Sections    Thursday September 20th, 2018
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The Expect More Excellence Tour: Native American students getting a head start on higher education via Maricopa Community Colleges’ Hoop of Learning program


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  • Winona Thirion/Maricopa Community Colleges

Cristin Teasyatwho Talks About How Hoops Of Learning At Maricopa Community Colleges Helped Her Reach Her Goals. Courtesy Maricopa Community Colleges

In today’s education system, the youth at the highest risk for not performing at the level of their peers is Native American students. According to the Arizona Education Progress Meter, while nearly 80 percent of Arizona high schoolers graduate, that number drops to 66 percent among Native Americans. And the gap is even bigger when it comes to college attainment – while 42 percent of Arizonans hold a higher education degree, only 18 percent of Native Americans have completed one.

And as Maricopa Community Colleges looked at their student body, they recognized the significant achievement – and postsecondary enrollment – gap for these youth and sought to solve the problem.

Currently available at nine of the Maricopa Community College campuses, the Hoop of Learning program helps to prepare American Indian students for life after high school by bridging the gap between high school and college. The holistic approach includes a connection to culture, ensuring that students do not feel forced to choose between education or culture.

Video: Scottsdale Community College Hoop of Learning


A simple application is all it takes to get involved and students are on their way to postsecondary success. High school seniors take their community college courses on Saturday or after their regular school day, and it’s a significant time commitment. But it’s worth it for those who graduate from high school with a semester of college already completed. And because the program is intended to remove barriers to higher education, courses are completed via a scholarship from the Maricopa Community College.

Paired with workshops, volunteer opportunities, and more, the courses help students become comfortable with a college campus, and with the idea of attending college, which many might not otherwise consider. Those who take dual enrollment courses via their high school can even complete an associate’s degree by the time they finish high school.

In the last school year alone, more than 300 students participated. Beyond the college credits they’re earning, students are also able to develop friendships with Native American peers and connections with professors. But most importantly, they are endowed with the understanding that they can succeed in post-secondary education. For the 2015-16 class, more than 300 youth participated. Students earned close to 2,000 credits, which is a substantial start to their college education. The Hoop of Learning program is creating vital pathways from high school to higher education, which is a critical component to long-term success, both for the individual student and our state as a whole.

Since 1995, Hoop for Learning has helped hundreds of students. They represent major Arizona tribes such as the Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, but some even hail from out-of-state tribal backgrounds, such as Northern Cheyenne, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and Yakama Nation. Here is what some parents have said about their experience with the Hoop of Learning program:

  • “We are very thankful for this early college program in providing the funding. Our child has achieved her goal in completing her AA and moving on to the university.”
  • “Very pleased with service offered by Hoop of Learning. Excellent all around! Thanks.”
  • “Very grateful for my son to have this opportunity for higher education while in High School.”