Newswise — Sacramento State has been awarded a five-year, $2.37 million grant to re-establish a High School Equivalency Program (HEP). The competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education is designed to help migrant and seasonal farmworkers who are 16 years or older and are not currently enrolled in high school.

The goals are to help them obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma and gain employment, or go on to an institution of higher education, the military, or other postsecondary education or training. Service centers will be located in Woodland and Stockton, as well as at Sac State.

“HEP will provide a second family to migrant students who are typically left to figure out their future on their own, very much the way our College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) does for its students,” says Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen.

“HEP will ensure out-of-school youth are making progress, completing high school equivalency, and ultimately having better opportunities in the future. The work done by HEP benefits the individual, their families, and our society as a whole. We are very proud to have it back at Sacramento State.”

“For 20 years, the High School Equivalency Program at Sacramento State has helped level the playing field for local migrant and seasonal farmworkers as they pursue their goals,” says Congresswoman Doris Matsui. “With this grant, more students will be brought into this wonderful program, opening up avenues for future opportunities and success.”

HEP will serve 70 participants each year with a focus on promoting careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, while working with faith-based and community organizations to identify participants. It will be housed in the Division of Student Affairs under the leadership of Viridiana Diaz, who has successfully led CAMP at Sacramento State for more than 10 years and will serve as the principal investigator for the returning HEP grant.

“We are pleased to be able to bring this important program to our campus,” Diaz says. “We have over 1,000 out-of-school migrant youth in our surrounding area.”

The program will work in close partnership with CAMP, which also serves youth from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds, conducts recruitment in rural areas, and works in close partnership with the California Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education. “It is great to now offer additional options to students who want to advance in life but who are unable to follow the traditional path of going straight to college,” Diaz says.

The University’s HEP serves the needs of a significant number of farmworker students who otherwise would be unable to enroll in similar programs. Migrant and seasonal farmworker youth face barriers that span beyond demographics, culture, schooling, and large socioeconomic political issues. These include poverty, mobility, social isolation in schools, the need to work, family obligations, English as a second language, and deficiencies in core subjects. The consequence of students not completing high school is costly, both for the individual and for society.

To address these barriers, Sac State’s HEP will offer a five-month high school equivalency preparation program in the evenings for part-time students each semester and a one-month program in the summer for full-time students. Instruction will be offered in Spanish and English. Courses, materials, and testing fees will be offered to all students at no cost, and gas/meal stipends will be available to students based on need.

HEP also will offer workshops on career development, career placement, and financial assistance to assist with access to postsecondary education, job training, or the military. The grant will fund several positions, including a full-time director, a recruiter, an advisor, instructors, and peer tutors.

Sac State’s HEP goals align with the University’s mission to transform lives by preparing students for leadership, service, and success, and directly supports three of the Sac State’s six Strategic Plan priorities: enhancing student learning and success, engaging the community by building enduring partnerships that strengthen and enrich the region, and engaging students in a comprehensive university experience. – Craig Koscho