Monday was Santa Barbara City College's first day of class, but several days earlier, hundreds of students gathered inside the school's gym to prepare for a program that will help them navigate their coursework this year.
The Express to Success Program offers a way for students who need to catch up to college-level reading and math, getting them up to speed academically so they can begin classes in their degree or for transfer.
The program started with 10 groups in 2011, and now has 21 groups planned for this fall.
The program also boasts some impressive statistics, with students completing the course at a 50 percent higher rate than students taking traditional courses over a two-semester period, with Latino ESP students making the largest gains of all when compared to their peers.
Express to Success Program Director Kathy Molloy welcomed students to the program on Friday morning as they finished breakfast at tables set up in the gym.
One of those students was 20-year-old Irma Rodriguez, a San Marcos High School graduate who has been in ESP for three semesters.
She's studying SBCC's Administration of Justice program and hopes to be finished with the program next year before moving on to a four-year college.
"There are a lot of tutors and teachers that are dedicated to a couple of students at a time, so you get all the help you need," she said. "It was a good transition from high school to college. … There's not as much stress, and it was really helpful."
Teacher Pam Gunther teaches math as a part of the program.
Her class combines elementary and intermediate algebra, which is one class but gives the students two credits at a time. The program also does the same with its English classes.
The students are in a small cohort and move through their coursework as a group. They benefit from a free book loan and have tutoring support outside of class.
"A lot of them are students assessing below college ready, and sometimes when they see that they have four semesters until they're college ready, it's daunting," Gunther said.
Gunther said one of her former students in the program had been homeless when she found out about the program.
"She had come to the City College bookstore to see if she could qualify for classes and overheard another student say her books were free through ESP program" and found the program that way," Gunther said. "She is now a tutor and a math major. That made a difference in her life."
The students are also being taught study skills and "being taught how to be a college student," she said. "They come in worried and scared, and you get to see some of them be really proud of themselves and see themselves as college students."
On Monday, students streamed onto the East Campus, while across the street a news conference was being held to brief the public on a bond measure that will ask voters to approve funds to improve campus facilities.
More than 20,000 students are enrolled in SBCC this semester, said President Lori Gaskin, adding that enrollment was a "robust" 1 percent increase from last year.
Measure S is a way to "modernize and update" campus facilities that badly need repairs, she said.
The bond measure would be an annual tax of $16.35 on every $100,000 of assessed valuation of a person's home in the city college district, which spans from Gaviota to Carpinteria.
The measure seeks to raise $288 million to repair and update school facilities, such as like classrooms to replace the campus' aging portable trailers that currently house classes.
"No new buildings for the sake of new buildings and no expansion," she said.