New Utah partnership offers college readiness scholarships to Latinos

Claudia Gonzalez and Silvia Castro hold a check that will be used to fund tuition for students in the Western Governors University Academy pilot initiative while Rossina Lake, Chris Lee, Jevon Gibb, Alejandro Puy and Edward Bennett look on, Tuesday. WGU Academy on Tuesday announced a partnership with Suazo Business Center that will provide Utahns from underserved communities with college-readiness education scholarships.

Claudia Gonzalez and Silvia Castro hold a check that will be used to fund tuition for students in the Western Governors University Academy pilot initiative while Rossina Lake, Chris Lee, Jevon Gibb, Alejandro Puy and Edward Bennett look on, Tuesday. WGU Academy on Tuesday announced a partnership with Suazo Business Center that will provide Utahns from underserved communities with college-readiness education scholarships. (Sophia Lee)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Claudia Gonzalez said she thought it was too late for her to complete a bachelor's degree.

As a community health outreach worker and Utah resident for the last 25 years, she has risen through the ranks in her career without the help of a higher education degree.

But now she has an opportunity thanks to a partnership announced Tuesday between Western Governors University and the Suazo Business Center that will provide Utahns from Hispanic, Latino and other underserved communities with college readiness education scholarships.

"Today, with this great opportunity, I can continue with my higher education. Getting a bachelor's degree will become a reality," Gonzalez said.

The pilot initiative will allow 20 students to earn transferable college credits while also completing skills training that builds confidence, resiliency and self-guided study habits needed to succeed in higher education.

"The Suazo Business Center here in Salt Lake City represents a significant opportunity for WGU and WGU Academy to expand access to educational opportunities to populations that have been underserved historically, so we're really grateful for this partnership," said Chris Lee, president of WGU Academy.

Suazo Business Center is a nonprofit that has been in the Salt Lake community for 20 years. Its mission is to focus on the economic empowerment of the minority community through entrepreneurship and workforce development. The center works to end cycles of poverty, eliminate generational wealth gaps and build self-reliance through small business ownership and workforce development, according to a press release.

"Education is something that's very precious to a lot of immigrants and to a lot of people in the Latino community and sometimes that door is closed. That door is closed because our degrees don't carry, or sometimes we leave things behind and we just walk away with a high school education and we don't see college in our path," said Silvia Castro, executive director of the Suazo Business Center.

WGU Academy was formed by WGU as an independent nonprofit organization created to help solve the growing college-readiness gap and prepare students to pursue a degree. Founded on expertise and historical knowledge from WGU, the academy offers a flexible, lower-cost approach than traditional academic-preparedness programs.

"Many students who want to pursue a higher education degree lack some basic ability to do that," Lee said.

WGU Academy offers cognitive courses, opportunities to earn college credit in subjects such as English and math, among other topics as well as support to help students feel a sense of belonging within an educational setting.

"We have a specific course that we provide that allows for that kind of self-efficacy for people to understand their own capabilities and be able to set and achieve goals," Lee said.

Additionally, WGU Academy offers coaches to help students progress in their efficacy.

"In just a matter of a few months, those students can complete the academy program and then be ready for a full degree program that they can achieve at WGU or other universities they might choose to go to," Lee said.

A donation from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation will be used to fund tuition for students in the pilot program. Students who are successful in WGU Academy will be eligible for scholarships to attend WGU and WGU Academy, and the Suazo Business Center will collaborate on qualitative research to assess the effectiveness of the initiative.

"I am so thankful. I am so happy to be able to announce this partnership because it creates that path. It creates that path (to education) to so many of our clients and to so many of our community (members)," Castro said.

The students that are part of the pilot initiative will begin classes on Feb. 1. The program takes around two to three months to complete.

Prospective students can visit the Suazo Business Center website and connect with a representative from Suazo to get more information on enrolling with WGU Academy or Western Governors University.

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and tech news.

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