Breaking down barriers to college attendance
Sections    Saturday May 30th, 2020
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Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic)


Several years ago, Toni Badone, superintendent of Yuma Union High School District, asked a group of 50 migrant parents how many of them wanted their children to go to college.

“Every hand shot up,” Badone said.

Although many students’ parents have never attended college nor graduated from high school, that “does not dampen their aspirations for their children,” Badone said.

The pathway to college can be confusing for Arizona high school students, especially those who will be the first in their family to attend.

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) QuestionsCreatingBarriersSidebar-300x219They have questions about when they should apply for college, what tests they need to take, how they will pay for school and what resources are available to keep them on track to graduate.

Many Arizona public schools are now partnering with non-profit organizations to give students the help they need to gain entrance to college and have the skills to be successful once they get there.

Without such supports, simple questions can create large barriers that some say could impact Arizona’s future.

Earning a college degree is key not only to a student’ success, but to Arizona’s economy, said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona.

“Increasing attainment, including creating more high school graduates, and ensuring more students earn postsecondary certificates, associates and bachelor’s degrees, is vital to the future economic growth of Arizona,” Nickel said.

While 60 percent of Arizonans have some postsecondary education, nearly half have not completed their degree programs, according to College Success Arizona’s report “Doubling Arizona’s Economic Growth: The Potential Fiscal and Social Gains from Increasing Postsecondary Attainment” released on Wednesday.

“Arizona is poised to make large economic gains, with many experts (including those at Forbes Magazine) saying the state will be a top producer of new jobs in the near future,” Nickel said. “However, many of the jobs projected to be added in Arizona will require some type of postsecondary training.”

Here’s how schools and organizations are helping students get their degrees and certificates that will boost their future earnings and the state’s economy.

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) UpdatedHowToGrowACollegeGraduateMediumRes
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
Click here for a larger JPEG of this infographic

College-going initiatives

In Arizona, 19 of the state’s 232 school districts are taking part in Helios Education Foundation’s College Knowing and Going Initiative.

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) CollegeKnowingAndGoing19DistrictsSidebarYuma Union High School District has participated in the program for the past five years, Badone said.

“We are developing a culture of college-going in our district, not just based on hope, but based on knowledge about how to get there and succeed,” Badone said. “The Helios Education Foundation’s College Knowing and Going Initiative is important to our district, to our students and to our community’s future.”

Students in participating districts receive preparation for taking the ACT, and all juniors take the ACT at their school at no cost to the student, said Rebecca Lindgren, marketing and communications director for Helios Education Foundation.

This is important, because “for every 10 poor students who score college-ready on the ACT or SAT pre-policy, there are an additional five poor students who would score college-ready, but who take neither exam,” wrote Joshua Hyman of University of Connecticut in “ACT for All: The Effect of Mandatory College Entrance Exams on Postsecondary Attainment and Choice” in 2014.

Those low-income students who enroll in college graduate at the same rate as their peers, making “the policy is more cost-effective than traditional student aid at boosting postsecondary attainment” Hyman wrote.

Also, students in those participating districts receive assistance in completing their college applications and the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – as well as college visits, Lindgren said.

Helios Education Foundation is partnering with College Success Arizona for the college visits, Lindgren said.

“We are still working through what the college visits will look like, and they might be different, depending on the district,” Lindgren said.

In the past eight years, 100,000 Arizona students have taken the ACT through the initiative, Lindgren said.

Before the program began, just 2 percent of Arizona students took the ACT exam, but by 2013 – about six years into the program – 20 percent of Arizona students took the ACT, according to the Helios Education Foundation brief “Building a College-Going Culture by Increasing Access to the ACT.”

The program has increased college access for all demographic groups, but especially for teenage boys, students of color and low-income students, according to the report.

The program also has helped districts examine their instruction, change curriculum and create a college-going culture.

One district used the results to replace a freshman earth science course at the high school with a freshman-level physics course that required algebra and physics teachers to collaborate and let students experience how math is applied to other topics.

“We also compare the data to the results of the Cambridge IGCSE exams that some of our students opt to take, as well as the AP exam scores that over 2,500 of our students took in 2015,” Badone said. “These three types of exams, ACT, IGCSE and AP, all pertain to college readiness, but ACT is the only exam we give to every junior.”

College application assistance

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) ACPEStudent-Future-Plans-Image

Graphic courtesy Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education

Students at many Arizona high schools can receive help filling out their college applications as part of Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education’s Arizona College Application Campaign.

In November 2015, 46 high schools with a total of 14,333 students participated in the Arizona College Application campaign, said Dr. April Osborn, executive director of Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.

During the Arizona College application campaign:

  • 83% of these high schools were Title I schools.
  • 3,025 students submitted an application for the FIRST time during the campaign
  • 2,830 students submitted a second (or more) application during the campaign.
  • A total of 8,233 applications were submitted.

“Our students and families are so appreciative because the applications can be confusing and overwhelming,” said Cyndi Tercero, Dropout Programs Developer at Phoenix Union High School District. “Many of our students are the first to go to college in their families so the families don’t have a good understanding of all of the paperwork, timelines and even terminology.”

The goals of the Arizona College Application Campaign are that all seniors at participating high school apply for college during the school day, resources are provided to help families file, on time, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and resource are committed to assisting seniors and their families through the entire process to provide the support for every graduate to participate in a postsecondary experience, Osborn said.

“The ongoing success of the campaign is due to the longstanding relationship with postsecondary institutions  around the state which allow the Commission to work with their admissions department to supply expert advisors who participate in the days of the event at the high school,” Osborn said.

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. Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) WhatToDoWhenTimelineSidebar

“The AzCAC is a great way to get all of our students to apply for college. Many are First Generation and do not think of themselves as college material,” said Renell Heister, counselor at Winslow High School. “The AzCAC is changing the mindset of our students: applying to college is becoming the norm for all of them, First Generation or not!”

The Arizona College Application campaign changes culture through a cohort approach, Osborn said.  The campaign promotes excitement and offers a network of support for students to build a college going community.

“Title I high schools are the focus of the campaign because so few families have college experience and their students need additional support to take a next step into postsecondary education,” Osborn said. “High schools are stepping up to advise and guide seniors and their families through this challenging process.”

Prior to event, high school staff members assist students in choosing a postsecondary program, ensure students understand admission requirements, help students gather information for the application including transcripts and lend a hand with resumes, essays and personal statements, Osborn said.

“Our students had the opportunity to meet with a variety of post high school presenters and had time to work on the computer to complete an application,” said Julie Stout, counselor at Combs High School. “Our presenters commented on how well the students responded to them, asked questions and behaved like adults.”

The day of the event, the high schools provides computer and internet access and celebrate their students’ successes, Osborn said.

“I think there is sometimes a perception that our students don’t go to college because of a lack of skill or academic preparedness.  This is definitely not the case,” Tercero said. “The barriers for our students and families is the expense and knowledge of the college enrollment process.”

“We have great teams on our campuses and are lucky to have some great post-secondary partners,” Tercero said.  “We understand that it takes a village and every staff member plays a role in the success of our students.”

Help applying for financial aid

Over the past 20 years, College Goal FAF$A, an Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education initiative, has helped 45,000 students and their families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid during workshops around the state so students can learn what financial aid they qualify for, said Deena Lager, director of Arizona Student Financial Aid and the Arizona Family College Savings (529) Program for the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.

“When we brought FAFSA completion events to our campuses and partnered with the Arizona Commission for Post-Secondary Education, we were able to provide this at a much larger scale,” Tercero said. “We not only had families from our communities attend our FAFSA, but actually had families from the far East Valley attend.”

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) CollegeFAFSA-Collage

Central High School’s FAFSA Fiesta they hosted in 2015. Photo courtesy Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education

This year, information about the program was sent to almost 400 high schools across Arizona – mostly Title I schools.

“The mission of College Goal FAF$A is to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and under-represented college students entering postsecondary education,” Lager said. “The goal is to provide awareness of the financial aid process, increase access to accurate and timely information regarding financial aid, as well as offer in-person events where students and families can get help to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.”

About 92 percent of students surveyed said that the help they received at a 2015 College Goal FAF$A event was worth the effort of attending, and 89 percent of students surveyed said that their participation in College Goal FAF$A 2015 increased the likelihood that they would enroll in college or vocational school in the next academic year, Lager said.

“Completing the FAFSA makes such a difference to students in their journey to college,” Lager said. “Not only is the FAFSA used for determining federal aid eligibility, but also for state aid, institutional grants and scholarships as well as for many private scholarships that may have a financial need component.”

A NerdWallet analysis last year found that more than 20,000 students in Arizona’s graduating senior class of 2013 did not fill out the FAFSA, but if they had, they would have qualified for more than $75 million in Pell Grant funding, just under $3,500 per student, enough to pay for a full year of classes and books at a community college.

Groups breaking down barriers to college attendance (+ Infographic) IMG_0539

A College Goal event held at Phoenix College. Photo courtesy Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education

Based on the positive turnout at several high school locations in 2015, this year College Goal FAFSA will be offering two different types of FAFSA completion workshops, Lager said.

High school workshops will be held at more than 25 high schools where high school staff and trained volunteers will work with families to help their seniors complete a FAFSA on time to gain money for their college dreams starting in January.

Community workshops will be held at more than 20 Postsecondary Institutions and one-stop service centers on Saturday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 14 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the weekend after the Super Bowl, where financial aid professionals and trained volunteers offer help to all students and their families.

The exact locations, dates and times can be found on College Goal FAF$A’s website.

“The commission is really excited to see all the enthusiasm the high schools are putting into their events,” Lager said. “With these events, we hope to help more Arizona students find funding to continue their higher education goals.”

Recent changes by the federal government will allow FAFSA applicants to apply as early as October of the year prior to their intended start AND to use the FAFSA retrieval tool to access income tax records from one year earlier than in previous years, Osborn said.

“This means that seniors can apply in October using their parent’s tax information that was already filed for the previous year and could possibly have knowledge of their financial aid award by December of their senior year,” Osborn said. “These changes will have major positive effects on the timing of support for students in college application and FAFSA completion.”

The Commission has been selected to provide much-wanted information to high schools about the progress of their students FAFSA completion, and staff has undertaken a pilot study that showed promising evidence that reports given to high schools with data helpful to counselors raised FAFSA completion rates by 7 to 13 percent, Osborn said.

“Planning has begun to incorporate these reports into the College Goal FAFSA program in future years,” Osborn said. “Because of the high poverty rate of Arizona students completion of a FAFSA is a critical element of success to achieve college enrollment.”

Mentoring and support programs in college

The key to helping a student complete college is a mentor or success advisor who encourages and guides that student’s success, Nickel said.

College Success Arizona connects first-generation college students with mentors as well as helping them find money to pay for college. College Success Arizona has mentoring partnerships with The Arizona Community Foundation, APS, ASU, Maricopa Community Colleges, Gear Up, The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Helios Education Foundation, Arizona Diamondbacks, SRP, The Steele Foundation and many more organizations.

“Having a mentor that understands the process can get you through simple things like ‘Where do I register? Or I need this for my dorm room, how do I get it?” said Vince Roig, founder of College Success Arizona. “I know it sounds very simple, but these are hurdles for individuals. If you put a number of them together, it’s cause for them to leave.”

Antontrey Begaye, who recently graduated from Arizona State University, said his mentors Angie Delgadio and Caleb Holstein helped him so much while he was in college.

“High school is very different from university level courses, so they were there to really listen to my struggles and my accomplishments and keep me guided in the right direction by connecting me to resources, community services and individuals in the field of medicine,” Begaye said. “That was really important for me.”