Step to College celebrates 25th anniversary

If students of color are not applying to college, why not take the University to them? That was the idea behind SF State's Step to College program, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Dean Jacob Perea

Dean Jacob Perea, who co-founded Step to College at SF State

The program allows high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to take university-level classes at their school. Since its inception, Step to College has helped thousands of young people make the leap from high school to college.

"Step to College takes students who want to go to college, but who think they might not be able to, and gives them a way to succeed," said Jacob Perea, Dean of the College of Education, who co-founded the program at SF State.

High school juniors and seniors can enroll in two courses, which are free of charge and are taught after school by SF State faculty. The students learn college-level study skills and learn to think critically about social justice issues that often affect their own communities.

More than 12,000 students have participated in Step to College, many having earned degrees from SF State and other universities, leading to employment in such fields as scientific research, social work and teaching.

Alumnus Ausberto Beltran (B.S. '95) was part of the first Step to College cohort in 1986 at Mission High School. Now an engineer for the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Beltran says Step to College helped him escape a youth culture in the Mission District where crime and gang activity seemed like the only options open to low-income, immigrant youth.

"Step to College gave me a fuller idea of what my life could be," said Beltran, who moved to the U.S. from El Salvador with his mother when he was a teenager. "It opened a window of opportunity for me. The classes prepared me so that when I joined SF State, I felt at home and was ready for the challenge and the hard work."

Classes are currently offered in seven Bay Area high schools and several community-based after school programs. Students can earn up to six units of credit that can be transferred to CSU campuses and other universities, but just as important as the credit earned is the change in how they see themselves. 

"To begin with, many students don't think of themselves as college-going material," said Step to College Coordinator and Lecturer Eurania Lopez, who is also a former participant. "Step to College gives students a close connection with the university campus. They receive their own SF State I.D. card and access to campus facilities, which makes them feel like they are already college students."

Perea, who regularly teaches in the program, says one thing has not changed over the last 25 years. "I have never encountered a student who did not want to learn," Perea said. "Even the kids who are facing tremendous struggles outside of school -- when they are given even the smallest bit of opportunity, they overcome."

-- Elaine Bible