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OJC receives $2.9 million Title V Grant

Staff Writer
LA Junta Tribune
Otero Junior College is recent award recipient of $2.9 million grant form the Department of Education's Title V Developing Hispanic-Service Institution program. The grant will be used to increase the college's support of college readiness and success for Hispanic and low-income students.

By OJC staff

Otero Junior College was recently notified by the United States Department of Education that is has been awarded a $2.9 million grant that will support the college's efforts to increase college readiness and success of Hispanic and low income students over the next five years.

The grant award will be funded by the Department of Education's Title V Developing Hispanic-Serving Institution program (DHSI). Otero Junior College has been a designated Hispanic Serving Institution since 2001, with more than 38 percent of the college's student population being of Hispanic descent.

In addition to addressing the readiness and success of Hispanic students, the grant's focus will also address the needs of low-income students. Determination of low income is based on Pell Grant eligibility and other financial aid qualifications. More than 55 percent of OJC students are Pell Grant eligible, with 84 percent qualifying or some kind of financial aid assistance.

Dr. Timothy Alvarez, president of Otero Junior College states at being named a recipient of a Title V DHSI grant was a timely award, based on the impact the pandemic has had on OJC, and other institutions of higher education over the past six months.

"The global pandemic has exposed the frailty of our systems and has not impacted populations equally. Some of our most vulnerable students are low-income, first generation, and students of color. OJC has been a Hispanic Serving institution for nearly 20 years, and has been fortunate to have been awarded two Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution grants in the past and that have kept us on the leading edge of support for those vulnerable populations. This grant allows us to expand many of our services that will support those students," said Alvarez.

The new Title V grant has been named the Title V AIM Grant. AIM is an acronym (Accessing Innovative Measures) for Higher Education Retention. The grant is scheduled to begin of Oct. 1. The grant will have four major focus areas:

1. Building College Readiness through the development of expanded in-person and online orientation programs that help students, especially first-generation students, better understand the processes and expectations of becoming a successful college student. The orientation programs will also focus on helping families better understand how they can support their student.

2. Mentoring and Student Support programs will be developed that will pair students with faculty and staff who will serve as personal mentors to help acquaint students with the OJC culture, provide information on services, careers, and give general support to the student through their academic experience at OJC. The mentoring and support programs will also include the development of peer mentoring programs, mentoring of new faculty and staff, as well as hiring a case manager who can work with students on issues beyond the expertise of those serving as mentors in the programs.

3. Expanding the Student Experience will provide students with additional opportunities to work with faculty to gain experience related to their studies outside the classroom. OJC faculty will have the opportunity to develop research projects with students or to include service learning components into their coursework.

4. Professional Development will be a major component of the grant. Professional development opportunities will focus on culturally-responsive teaching.

The Title V AIM Grant will support four full-time positions including a Project Manager, Retention Specialist, Faculty Professional Development Lad, and a Case Manager. In addition, the grant will fund more than $390,000 in technology upgrades to 13 classrooms on campus. A final funding stream from the grant will include a $600,000 20-year endowment to the OJC Foundation that will have yearly 100 percent matching requirements spread out over the five-year life of the grant. Any endowment funds that are used — either interest or principal after 20 years — will be earmarks specifically to fund programs benefitting Hispanic or low-income students.

The broad score of the new Title V AIM Grant is something Dr. Alvarez said should impact the college for many years to come.

"I am delighted that the Title V AIM Grant will allow us to provide best practice solutions to increase the success rates of our most vulnerable students for many years to come. I am particularly eager to witness the results of the mentoring component, which I believe will be a profoundly positive experience for our students," Alvarez said.

The new Title V AIM Grant was written by former OJC Grant Writer, Teri Erickson. On a point scale of 110, OJC scored an impressive 109.33.

"I want to thank all the faculty and staff at OJC who have worked on the concept of this grant, as well as Teri Erickson for her excellent application on our behalf," said Alvarez. "I believe the grant application demonstrated an expressed need to continue our focus of supporting low income, first generation, and students of color in their quest for academic success. By state statute, we are an open enrollment college whose mission is to serve the underserved. We are honored to be able to expand our stated mission with this grant."