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Central Washington University

CWU Educational Opportunity Centers Awarded $2.67 Million Over Next Five Years

Monday, August 30, 2021

CWU's Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) at Yakima Valley College received a $302,542, five-year grant this month, while a new EOC in Wenatchee will be established this year thanks to an additional $232,050 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


Central Washington University’s goal of reaching more prospective students from underrepresented communities around the state received a major boost earlier this month when the U.S. Department of Education approved two Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC) program grants worth $2,672,960 over the next five years.

This year alone, the EOCs will receive $534,592 combined, with more than half of the funding — $302,542 — going to CWU’s existing TRIO EOC, housed at Yakima Valley College. The remaining $232,050 will go toward establishing a new center at Wenatchee Valley College. 

The two EOC grants, good for five years each, were among 126 awarded nationwide on August 18.

Mateo Arteaga, director of the EOC in Yakima, said he expected his program’s funding to be renewed, due to its proven success rate over the past 23 years. But the five-year Wenatchee grant award will help forward the EOC’s mission of reaching more first-generation college students.

“We spent the past year working on the grant proposal and researching it, and we felt pretty confident about the Yakima one,” Arteaga said. “But we were shocked that the Wenatchee proposal got a perfect score. What helped us is that the program is hybrid (online and in-person), and a lot of the other schools applying weren’t able to offer that mix of classes.”

Arteaga has been with the Yakima EOC for more than 20 years, helping tens of thousands of students benefit from services such as assistance with adult basic education and General Educational Development (GED) preparation.

As a first-generation college student himself, he recognizes how crucial TRIO programs are for people from underrepresented communities, like those in the Yakima Valley.

“I was like many of our students,” said Arteaga, who also helps participants with testing, academic advising, educational and vocational planning, and financial aid. “I’m a first-generation student and my family worked in agriculture … so I understand the struggles that people go through. One thing I’ve realized over the years is that education is a gateway to a better life.”

TRIO programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

Opening a new center in Wenatchee will further expand the reach of Central’s EOC programs, giving even more aspiring students access to higher education. 

Arteaga said he and his staff are looking forward to serving more people around the region — even more than the 1,000 students per year currently served by the Yakima EOC. Four new staff members will soon be hired to help with outreach and support in north-central Washington.

“I had announced that I was going to retire, which I hope I can retract now,” Arteaga said with a laugh. “I really want to stay at least another year to see the Wenatchee program grow some legs and get going.”


Grant Funds Are Flowing

Two more grant-dependent programs at CWU also received a significant financial boost from the Department of Education in May. 

The High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) grants were each funded for $2.37 million over the next five years, giving CWU’s outreach programs a combined total of $4.75 million between 2021-26.

Another program, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) — which helps underrepresented students prepare for college success — has applied for two Department of Education partnership grants, and is still awaiting final approval.

Miriam Bocchetti, CWU’s director of grants in the Student Success division, noted that each of these programs — HEP, CAMP, GEAR UP, and EOC — overlaps, with an overarching goal of providing opportunities and access to underrepresented communities in Washington.

The programs’ work also benefits CWU’s goal of becoming the most diverse higher education institution in the state.

“I think early outreach is the key to diversifying Central,” said Bocchetti, who also serves as president of the HEP CAMP Association, a national organization comprised of more than 100 HEP and CAMP programs. “Our outreach programs serve over 4,000 students. If even one percent of those students ends up coming to Central, that’s a victory.”

Every year, the CAMP program welcomes 45 migrant, seasonal farmworkers — most of whom are first-generation college students — to the Ellensburg campus, introducing them to every facet of student life. Since it was first introduced at CWU in 2001, the program has helped hundreds of students from migrant families discover opportunities they may not have otherwise found.

“Very high numbers of LatinX students are being born in the United States, but the rate at which they’re attending secondary education isn’t keeping up with that expanding population,” Bocchetti said. 

She added that it’s more important to show these students and their families that they will be well taken care of before they decide to attend CWU, not after they’ve already arrived on campus. 

“What we’re recommending is to provide programming that goes beyond surface-level diversity, like Spanish-language orientations, as opposed to individual translators,” she said.


Reaching Underserved Communities

HEP is another CWU program that focuses on providing opportunities for families that often lack pathways to post-secondary education. 

Every year, the program, directed by Ramon Cardenas, helps 100 migrant seasonal farmworkers with limited educational backgrounds pass the GED and earn a high school equivalency certificate, which opens new pathways to professional careers.

Students with as little as a ninth-grade education are recruited by Cardenas and his staff to join HEP, designed specifically to aid agricultural workers and their families. The program’s mission is to provide a four-year high school education in the span of about four months. 

Cardenas said it can be challenging to keep students engaged throughout the entire process, but there also have been many success stories.

“Research says that over 40% of high school seniors wouldn’t pass the GED test,” he said. “For us to graduate 70% of our students in one year is nothing short of a miracle.” 

That goal of a 70% graduation rate may seem lofty, but Cardenas and his team have found that students are willing to put in the time and effort to succeed once they overcome the initial fear of failure.

“A lot of students come here feeling like they can’t do this,” said Cardenas, a one-time farmworker who has been involved with HEP since 2005. “That’s where motivation comes in. Stories from successful alumni and constant encouragement from instructors help them see their goal a lot more clearly.”

Since the average age of HEP participants is 32, Cardenas said it is vital that classes fit in with the participants’ schedules. It’s hard work, but he says the end result keeps him going.

“I wouldn’t have been doing this for this long if it wasn’t rewarding,” he said. “We work really hard, but in the end, when you see your students accomplish their GED and move forward with their goals, it’s all worth it.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, David.Leder@cwu.edu, 509-963-1518.

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