Acting Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor Christopher Pacheco discusses the program, its history and where it's going.
The Precollegiate Development Program (PCDP) at the University of Colorado Boulder is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer.
PCDP provides first-generation students and their families with the information and support needed to successfully complete their middle school and high school careers, and then successfully transition into college, university or other postsecondary education.
The program provides academic support and resources beginning in 7th grade and continuing on through 12th grade. One of the culminating activities for students in the program is to spend five weeks living on the CU Boulder campus during the summer between their junior and senior years. This experience introduces students to the physical environment of a university campus, while also academically preparing them through coursework in math, science, writing and a number of electives.
Since its inception, PCDP has served over 30,000 students. Many program graduates have gone on to complete masters and doctorate degrees. Notable alumni include Joe Salazar, Jessie Ulibarri and Dan Pabon, all former Democratic members of the Colorado House of Representatives and Colorado State Senate.
To kick off a campaign commemorating the program’s longevity and achievements, Acting Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Christopher Pacheco participated in an interview about the history and essence of PCDP. His responses are below.
Q: How did PCDP come to be and how has it evolved over the years?
A: The Precollegiate Development Program began operation in 1983. At the time, there was little opportunity for students of color, first generation students, and/or low-income students to attend college because the opportunity to learn about the process wasn’t widely available. A director of an Upward Bound program, which was ending because its funding was not renewed, reached out to university leadership and said that continuing this type of program was necessary if they wanted to increase the number of students of color and first-generation students on campus. The administration agreed to fund the program for a three-year trial period.
At that point in time, the program was working with a total of seven high schools and 50 students. In 1987, at the end of the three-year trial period, we had done well enough that the university offered to continue the program in perpetuity, expand the program on the Boulder campus and, expand the program to the other campuses in the CU system.
Since that time, we have expanded the program several times so that we now work with 25 high schools and 23 middle schools at approximately 1,000 families per year. As the program has grown we have modified it to meet the needs of the communities we serve. We dropped the low income criteria as a “must” and focused primarily on first-generation students. Income, single-parent families and students being the eldest sibling in their family, were also things we considered, as well as any students who had a desire for higher education. We expanded the program to include seventh and eighth graders to prevent students from losing a year of academic preparation. This change gave us the opportunity to take that first step and tell incoming freshmen, “these are the classes you should take.” We found that our numbers of college-ready students rose significantly after that. We also added a Bridge program for students who have completed any CU system precollege program and chose to attend the CU Boulder campus to introduce them to campus before they start their freshman year. Students who participate in the Bridge program are graduating and being retained at CU Boulder at about 85%, versus the general precollege population which are retained and graduate at about 73%. A significant increase.
Q: What does the future of PCDP look like?
A: The unfortunate piece about programs like this one is that in order to expand beyond where we currently are, we would actually need to develop a whole new program.
Because of PCDP we now also have our Partnership Outreach programs. These programs are doing outreach to rural parts of Colorado. All combined, the university is working with close to 2000 families a year. The outreach concept continues to grow, it’ll just take on a different form so that we’re able to reach more parts of the state all while trying to decrease the amount of programming that we have to do from the campus itself.
The other thing that we’re trying to do is partner with other programs like ours. The TRIO programs (through the U.S. Department of Education) and GEAR UP (through the state of Colorado) do similar work and the hope is that we can provide an opportunity for their students to come to the Boulder campus for a summer experience because many of them don’t have that opportunity at this point in time.
We’re trying to take that overall experience and physical exposure to campus and offer it to more groups of students, above and beyond just those in university-sponsored programs. The whole concept is to provide as many first-generation, low-income students the same opportunities that were provided to our students, but at a reduced cost to the university.
Q: How does it feel to be a part of PCDP and to help underrepresented students get an education?
A: It’s very rewarding. I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve stayed with the program for so long. I’m also celebrating my 40th year on campus and I’ve been involved with PCDP since it began back in 1983. My initial career plan was to go to medical school. But I got involved with the program and saw the impact it was having with first-generation students, particularly in the Denver Metro area at the time, and found it was rewarding enough to consider it a career path.
I had a few second thoughts, but I had been working with so many students. I realized that my reason to go to medical school was to help people and that was exactly what I was doing with these programs.
It’s very rewarding to recruit a student in middle school or high school and watch them progress—to be accepted to the college of their choice and then, for the students who come here, to see them graduate. Because I’ve been here so long, I have the additional reward of seeing some of those students' children come to the university, play a role in advising them while they’re on campus and then see them graduate! That’s the most rewarding thing. Seeing how the impact we’ve made is now an intergenerational impact. We made an impact with our students and now their kids are going off to college, too.
Q: Do you have any advice for first-generation and underrepresented students looking to go to college and showing interest in PCDP?
A: If they show an interest in participating in the program, then I would say apply. We currently still have a waitlist, but the only way you don’t get in is if you don’t apply.
For the students who are thinking about going off to college: Academic preparation is the key to where you want to go. Think about what you want to do when it comes to pursuing a degree, and don’t let anybody tell you what you should be doing. There are too many students who pursue degree programs that might not be appropriate for them because somebody else thinks it's a good idea for them.
Think about what it is that you enjoy doing, and then think about how you can turn that into a career. Too many people believe that a degree defines what your career path should be. I’ve been telling students to look at the skills that you’re learning more than what it is you’re being taught in the classroom. That will provide some guidance as to what your future career could be.
A lot of the education you get in college happens outside of the classroom. It comes from your interaction with the faculty and staff. It comes with the interaction with your fellow students. Utilize all of that to determine what kind of career field you want to go into. Don’t lock yourself in a box because you have a certain type of degree!
Q: What is the significance of the community within PCDP?
A: One of the values of the program is surrounding students with other students like them, who have an interest in going to college. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of peer pressure out there that will pull you away from those pursuits.
When you surround yourself with like-minded people, your chances of success go up tremendously. You have ongoing conversations with others about your academics. You have space to talk about things like the pros and cons of various majors that you might be looking to pursue or how to manage your time to balance a social life with academics.
The other piece that I see is that, once in the collegiate setting, those students tend to provide support for each other when the going gets tough. When you didn’t do well on an exam, there’s somebody there to talk to who can hopefully provide some insight on what you might have done wrong, or just be an ear to listen. Because sometimes all we need to do is vent.
The last piece is the ongoing connection with students who are in the same majors or career fields. Helping one another in their classes, or studying together for exams. I tend to tell students to remember that the friends you make here in college will be your professional colleagues. That person you met here could be working for a company that has a job opening when you graduate. Making those personal connections becomes invaluable to students.
Q: Is there anything else that is important for you to mention?
A: One of the really valuable parts of the program I want to mention are the faculty and staff that run the program. All the staff that we currently employ are first-generation students themselves. In many respects, they are helping the current crop of students based on some of their own struggles. They know what the students are going through because they’ve gone through it, too. Now they can use their savvy to reach back and help students.
That’s one of the things we tell students when they graduate from the program, as well. Now that they’ve been accepted to the college of their choice, they now have the responsibility to reach back themselves. Whether that’s to a younger brother or sister, a cousin or friend. Reach back and offer to help.
The other valuable part of the program is the parent aspect. Teaching parents about the process. The hope is that they will also reach back to relatives or friends and share any information that may have learned from the program. Then you have a broader impact in the community above and beyond just the people that the program is able to reach.