Helios Education Foundation is committed to ensuring students are prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and nothing illustrates this commitment more than our longstanding College Knowing and Going initiative.
Currently in Arizona, only 46 percent of Arizona residents 25-64 have completed a 2- or 4-year degree or postsecondary certificate. While we have made progress in the past few years toward increasing that number, we have significant work to do in order to reach our Achieve60AZ goal of 60 percent by the year 2030.
Helios’ College Knowing & Going initiative originally focused on the following activities in 83 schools throughout Arizona:
- ACT administration costs and access for all juniors, making the test available at no cost to these students
- Assistance with the college application process
- Assistance with completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms
During the first five years of the initiative, more than 145,000 students were provided with these college preparation services.
“Helios’ College Knowing & Going initiative has made a significant impact in helping raise awareness about the importance of postsecondary education as well as provide tools and resources for students to plan for their future,” said Grace Smith Kaus, Director, Postsecondary Success Initiative at Helios Education Foundation.
As the initiative has evolved over the past five years, we have focused and expanded the efforts by developing College Knowing & Going College Readiness Teams. Led by the Arizona College Access Network, these College Readiness Teams develop a comprehensive, data-driven, student-centered approach to college readiness at 15 high schools. In the coming year, we are planning to increase the number of partner schools to 40. These high schools represent traditionally underserved student populations that include many minority, low-income, and first-generation students who may need extra support through the postsecondary planning process.
With supporting partners Earn to Learn (ETL) and Northern Arizona College Resource Center (NACRC) the program creates a school-wide culture in which all stakeholders--administration, counselors, teachers, postsecondary institutions, community members and students--work collaboratively to ensure low-income, first-generation, underserved Arizona students graduate high school ready for college. The College Readiness Teams also provide a framework to help schools identify postsecondary education goals for their students and develop strategic plans to implement, assess, and evaluate those goals.
One of the most unique and impactful aspects of the College Readiness Teams is the engagement of AmeriCorps and AdviseAZ Members who serve as College Access Advisors as well as high school students who serve as College Access Student Ambassadors. These students help engage their peers in school-wide college access initiatives such as College Application Campaigns and College Goal FAFSA. Each student advisor receives a $2000 scholarship to help with their own postsecondary education. As one ambassador shared, “I loved matching my peers with scholarships and colleges. I loved seeing them get so happy and excited to apply for a scholarship and start planning for college.” Another shared that they are proud of the fact that they “changed the mind of three individuals who did not want to go to college, but are now enrolled in classes and are on their way to success.”
These College Readiness Teams are proving to be an innovative and impactful strategy to help ensure more students have the resources they need to plan for college. As we continue to focus on this work, Helios and AzCAN will work to expand the number of high schools that have College Readiness Teams as well as ensure that we are closing the degree attainment gap by targeting underserved, low-income, and minority students with access to resources and additional help in navigating the postsecondary education planning process.