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Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

ArizonaCollegeApplicationCampaign3HP

Winslow High School seniors will receive a little extra help applying to college again this year during the Arizona College Application Campaign, said Principal Chris Gilmore.

Students took part in the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education’s pilot program last year. It was created at the request of state universities and the Arizona Board of Regents.

Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications ArizonaCollegeApplicationCampaign4HP“By setting aside a day to devote to students filling out applications and having community members representing various colleges and admission reps on campus to encourage students to fill out the application, helps create the college-going culture in our school community,” said  Gilmore, principal of the 759-student Navajo County school.

The goal of the Arizona College Application Campaign is that every high school senior completes at least one application to college, university or vocational training during a school day in November, said Dr. April Osborn, executive director of Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Volunteers and counselors are available that day to assist students choosing a postsecondary program, ensure students meet admission requirements, help students gather information for the application including transcripts and lend a hand with resumes, essays and personal statements. The school provides computer and Internet access, and celebrates their students’ success.

Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications AZCollegeApplicationCampaignInfographic1“Arizona started in 2013 with eight high schools and had great results,” Osborn said, noting that 950 applications were filed and 444 seniors applied for the first time. “This year we have experienced more than 600 percent growth, with 53 high schools applying to be part of the campaign representing more than 14,000 seniors.”

More than 80 percent of the participating Arizona high schools are considered low-income or Title 1, Osborn said.

“Counselors were very pleased with the result (last year) and attributed their success to the ‘cohort approach’ in gaining 14% of all seniors to apply for the first time during their event and the excitement and energy around the campaign,” Osborn said.

The American College Application Campaign started with one GEAR-UP program in North Carolina in 2005, and is now in every state in the nation thanks to promotion by the American Council on Education and the Lumina Education Foundation.

Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications ArizonaCollegeApplicationCampaign3HP2Phoenix Union High School District learned of the program through the Degree Phoenix grant program, Superintendent Dr. Kent P. Scribner said.

Last year, four Phoenix Union schools – Betty Fairfax, Carl Hayden, Central and Camelback – took part in the pilot program and “this year the campaign will touch virtually all our campuses as it fits in perfectly with our mission of ‘Preparing Every Student for Success in College, Career and Life,’” Scribner said.

Applying for college can be a daunting process that requires a great deal of time and effort, even when college-educated parents help, but it can be even more intimidating for students who are the first in their families considering college or who come from families with low income, Scribner said.

“Coming from a district with a low college-going culture, many parents do not know how to help their child fill out the application,” Gilmore said. “There are so many barriers students have in applying for a college. Having someone assist them and encourage them to fill out an application does wonders for students.”

Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications AZCollegeApplicationCampaignInfographic2Parents appreciate the help, and encourage their child to fill out more applications, Gilmore said.

“Creating a community approach to this, with help from teachers, counselors and community members creates wonderful synergy and momentum,” Scribner said. “It is so simple, yet so powerful.”

The focus is on more than just applying, Scribner said.

“It is about deadlines, elements required for applications, fees or fee waivers, transcripts, additional documentation, preparing personal essays, required test scores, researching and identifying scholarships and other sources of aid, and consideration of living at home, on-campus, off-campus, transportation and other expenses,” Scribner said.

This year, Phoenix Union district office staff are encouraged to volunteer for a few hours or a few days to support students in this effort, Scribner said.

The district’s community partners, including Be a Leader, Friendly House, Phoenix College, Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University and Degree Phoenix, also are providing volunteers for this “practical and results-oriented endeavor,” Scribner said.

Campaign helps 14,000 high school seniors complete college applications AZCollegeApplicationCampaignListofHighSchools2“Students and parents know that they’re not in this alone,” Scribner said. “There are many people who want to help.

More than 20 colleges, universities, and community colleges are coming to the high schools to help put on their events, and 15 sponsors statewide are helping pay the costs of the campaign, Osborn said.

“These forward thinking high schools need community-wide support to take on this huge commitment,” Osborn said. “We want November to be a month when the community surrounds high schools counselors, staff, and seniors with support and encouragement to make application to college the number one priority.”

For example, the commission supplies “College Changed My Life” door posters to high school classrooms and offices, and one rural community also sent posters to downtown businesses so they could tout their alma maters on the main street.

“Things like this can make an incredible impact,” Osborn said. “My dream is that every senior is repeatedly asked by caring adults during November ‘Have you applied for your future yet?’ – at the store, church, the game.”

Students said they appreciate having the day set aside for them to apply, and that it lifted a burden off them, Gilmore said.

There is a certain competitiveness to it as well, Scribner said.

“Last year, the Mayor came to a kick off a rally for seniors at one of our schools, and students who applied, received these fluorescent green wrist band, saying ‘I applied,’” Scribner said. “There were also raffles for tickets and iPads, etc.”

The campaign also provides data afterwards, so schools can see how they did in reaching their goals of 100 percent of seniors participating, Scribner said.

“This year, we will increase the depth of data provided back to high schools,” Osborn said.  “Shortly after their campaign is done, the high school will receive the analysis of the event outcomes along with a listing of students whose applications are not complete and the deficits that should be addressed.  We are hopeful that the counselors and administrators will have time to follow-up.”

Arizona’s state universities and community colleges are working closely with the commission on the college application campaign aligned with the goals of the Arizona Ready Education Council, Osborn said.

Increasing the number of students applying for postsecondary education is an important step in developing the skilled workforce Arizona needs, Osborn said. Link

Parents and students can seek more information from Arizona’s three free college access resource centers – College Depot in Phoenix, Regional College Access Center in Tucson  and Northern Arizona College Access Resource Center in Flagstaff  – and learn more about way to pay through resources including studentaid.ed.gov, fafsa.ed.gov. collegegoalsunday.com and fastweb.com.

The commission is also focused on helping students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by coordinating statewide College Goal FAFSA in February at a number of postsecondary institutions and selected high schools across the state, Osborn said.

“Enrollment success requires both an application to the right postsecondary institution and completion of the FAFSA to explore financial options,” Osborn said.

“This campaign has added to our discussion of a college-going culture at Winslow High School,” Gilmore said. “Freshmen through juniors are discussing colleges more and more since the campaign began. They are now looking forward to the day they apply at the school.”

Gilmore said the school also appreciates the many volunteers and college admission representatives that come to campus to assist students.

“Giving the students hope on this one day opens many doors for students,” Gilmore said. “After the campaign, many students talk to each other about where they applied, how easy it is to apply and are excited for their future after high school.”