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Bakersfield College’s Rural Initiatives program makes higher education more accessible throughout Kern County. 

During the school year, Christine Cruz-Boone drives throughout Kern County to help eliminate the distance barriers that may keep people in rural areas from educational opportunities. As a professor of communication at Bakersfield College, she primarily teaches at the school’s Delano campus and in Arvin, but she has also taught courses in McFarland, Shafter and other regions.

“The students in the rural communities are just hungry to learn, and as a teacher, that is an exciting starting point,” Cruz-Boone said.

When Sonya Christian became president of the college in 2013, she made a commitment to increase educational services and offerings to rural communities. Since then, the Rural Initiatives program at Bakersfield College, which aims to provide access to quality education for Kern County’s socially, ethnically and geographically diverse students, has continued to grow and thrive.

Courses offered throughout these areas include traditional transfer-oriented classes as well as vocational and developmental instruction. Some areas, such as Delano, have a dedicated campus and more BC facilities are on the horizon. The program’s classes and services primarily reach Delano, McFarland, Wasco, Shafter and Arvin, but efforts have been made to reach out to additional communities in Lamont, Lost Hills and Earlimart.

“These initiatives were developed in response to community needs and concerns,” said Abel Guzman, executive director of the Rural Initiatives program.

When community members in Arvin wanted college courses, BC began by offering a few classes at the high school. This fall, more than 20 classes and sections are scheduled in Arvin. Funds from the passage of Measure J in 2016 will also help build a dedicated Arvin campus, which is scheduled for completion by 2024.

Guzman added that everything at BC connected with early and dual enrollment is happening in rural communities. In recent years, the Wonderful Academy and Wasco High School started partnerships with BC that resulted in 94 students graduating from high school while simultaneously earning their associate degrees in ag business or ag mechanics in 2019.

Two cohorts in Arvin are on the early college path and about 40 of these high school students have already completed at least nine college units. The newest dual enrollment program, in which all incoming ninth-grade students will be on the early college pathway, launches this fall in McFarland.

“Really, what we’ve done is work with high schools in these communities to identify what pathway to put students on,” Guzman said. “For example, Arvin is doing a communication pathway. All (dual enrollment programs) will include general education requirements.”

Grants are used to fund these programs as well as adult education, another important component of BC’s Rural Initiatives. Two program managers work with adult schools throughout Kern County to provide seamless educational transitions to higher education and career training opportunities.

Guzman said the college’s leadership has played an integral role in Rural Initiatives’ growth. “Dr. Sonya Christian has really put an emphasis on rural communities and supporting the staff who are building these programs,” he said.

Cruz-Boone agreed: “The rural team is small but there is nothing they won’t do for their students. I feel honored to be part of a team like that.”

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