Sonoma State University staff member Susan Wandling was recognized last month as an American Graduate Champion by KRCB public broadcasting for her work with schools to lower the high school dropout rate in Sonoma County.
Wandling sees the high school dropout rate as an epidemic, and has worked at Sonoma State for the past 13 years to fight it. Of the students who participate in college preparation programs at Sonoma State, Wandling says 99 percent graduate high school and 85 percent pursue higher education.
"Even though we focus on getting students ready for college, succeed in college and get a college education, we don't want it to be underestimated that there isn't work to be done just to get students to graduate high school," says Wandling.
Wandling is the director of the Academic Talent Search program at Sonoma State, where she works with low-income students at Sonoma County schools. The university hosts summer programs where students are given tools needed to graduate high school and attend college.
"It's not just our work with the students, but the families have to be on board as well," says Wandling. "Parents sign a participation agreement knowing what their role is in preparing their students for college."
According to Wandling, the high school graduation rate in Sonoma County is 80 percent, which is on par with the national rate.
"We expect more out of our students," says Wandling. "We are expecting students to not only go to college but also graduate college. They work hard to meet our expectations from the day they start the program."
The American Graduate project was created by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in partnership with more than 100 public radio and television stations across the nation, including KCRB, which is based in Rohnert Park. The project is aimed at increasing high school graduation rates by finding local solutions to the dropout crisis with help from community members.
The Academic Talent Search program is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is hosted at 460 universities and nonprofits nationwide. The program stems from the Civil Rights Act, which influenced the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965.