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EF program departs, talks of Peralta partnership underway

Hillman signs agreement with Peralta Presidents. (Courtesy of the President)
Hillman signs agreement with Peralta Presidents. (Courtesy of the President)

Less than two years after returning to the Mills campus, international language immersion school Education First (EF) is leaving again this June.

The announcement came in the wake of student outcry about Mills handling of campus sexual assault, specifically in reference to sexual misconduct by EF students.

Associate Vice President of Operations Linda Zitzner reported that the program had already given notice by March 9 that it would be terminating its two-year contract with Mills early, several weeks before the demonstration.

“We accelerated their departure after the last incident,” Zitzner said, referring to the student protest. “[EF] really wanted to be good partners to Mills. They did a lot to try to be good partners.”

EF was a presence on the Mills campus for over twenty years before departing the first time in 2011 due to administrative conflicts. Like in 2011, EF will be combining their San Francisco and Oakland-based programs and moving current students at Mills to the school’s San Francisco campus. Unlike 2011, this move comes as a result of a dip in enrollment which EF reportedly ties to two global upheavals in the past year: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

“Their enrollment has been down, they believe, largely in part due to the Trump administration and their restrictions on getting visas,” Zitzner said. “Many [parents] have been diverting [students] to other countries, particularly Canada.”

As Mills’ partnership with EF comes to a close, the school has been searching for new partnership opportunities.

“We’re trying to be much more strategic about who we partner with,” Vice President for Finance and Administration Maria Cammarata said.

Though still in early stages, administrators have been in contact with representatives from the Peralta Community College District, exploring options for a Peralta-to-Mills pipeline program. Kathryn Baugher, enrollment management consultant at Mills, cites the Oakland Promise, a program launched in 2016 aimed at increasing college enrollment among Oakland students, as the crux of this new partnership.

The Oakland Promise was designed by Mayor Libby Schaaf, in essence, to increase the rate of Oakland High School students attending college from 10 percent to 30 percent. Many local schools, Mills included, signed an agreement to contribute to upholding this promise to the best of their ability.

“Certainly Mills wants to be a part of [the Oakland Promise], because it’s our hometown,” Baugher said. “We have an obligation to this area.”

In the past several months, President Hillman and other Mills administrators have been in contact about exploring a possible partnership with the Peralta Community College District with the Oakland Promise at its core. They have discussed options including a counseling and support pipeline from the Peralta colleges to Mills and a promise of dual admission to high school seniors who plan to attend Mills after two years at a Peralta school.

“We wouldn’t change our admission standards; we’re not talking about admitting male-identified students,” Baugher said. “Everything is just like it is for any other transfer student. We’re just trying to get to know them earlier and create that kind of pipeline.”

Following several conversations between the leadership and administration at both Mills and the Peralta District, presidents of three of the four Peralta Colleges visited the Mills campus to meet with President Hillman. During this visit, the presidents signed a Memorandum of Understanding, pledging to do their best to promote and develop a partnership between the schools.

Tameka Brown, chancellor of the Peralta District, has led the charge on this partnership from the beginning.

“There has always been this connection with Mills […] We have supported the mission and the vision of Mills as a district,” Brown said. “It was just an organically grown  conversation with some of the administration at Mills and we really just connected on the vision for this partnership.”

Though there are no concrete plans yet in effect, Brown and Baugher report that a summer bridge program could be instituted by next summer. Brown hopes that a pilot program might be in place as soon as fall 2017.

“We want to track and we want to support our students,” Brown said. “There’s lots of work that needs to be done between now and then, but I am hopeful at the latest that we will have a full program and cohort of students for summer 2018.”

Brown looks forward to developing a mutually beneficial relationship between Mills and the Peralta District.

“This is an opportunity for us to grow in terms of social justice, and in terms of demographics as well,” Brown said. “[The Peralta Colleges] are very diverse both economically, socially and ethnically, and so I think this is also a way for Mills to continue in their legacy and commitment to diversity in those areas.”