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Hit the Ground Running with an Early College Program

Dec 10, 2020

Did you know that you could earn college credit while in high school? Diablo Valley College and its partner school districts enable students to get an early first taste of college.

Why start college early?

Early college programs offer many benefits to students who participate. Students are able to receive support and resources that help ease the transition to college. In addition, early college programs reduce both the time and cost of a college education.

Heather Fontanilla“An American Institutes for Research study* shows that students who join early college programs are more likely to graduate from high school. This is especially true for students who are underrepresented in higher education. Students who complete these programs are also more likely to continue their college education. They are also more likely to graduate,” said Heather Fontanilla, Ed.D., a Mt. Diablo school district administrator for College Now at DVC.

Ginger ClarkHigh school students also benefit by getting to know students outside their bubble. Ginger Clark, an instructor for California High School, said, “Students from our school are grouped together with students from other high schools who have similar academic goals. They also have a chance to work side by side with adult college students in their classes.”

Due to COVID-19, classes in DVC’s early college programs are primarily held online at this time. DVC’s services are also available online to ensure that students have access to the support they need.

Ada Ocampo“DVC has done a fine job moving all their resources online. Services include tutoring for math, English, science and other subjects, wellness counseling, food pantry access, and Student Life activities,” said Ada Ocampo, the manager of early college experiences and student engagement at DVC.


DVC has developed several early college programs in partnership with local school districts. Three programs support students attending high schools in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District: College Now; Diamante Scholars; and the STEM Academy at Ygnacio Valley High School. The CollegeConnect program supports students attending high schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

Diamante Scholars Zoom MeetingIn addition to these special programs, DVC has written agreements that make it possible for students to earn college credit for certain classes offered at their high school. The instructors for these classes have aligned their coursework and learning outcomes to match DVC course offerings. If the class is approved by DVC, then a written agreement is signed for three years. The college provides a final exam that will be given in the high school class. In most cases, for each approved class, the student can earn three units of credit.

Early College Programs

College Now

CollegeNow 2019-20College Now is a two-year program open to all Mt. Diablo Unified School District students. The program is a good choice for students who are seeking an alternative to the traditional high school experience.

“The ideal student who can benefit from College Now might not have straight-A’s. It could be a student with average grades but who has a desire to explore college,” said Rosa L. Armendáriz, the dean of student engagement and equity at DVC.

College Now students take three high school classes taught by MDUSD teachers – English, Social Studies and Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID). AVID helps build study skills and supports students preparing for college. The student completes their schedule with college classes. All classes are held on the DVC campus, so students do not attend their home high school.

To find out more about College Now, visit

Diamante Scholars

Diamante Scholars 2019-20Diamante Scholars launched in spring 2020 as a partnership between DVC, MDUSD and a private donor and DVC alumnus, Peter Zaballos. This is a bridge program that helps high school students transition to college. Students begin with a 1.5-unit college & career readiness course in the spring of 12th grade. They then pursue internship and career exploration opportunities during the summer. Students attend workshops that build communication and problem-solving skills.

“I graduated from college wishing I had access to a support program that connected me to my career via internships. My fellow first-generation college classmates felt the same way. This is surprising as we all attended an elite university. I led the design of Diamante Scholars with this experience in mind,” said Ocampo.

Students interested in Diamante Scholars need to be committed to attending DVC full-time after graduating from high school.

To find out more, visit

STEM Academy

Ygnacio Valley High School (YVHS) students can choose to participate in the new STEM Academy program. The program launched this year within the school’s engineering pathway.

Students begin the program during their freshman year in high school and continue until they graduate, taking a mix of DVC and YVHS classes each year. Classes are taught on the YVHS campus for the first three years of high school. In their senior year, students take classes on the DVC campus.

“In 9th grade, they take career counseling courses and the YVHS Engineering Essentials class. In 10th grade, students take general education courses that are connected to the engineering sector. In 11th grade they will take Intro to Engineering Design and in 12th grade they will take Computer Integrated Manufacturing,” said Fontanilla.

Students who complete the STEM Academy earn 28 units towards the engineering technology program at DVC. Many of these units can also be used in other DVC programs, as well as other two-year and four-year colleges.

YVHS will begin recruiting the next group of students in February. Interested students can submit an application to apply for the program.


Rising 11th and 12th grade students attending a high school in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District are eligible to participate in the CollegeConnect program at DVC. Participating students enroll in a shortened high school schedule so that they may attend college classes at DVC’s San Ramon campus. With this program, it is possible for students to complete up to 30 units of transferrable college credit.

“Students also attend support classes to help with time management, study skills, higher level writing skills, and more,” said Clark.

For more information, visit

*Source: Song, Mengli, and Kristina L. Zeiser. “Early College, Continued Success: Longer-Term Impact of Early College High Schools.” American Institutes for Research, American Institutes for Research, Sept. 2019,


Itzel Gutierrez – Diamante Scholars
Business Marketing

Itzel GutierrezItzel Gutierrez graduated from high school in May, and is currently majoring in business marketing at DVC. She joined Diamante Scholars to help her explore career options.

“I was completely lost career-wise on what I wanted to major in. I was also worried about going through community college alone with no help. I applied to Diamante Scholars because I thought it would be a good way for me to get the right guidance and support,” said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez feels that the program has made a strong impact on her college success.

“I started my fall semester with so much confidence, thanks to the support and guidance I received. The program has helped me to open up and slowly leave my shyness behind,” said Gutierrez.

After completing her associate degree, Gutierrez plans to transfer to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business marketing.

“I hope to obtain a career in social media marketing as a social media manager,” said Gutierrez.

Poorvi S. Venugopal – CollegeConnect
Business Accounting

Poorvi VenugopalPoorvi Venugopal participates in the CollegeConnect program through California High School in San Ramon.

“We get two periods off from high school which lets us balance our time better and use that time to complete work for DVC classes. The four classes at Cal High and two at DVC have been great in that I’m not as stressed as I would be if I were doing a full schedule at Cal along with my DVC classes,” said Venugopal.

Venugopal highly recommends the program to other students.

“If students are interested in CollegeConnect, I would 100% tell them to apply. It is a great experience and unlike anything else you can do in high school. You make new friendships and get an ‘early college experience’ which I really enjoyed,” said Venugopal.

After she graduates, she hopes to transition directly to a four-year university in California.

“I would like to major in accounting as math has come easier to me and been more interesting since I was younger. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I’d like to get a job while working towards getting my master’s degree, or possibly a PhD, said Venugopal.

Sonya Kapur – CollegeConnect
Psychology/Cognitive Science

Sonya KapurSonya Kapur chose the CollegeConnect program so that she could experience a college classroom.

“I wanted to understand the environment and be able to experience it before I graduated high school. I wanted to gain knowledge in an advanced setting and challenge myself,” said Kapur.

Through the CollegeConnect program, Kapur has been able enroll in classes not offered at her high school.

“Being in a college classroom allows you to mature and understand the depth of what you’re learning. Although college classes may be hard, gaining this experience is the best thing you can do before you graduate high school,” said Kapur.

Kapur plans to attend a four-year university after graduating high school.

“I plan to major in cognitive science, and I am hoping to pursue research,” said Kapur.