The following remarks were given on April 13, 2016 at the Helios/ACT Summit event at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Phoenix.
Good morning. My name is Paul Luna and I am the President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. It is my pleasure to welcome you this morning.
Our goal for today is to have a substantive discussion on how to ensure more of our students graduate from high school ready for success in college and career.
We hope it is a time of collaboration, discussion and motivation as we roll up our sleeves and use data to strategize and make decisions about improving student success in our state.
All of you here today are on the front lines of working to ensure college and career readiness. You are the ones who are engaging with students every day. You are the ones who put in countless hours on behalf of students. As we get started today, we want to say thank you. Thank you for your commitment, for your hard work and for your passion for our students.
Before we dive in and start our official program, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Helios Education Foundation and why we are so committed to this work.
Helios Education Foundation is dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals to succeed in postsecondary education. We focus on all students, but we have a particular interest in those who are traditionally underserved – first generation, minority and students from rural areas.
This focus evolved out of our four fundamental beliefs:
• We believe education changes lives and strengthens communities
• We believe education is an investment and not an expense
• We believe every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high quality education.
• and we believe we will achieve our mission through partnership and collaboration.
One of our areas of focus is college and career readiness. Our work in this area is centered on ensuring that Arizona and Florida high school graduates are prepared to enter the workforce or credit-bearing college courses without remediation. Fundamentally, we know that if we facilitate the development of rigorous, high expectation academic environments, then more students will be prepared for college and career and pursue postsecondary education. Our ACT initiative is part of this work.
In addition, Helios is very mindful of the demographic shift that is happening in Arizona. The face of our population – and our schools – is changing. Latino students are the majority in our k-12 system today. However, our Latino students are not performing at the same rate as their White counterparts. In order to secure Arizona’s economic future, we must close the achievement and attainment gap between our Latino and White students.
Seven years ago, Helios began funding the administration of the ACT exam to all juniors in eight Arizona school districts. The ACT was chosen because it is a curriculum-based measure of college readiness, which is defined as the level of achievement a student needs to enroll and succeed in first-year college courses. Over the past seven years, our partnership has grown and we know that it has increased access to the ACT, especially for low-income and minority students.
We thank ACT for their great partnership and we thank each of the school districts represented here today for your partnership as well.
The ACT initiative has been a key strategy for Helios Education Foundation. Throughout the past seven years, we have continued to focus on how to use the data we are gathering to continue our focus on student success and to refine our strategies to ensure college and career readiness.
But, the fact remains that we have much work to do. Our students are growing up in a world that is vastly different from just 10 or 20 years ago.
Today’s student will likely have more than ten jobs by the time he or she is 38 years old.
The top ten in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist five years ago.
The amount of technical information we have is doubling every two years.
Today’s educational experience can’t be about gaining knowledge – knowledge is at our fingertips. The search for knowledge ends with google.
But the real purpose of education today is to help students understand what to do with the knowledge they have at their fingertips.
Education must prepare students who:
• are critical thinkers and problem solvers
• understand the value of collaboration
• have a sense of initiative and even entrepreneurialism
• are effective communicators
• have a sense of imagination
• and most of all, believe in themselves.
Those are the traits of new leaders.
The global economy also demands that students obtain an education beyond high school in order to succeed. Every student must complete some form of postsecondary education – whether it’s a license, degree or certificate – in order to be prepared for the future.
Currently in Arizona, only 37 percent of adults have an associate’s degree or higher. And for Latino adults, that number drops in half - to 19 percent.
It is an economic imperative that we increase the number of students completing a postsecondary certificate or degree.
Preparing our students for college and careers will increase their opportunity to enter and succeed in the workforce and contribute to our economy, in addition to providing them with a better quality of life.
Today – Helios is launching our newest initiative – College Knowing & Going.
College Knowing & Going is a partnership focused on increasing the number of students who complete steps toward postsecondary education.
There is a lot of great work going on in our state – by many of you in this room – toward preparing students for college and career and increasing postsecondary degree attainment. We believe that College Knowing & Going will complement work that is already being done and propel it forward.
College Knowing & Going consists of a series of college preparation activities within 18 partner school districts throughout the state of Arizona. As part of this initiative, all juniors will take the ACT exam and all seniors will receive assistance filling out at least one college application and the free application for federal student aid – the FAFSA.
Over the next five years, this initiative will impact more than 145,000 students – many of whom are low-income and minority.
This partnership will help create a college-going culture across our partner districts and increase the likelihood that these students will succeed in college and career.
Today, all of us in this room – our partner school districts, College Success Arizona, AzCAN, our postsecondary leaders and our economic development organizations are changing the trajectory of our state.
We are putting a stake in the ground that postsecondary education is a priority for our students and is an economic imperative for Arizona.
Thank you for your partnership. We know the value of partnership and collaboration and this initiative is a great example of just that.
The future is bright for Arizona and for our students.