persist and transfer. Puente programs are provided in 62 out of 112 California community colleges (CCC) (Puente, 2013). A policy report indicated that over a million future jobs with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree will need to be filled in California (Johnson & Sengupta, 2009). This fact, coupled with a forecasted demographic growth that the Latino population will reach 43% by the year 2025 (Johnson & Sengupta, 2009). These predictions are magnified by the majority of Latino high school graduates choosing to enter community college as their first choice of a higher education pathway at 69.4% (College Campaign for Opportunity, 2013). Latinos are the ethnic majority at 38.9% in California community colleges in 2014 (CCLC, 2014). The crisis is that Latinos are also among the lowest academic performers in key milestones for transfer and degree completion success (Moore & Shulock, 2010). The research on Puente provided a best practice needed to aid in CCC reform to help Latinos persist, transfer and complete their degrees. The purpose of this research was that it studied how the Puente project influenced Mexican-American students in their acquisition of “college capital” used to persist in community college, successfully transfer to a four-year university, and complete their bachelors’ degrees. The study further researched how Puente helped Mexican-American students to both balance and navigate between the cultural crossroads of two worlds: the academic world and their home communities. The research used theoretical frameworks of critical race theory (CRT) (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012) and Latino critical race theory (LatCrit) (Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001), funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff & González, 1992), and community cultural wealths (Yosso, 2005). This unique research study provided Mexican-American students who were success stories and had completed the year-long Puente program, transferred to a four-year university and earned their bachelor’s degrees. This research was unique because for every 100 Mexican-Americans entering schooling only 8 reached the level of a bachelor’s degree completion (Yosso & Solórzano, 2006). A phenomenological method of one to one interviews was utilized so that this research could provide reflective narratives of six Mexican-American Puente project alumni. The students were from a diverse urban, metropolitan community college in the Sacramento, California area. The findings from the research showed how the Puente program through its comprehensive services served as an entry point for campus resources and services. Puente also provided Latino role models, cultural pedagogy, a home/family setting, high standards for writing, road maps for transfer and degree requirements, and an element of care for these participants. Another layer of findings showed how the Puente interviewees brought with them to the community college experience inner motivations fueled by lifelong messages from their parents and funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff & González, 1992). Puente, by capitalizing on these two layers, structured a schooling environment that promoted cultural validation and a sense of belonging (Rendón, 2000). This structuring helped the Puente students to become empowered and persist, while gaining the self-confidence and motivations (college capital) to transfer and complete their bachelor’s degrees. These findings resulted in the researcher’s creation of a college capital model, and policy and recommendations regarding individual, institutional and future research were included.