Peninsula College receives $3.9 million grant

Partners to focus on post-secondary enrollment

Suzy Ames.

Suzy Ames.

PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College and two core partners have been awarded a $3.9 million Horizons Regional Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to assist more students on the Olympic Peninsula.

The college, the West Sound STEM Network and the College Success Foundation lead the Postsecondary Regional Equity Partnership (PREP), one of four groups from around the state that will share a total of $19 million in Horizons funding over the next three years.

The others are Elevate/United Way of the Blue Mountains, covering Walla Walla and Columbia County (southeast); ESD 112 Postsecondary Readiness Partnership, covering Vancouver and rural counties from the southwest coast to central Washington (southwest); and Puget Sound ESD covering the Highline, Federal Way and Tukwila school districts (central).

“We are ridiculously excited to be the recipient of the Horizons grant,” Peninsula College President Suzy Ames said. “This has been a long time coming with really powerful collaborative conversations across the entire region, and we were so hopeful during the planning process that this would come to fruition because everyone just saw without a doubt what a difference this is going to make in getting more kids to college.”

PREP’s goal is to boost postsecondary enrollment of students from district and tribal schools in Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason counties, with a focus on making higher education more accessible to students impacted by poverty and from historically underrepresented groups.

From now until the end of June, PREP partners will lay out a timeline and create a framework for implementing the program that will start this fall.

“It is very, very collaborative,” said Kareen Borders, direct of the West Sound STEM Network. “It is critically important that the partners who are impacted by the grant and who are part of it are co-creating the planning.”

Among PREP’s strategies for achieving its goal are expanding and enhancing post-secondary advising, coaching and mentoring; organizing trips to college campuses and career sites; and providing training and support for high school staff.

The College Success Foundation will hire and place advisors in school districts, where they will assist staff and students with college readiness programs and activities. Foundation advisors will work with schools to grow participation in dual-enrollment in programs like Upward Bound that allow high school students to earn high school and college credit for courses, and increase completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASDA) forms. A program assisting students once they arrive at college is also part of the plan.

Keith Stier-Van Essen, the College Success Foundation program director for the Northwest Coastal Region, said one of its coaches will be based at Peninsula College.

“That person would be working with advisors as the 12th-grade students for the next three years transition to college,” Stier-Van Essen said. “Really supporting their landing at Peninsula College and those area of colleges within the boundary of the [PREP] project.”

Students who enroll in a college or post-secondary program outside of the PREP area would still have the opportunity to work with a College Success Foundation advisor because it has a presence at schools across the state, Stier-Van Essen said.

According to PREP’s grant proposal, Peninsula College will receive $78,000 over the course of the three-year funding cycle to support activities that will encourage high school students’ pursuit of a post-secondary education. Key among these will be bringing high school students to campus, particularly those who have never visited one before, and giving them a taste of what higher education is like.

“We want to dispel the myth that college is just like high school,” Ames said. “We want to show students how exciting and engaging it can be when you get to pursue your own passions.

“Imagine you get to spend an hour in our chemistry lab with our amazing chemistry faculty member, and he will have received a stipend to create a customized hands-on learning experience specific for those visiting students.”

The purpose is not to simply get students excited about particular topics, Ames said, but to build a rapport with faculty and dispel the idea that college isn’t for them.

“Hundreds of students will be impacted by an experience that they currently don’t have access to,” Ames said.

Helping students make the mental leap from campus to career is essential, she said.

“We’re trying to build those connections for students between our college education and local employers,” Ames said. “We’re going to paint this picture for the student: Come to PC, take these classes, then transfer to Western [Washington University], and then go to work at PNNL. Or, take our welding classes and work for Brix Marine.”

Port Townsend School District Superintendent Linda Rosenbury said the grant would enable the nonprofits her district works with to obtain training from the College Success Foundation on post-secondary and career readiness advising.

“They can deepen their understanding of how to best mentor our high schoolers so that they each have a great option after high school,” Rosenbury said.

Being part of PREP would also provide the district with insights into and contacts with other regional educational players, she said.

“We will have a better understanding of what’s happening at, for example, Peninsula College, so that we can expose our students to the options they have,” Rosenbury said. “About half of our students go on to college, but we have a higher four-year institution and lower two-year institution enrollment. We could expose students to more of those two-year career and technical options because there are many living-wage jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.”

Angela Jones, director of the Washington State Initiative for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said while creating the Horizons Regional Grant program, she and her team traveled around the state listening to educators, parents, students and community-based organizations.

“The first thing we did was ask, ‘What do you actually need?’” and folks told us, “Please don’t bring us another solution,’” she said.

So, the Horizons program focuses on partnerships that build on existing efforts among educational institutions, community organizations and businesses that could develop their own approaches to regional solutions for improving post-secondary enrollment.

Working together and collaborating as a community are key, Jones said.

“We can build an infrastructure all we want, but if it doesn’t work for students and families you’ve just built yet another ‘thing,’” Jones said.

One challenge that needs to be addressed, Stier-Van Essen said, is how to reach students that are homeschooled, attend private school or receive their education online.

“It’s part of the plan, but we’re still building out strategies,” Stier-Van Essen said. “I think that that’s going to be developed here in the next several months or so.”

Postsecondary Regional Equity Partnership (PREP)

Core partners:

College Success Foundation, Peninsula College, WestSound STEM Network


Western Washington University

High schools:

Bainbridge Island School District

Brinnon School District

Cape Flattery School District

Central Kitsap School District

Chief Kitsap Academy

Crescent School District

North Kitsap School District

North Mason School District

Port Angeles School District

Port Townsend School District

Quilcene School District

Quileute Tribal School

Quillayute Valley School District

Sequim School District

South Kitsap School District

Community Partners:

Clallam County Economic Development Council

Community Equity Initiative

Diversity Window

Jamestown S’Klallam Economic Development Authority

Jefferson County Well Organized

Kitsap Economic Development Authority

Northwest Maritime Center

Overcast Innovations

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Skillmation Mentoring Connections


Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at

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