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The message was simple: The University of California is accessible, affordable and welcoming, including to low-income and first-generation college students.

The pitch came Tuesday during an assembly at Windsor High School, but it wasn’t delivered by an ordinary college recruiter. It came directly from UC President Janet Napolitano, who addressed more than 250 students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) programs at the high school, Windsor Middle School and Cali Calmecac Language Academy.

“Navigating the admission process can feel confusing, maybe a little intimidating,” Napolitano said to the sixth- to 12th-grade students, some who plan to become the first in their families to go to college.

“I want you to know that UC is here to help you. We are proud of the fact that 42 percent of our undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college,” she said before heading to Santa Rosa Junior College later that afternoon with Stephen Handel, UC’s undergraduate admissions vice president.

Their visits to the high school and community college were part of an effort to encourage low-income and minority students to apply to UC, which has nine undergraduate campuses. Napolitano also wanted to inform students impacted by the wildfires of an extension to the university’s Nov. 30 application deadline.

They now have until Dec. 15 to apply.

About 50 SRJC students plan to take advantage of the extension, said Pedro Avila, the junior college’s student services vice president.

He said 284 students transferred to a UC campus last year.

“We had an 80 percent acceptance rate into the UC system. We’re one of the highest,” said Avila, who met with Napolitano, along with 40 students and other college administrators and staff members.

SRJC president Frank Chong said Napolitano has been “responsive and receptive” to minority and undocumented students since becoming UC president in 2013.

“There are a large number of alumni who live in Santa Rosa who are UC grads,” said Chong, who earned his bachelor’s degree in social welfare and Asian-American studies from UC Berkeley.

“The whole JC was founded as a feeder school to the UC,” he said. “That’s why her visit is so significant.”

A third of UC’s students start at a community college. UC officials said they offered more than 21,000 in-state transfer students spots this fall at their nine undergraduate campuses.

While at Windsor High, Napolitano discussed the various grants and financial aid available to students, including a program that covers the entire tuition and fees for undergraduates whose families make under $80,000 annually.

“Getting accepted into the University of California is no small feat, but it is doable, particularly for students like you,” she said to the crowd.

“Students like you get admitted every year. At UC, our end of the bargain is to make sure we keep the doors of opportunity wide open.”

Napolitano said UC offered admission to 155 Windsor High School students over the past four years. Of them, 83 of them are actively enrolled.

Windsor High junior Lesley Garcia said she was torn between going to a California university or an out-of-state college. After listening to Napolitano, she now plans to apply to UC.

The financial aid was the main factor — more than half of UC’s students have their tuition fully covered.

Fellow junior Eymard Bracamontes, 16, also was considering going out of state until Tuesday’s presentation. He said there are more resources available to him at UC as a Latino and first-generation college student going into medicine.

Garcia, 16, also was drawn to the FirstGen initiative the university system launched this fall, which connects first-generation college students with professors who also were first in their families to attend college.

Napolitano, who took numerous questions from students and even talked about her time as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the university system has more than 900 faculty members who were first in their families to attend college.

In Windsor, half of the students districtwide are Latino, said Lisa Saxon, director of educational services.

She said Napolitano’s office visited the district in part because of the diversity of the Windsor students who applied to college. They also were impressed that all seniors in the AVID program last year applied to a four-year college, and all 75 were accepted, which Napolitano praised.

The visit reminds students that college is within their reach, Saxon added.

“We talk all the time about the importance of secondary education. It makes it more real, more personal,” Principal Stacey Desideri said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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