The link between a community’s economic health and its residents’ educational levels is undeniable. In fact, it’s estimated that if Arizona were to bring postsecondary attainment rates up to the national average, economic activity would increase by 10 percent annually, more than doubling our current economic growth rate.
It’s this understanding that led to the creation of College Success Arizona (CSA) more than a decade ago. By building public will for college completion and providing a unique combination of scholarships and mentoring that increase college graduation rates, CSA is helping to improve the outlook for everyone in Arizona.
Expect More Arizona video: College Success Arizona
In its early years, CSA worked primarily to boost college-going rates by providing scholarship opportunities to low-income and first-generation college students. But the organization has substantially grown its efforts, understanding that these students are far more likely to complete their degree if given ongoing support and guidance.
Today, CSA works with a variety of feeder programs, including Arizona GEAR UP, Be A Leader Foundation, and the AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute. Students from these programs can apply for scholarships and mentoring to aid them on the next leg of their educational journey. In 2018 alone, 131 new students received nearly $1.5 million in scholarships to assist with expenses as they pursue their degrees at an Arizona college or university. In addition to the financial assistance, all CSA students are assigned a professional mentor, who meets with them regularly and help to keep them on track.
In addition to one-on-one mentoring, CSA scholars become part of the scholar success network, which affords students access to valuable professional development workshops and networking opportunities. The regular on-campus meetings are supplemented with an annual full-day leadership symposium and a workshop where juniors and seniors get help with everything including resume writing, interviewing and using LinkedIn. They even receive a professional headshot for use in their job search efforts.
The Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN), a program of College Success Arizona, is a community of professionals and organizations working to increase postsecondary attainment throughout Arizona. AzCAN’s more than 200 member organizations include nonprofits, school-based programs, postsecondary programs, and policymakers who collectively serve about 580,000 students each year. AzCAN provides member organizations training, data, networking opportunities, and up-to-date information to ensure professionals in the field have the knowledge and tools to serve students effectively. Since 2014, 718 college access professionals have completed training courses through AzCAN, 66 of whom have achieved the designation of Arizona College Access Professional.
AzCAN also created nationally-recognized College Access Standards that outline the seven areas critical to students’ postsecondary success. Members use an online assessment to evaluate how well they are meeting the Standards, and work with AzCAN or other members to improve or coordinate their student services. AzCAN also works with member organizations to advocate for policies that support student success, and reduce barriers to higher education.
In a state where only 53 percent of high school graduates continue on to postsecondary learning, CSA’s efforts are much needed to reach the Arizona Education Progress Meter goal of increasing that rate to 70 percent by the year 2030. And their efforts are paying off. In fact, CSA has worked with close to 1,500 students over the years. Their postsecondary graduation rate is 67 percent, a far cry from the national average of 9 percent for low-income students. And it has all been accomplished despite the fact that 100 percent of their Scholars qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, and three out of four are first-generation college goers.
For Arizona to be able to compete economically, the state needs an educated workforce. CSA is striving to increase the number of graduates who enter the Arizona workforce holding a degree, or professional certificate, and prepared to work in their chosen profession.
For more success stories from across Arizona, visit the Expect More Excellence Tour.