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Source: Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District

Photo:  Cuyamaca College commencement speaker Joel Spencer

May 27, 2018 (El Cajon) -- A continuing focus on student success and a streamlined process for university transfer are yielding record numbers for Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges, where a highest-ever 2,500 graduates will receive more than 5,500 degrees and certificates on June 6 and 7.

These numbers translate into a 23 percent increase in the number of graduates and a 20 percent hike in the number of degrees and certificates compared to a year ago.

Commencement begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, in front of the B Building at Cuyamaca College, and the same time on Thursday, June 7, at the Main Quad at Grossmont College.

The surge in graduation numbers reflects initiatives such as the Associate Degree for Transfer, or ADT, program to help students reach their educational goals. The transfer degree is a guaranteed transfer program that allows community college students to continue their education at a California State University campus.

At Grossmont College, 1,049 ADT degrees in 21 state-approved majors are being awarded this year, a 23 percent increase from last year. Cuyamaca College has nearly doubled the number of ADT degrees in 22 majors, growing from 167 a year ago to 293 for the 2017-18 academic year.

Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said student success initiatives to help students create education plans and develop a path toward their education goals have resulted in more graduates. The colleges have also revamped their transfer-level math and English classes so that more students are completing the courses and are able to fulfill the requirements for a degree or certificate.

Between 2009 and 2018, there has been a 174 percent increase in the number of degrees and certificates awarded and a 72 percent hike in the number of graduates at both colleges.

“The value of our student success programs is reflected in these graduation statistics,” she said. “Year after year, the numbers of degrees and certificates awarded continue to climb and we are absolutely delighted.”

Cuyamaca College commencement

With many students earning multiple degrees and certificates, about 800 will receive 1,300 degrees and certificates at Cuyamaca College.

Amid the pageantry and celebration of the milestone day will be student speakers Joel Spencer and Marycruz Villaseñor (below right).

Spencer, 38, had been working with the sanitation division in San Diego when the city, reeling from the impacts of the Great Recession, sent him a layoff notice in 2010 – one of 157 positions in danger of being cut from the budget that year.

“People at work told me about the Water and Wastewater Technology program at Cuyamaca College and encouraged me to sign up,” Spencer said.

Spencer is graduating with three certificates from the Cuyamaca College Water and Wastewater Technology Program, has passed a state certification exam, and plans to soon transfer to a job as a San Diego water plant operator. He managed to do this, all the while working full-time and raising his children.

“I encourage anyone who may be looking for a career or anyone who has thought about switching careers for any reason that there is an incredible opportunity right here at Cuyamaca College,” Spencer said. “People who I’ve taken classes with along my journey have been hired and are working in the industry. You can’t argue with success like that.”

Also speaking will be student Marycruz Villaseñor, whose interest in Cuyamaca College was sparked when her mother began taking classes at the Rancho San Diego campus while Villaseñor was in middle school.

Six years later, the Potrero resident is graduating with an associate degree in university studies and is preparing to transfer to a four-year university to study filmmaking and creative writing. Her journey at Cuyamaca College included working as a mentor in the Pathway Academy, which is designed to help students build a clear and quicker route to their educational goals from beginning to end.

She is providing for others the same help her mother received when enrolling at the college several years ago.

“A lot of students who get into college and they don’t really have a plan,” said Villaseñor. “We’re here to help them find their way so they don’t get discouraged.”

Villaseñor was born in Tecate, Mexico, and spent the first five years of her life in the border city before moving to Long Beach and then settling with her family in Potrero. A graduate of Steele Canyon High School, Villaseñor is a talented artist who has made the Vice President’s List every semester she has been at Cuyamaca. She is currently researching and interviewing for a book she wants to write about undocumented immigrants.

Grossmont College commencement

Just under 1,800 students will receive in excess of 4,200 degrees and certificates the following day at Grossmont College.

Selected to speak by a committee of peers and educators is Kenda Willie (left), who is receiving her associate degree in the Administration of Justice (AOJ) with an emphasis in forensic technology.

A Grossmont College student since 2013, Willie is a first-generation college student and will be transferring to San Diego State University in the fall to pursue her bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and biology. She has her sights set on becoming a forensic evidence technician and eventually getting a master’s in criminal justice and teaching credentials.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to teach one day – to hopefully inspire future AOJ students like Professor Tina Young inspired me,” said Willie, who split her childhood years between Port Orchard, Washington and San Diego.

She nearly failed out her first year at Grossmont College, but discovering the AOJ program altered her educational experience and sparked an ambition in her that she didn’t realize she had.

“AOJ saved me, when I needed something to hold on to, to be proud of,” she said. “I’ve met wonderful instructors and have made friends in this program that I know will be around for the rest of my life.”

An American Indian and Caucasian, as well as identifying herself as queer, Willie said her diverse background gives her a unique outlook, which she wants to share in her commencement speech.

“Honestly, what this story – my story -- boils down to is me wanting to show students who may be floundering just as I did, who may be still deciding whether or not to stay in college, that yes, you can succeed. Grossmont helped me achieve that, so I wanted to be able to share my journey.”

The life-altering impact of community colleges is a constant theme that Governing Board President Bill Garrett said he always looks forward to sharing this time of year.

“This is truly a time to celebrate accomplishments and to look forward to the challenges ahead,” he said. “Our graduates received an excellent education and they face boundless opportunities.”

For more information on Grossmont and Cuyamaca Community Colleges, visit

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