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San Diego State University

Compact for Success

The History of Compact for Success

Ed Brand, Superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), and former SDSU President Stephen L. Weber met to chart a course that would bring these two educational institutions together to create Compact for Success. Its goal: to increase the number of Sweetwater students attending, and graduating from, SDSU.

The partnership would involve SUHSD teachers working side-by-side with SDSU faculty to examine the rigor and alignment of math and English course offerings; and to design a school curriculum that would meet specific requirements for college admissions. Students participating in the Compact for Success Program would focus on meeting a specific set of requirements. All Sweetwater students meeting these benchmarks would be guaranteed admission to SDSU.

The Compact for Success was officially launched in 2000 when the first group of 7th-grade students enrolled in the program. In fall 2006, 203 of these students began their freshman year at SDSU.

Gonzalo Rojas, former director of SDSU’s Student Outreach Services, jumped at the chance to serve as the Compact for Success Program’s first director.

“We did some internal reviews and we discovered that, at the time, the Sweetwater district sent very few students to SDSU, in spite of its large size and proximity to campus,” said Rojas. “The district was also unhappy with its graduation rates and the lack of a college-bound culture, so they were eager to approach President Weber, asking for assistance on how we could work as partners to help turn things around.”

Ed Brand, SUHSD superintendent at the time, had met former President Weber shortly after Weber began his tenure at SDSU in 1996. Brand said he remembers local media chastising the university for accepting more non-local students at the time, and that Weber was receptive to ideas to change that scenario. They enthusiastically agreed to a joint collaboration that could make a difference. “Steve Weber never said ‘no’ to us, and he was receptive to making some concrete changes to help our children achieve the dreams of a college education and improve their quality of life,” said Brand. “I credit him and his staff, as well as the staff of SUHSD, for working together to make this happen.”

Rojas said the first step was to examine what was being taught at the middle school and high school levels.

“We reviewed their curriculum, emphasized teacher training and counseling,” said Rojas. “We worked with the district to address these issues, and we had some great community partners who stepped in to address the financial aspects. The Ellis Foundation and the Stensrud Foundation, both nonprofits, donated $500,000 each for scholarships. Senator Steve Peace, a Bonita Vista High School graduate, was another ally who helped.”

According to Brand, the Compact for Success is more than just another program, but has become a way of life for the young people in his district.

“Having the carrot of guaranteed admission to SDSU once our students fulfilled their requirements was the game changer,” said Brand. “It was the incentive that caused many students to realize they could have opportunities that no one in their family had had. Steve and I were in a unique place at the right time and were able to execute this very well. It was the first of its kind and has been nationally recognized. We are seeing other programs implemented that mirror the Compact for Success.”

Brand left the SUHSD in 2005, and Rojas retired from SDSU in 2007. Dr. Lou Murillo, who works closely with SDSU President Elliot Hirshman and SDSU Vice President for Student Affairs Eric Rivera, now runs the Compact for Success Program.

“Gonzalo and Ed Brand laid the foundation, and this is a program near and dear to my heart,” said Murillo. “The key to its success is definitely the relationships established between SDSU and the schools and community colleges. There’s a lot of good communication and shared goals, and now the program is stronger than ever.”

Each year sees a growth in the number of 7th-grade Sweetwater students involved in Compact for Success activities, as the program continues to flourish. Since its inception, the number of Sweetwater graduates enrolled at SDSU has increased by 128 percent.

To date, a total of 2,094 SUHSD graduates have been admitted to SDSU with a guaranteed admission. The first cohort of Compact for Success students graduated from SDSU in May 2010.