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San Diego State University is launching a new program to help local students get into the university, partnering with a Reality Changers, a local nonprofit that works to help inner city youth become the first in their families to go to college.

Starting this year, high schoolers who participate in Reality Changers from sophomore to their senior year and make good grades are guaranteed a spot at San Diego State.

Providing a guaranteed route to college is even more important now, after San Diego State has stopped guaranteeing admission to local students who met minimum, lower-than-usual criteria.

Dropping the local guarantee was decried by San Diego Unified School District and activists from the Equality Alliance of San Diego opposed SDSU dropping the guarantee, saying it would strand teens who had long expected they would have a place at the school. As a result of the change, San Diego State cut back the number and percentage of its students admitted from local high schools this year. The Union-Tribune reported that 870 more local students would have been allowed in under the old rules.

However, the university has continued to offer smaller programs for students from Hoover High School in City Heights and the Sweetwater Union High School District, which offer a pipeline to the college for students who meet certain requirements.

“If they’re working hard, we want to make sure there’s a realistic goal at the end, that they will be able to be admitted,” said Gina Jacobs, a San Diego State spokeswoman.

It won’t be easy: To get a guaranteed spot at San Diego State, high school students must be enrolled in the Reality Changers program, which includes after school tutoring, SAT prep and mentoring, from sophomore to senior year. They must do 50 hours of community service annually for each of those years and continue to volunteer after their freshman year in college. They must pass random drug tests once or twice a year.

Besides meeting the minimum requirements to apply to the California State University system, students must also get a B average or higher in key classes or a slightly higher average in their junior and senior years. And they must do well enough on college entrance exams to avoid remedial classes.

The program is starting small: Marsha Salgado, vice president of communications for Reality Changers, estimated that only 10 high school seniors would be eligible this year, because many students have not stayed with the program for all three years, and that by 2014, 100 students will have benefited.

Correction: The original version of this post stated that the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the elimination of the local guarantee. Though its former policy director led the group that opposed it, the ACLU itself has not taken a stance. We regret the error.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665. And follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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