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WSU to establish high school equivalency program for migrant farm workers, Native Americans

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Washington State University a five-year $2.3 million grant to establish a high school equivalency program

The high equivalency program (HEP) will aid migrant and seasonal farmworkers and immediate family members obtain a general education diploma (GED) that meets the guidelines for high school equivalency. It also helps them gain employment or attend college or other postsecondary education or training.

With the grant money, WSU will serve 65 participants each year. Planning is underway for outreach in communities the program will serve.

“The addition of HEP will substantially contribute to our goal of providing educational opportunities to persons from economically disadvantaged populations,” wrote WSU President Elson S. Floyd in a letter accompanying the grant request.

“Since the majority of HEP students are of Hispanic and Native American heritage, we see the program as contributing to our diversity and equity goals, as well.”

Nearly 50 years ago, WSU was chosen to create one of the nation’s first HEP programs. In 1967, the U.S. Department of Labor established a WSU program as one of three pilot projects. The program ran continuously for 42 years until 2009, when funding was not renewed.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring this important program back to our campus,” said John Fraire, vice president of student affairs and enrollment.

“With so many migrant and seasonal farmworkers supporting our state’s agricultural industry, there is a great need in our state to help them complete their education and advance their careers.”

Washington’s state employment office estimates nearly 60,000 seasonal farmworkers are hired each month during peak harvest seasons. Most of them migrate to central and eastern Washington.

Many studies show children of seasonal farm working families are struggling in school, said Lucila Loera, assistant vice president for the WSU Office of Access, Equity and Achievement.

“The high school graduation rate for Latinos is alarmingly low at just over 66 percent,” she said, “especially when we consider that Latinos, many of whom come from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds, have become the largest minority population in Washington.”

Loera also noted the American Indian population has the highest dropout rate (37 percent) and lowest graduation rate (51 percent) of all students in the state. HEP will reach out to Native American students living in the Plateau region and will work closely with the Spokane, Yakama, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce and Colville reservations.

The grant will fund several positions, including a director, recruiter, advisor, instructors and peer tutors. Services will include exposing participants to career opportunities (including STEM – science, technology, engineering and math - disciplines), connecting them with faculty and staff, personal counseling and tutoring. Participants will receive a financial stipend to help with educational expenses.

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