Currently in Arizona, only 42 percent of Arizonans have a postsecondary degree. However, we know that by the year 2020, 68 percent of the jobs will require some form of postsecondary degree, license or credential. Recognizing the need to increase the number of individuals with a degree, Arizona recently adopted a goal to increase the postsecondary degree percentage from 42 percent to 60 percent. This is a statewide effort that Helios supports and is working diligently to help meet.
One way that Helios is helping to increase Arizona’s postsecondary degree attainment rate is through our College Knowing & Going initiative. Launched in 2016, this college and career readiness program supports 18 partner school districts throughout Arizona, many of which represent low-income, Latino student populations.
The four-year investment, in partnership with College Success Arizona, the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN), the Northern Arizona College Resource Center, and the Metropolitan Education Commission provides critical college-going services to high school juniors and seniors in the partner school districts.
“Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of students in Arizona who complete a postsecondary education,” said Julie Norwood, Director of Program Services for Helios Education Foundation. “The college-going process can be challenging for students – especially those from low-income communities and first-generation households. We want to help them navigate the steps they need to take to ensure they are on the right path toward college completion.”
College Knowing & Going provides students in the partner school districts with:
- The opportunity to take the ACT – college entrance exam – during the school day, at no cost to the student.
- Assistance with the college application process.
- Assistance with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
“Over the last year, more than 60,000 students have participated in College Knowing & Going activities,” said Linda Jensen, Director of AzCAN. “These students are thinking about and planning for their postsecondary education.”
In order to reach those 60,000 students, AzCAN and its partner organizations have trained more than 359 educators and 35 community-based organizations and provided 446 parents and families with information and resources to plan for college.
“We have provided ACT Test Prep workshops and online resources to help students prepare for the ACT exam,” said Jensen. “We have helped all of our partner schools plan events and activities to encourage students to complete college applications, and we have implemented FAFSA completion workshops and one-on-one FAFSA advising to help ensure every student submits a FAFSA.”
In fact, this year, students in Arizona are completing their FAFSA’s earlier than in previous years – as of March 31, FAFSA completions from our partner school districts were already at 98 percent of the total number completed at the end of last year’s cycle in June. This is a positive indication that students are receiving the support they need to submit the application in a timely manner. Typically the earlier that students submit their FAFSA, the better, because some scholarships and grants are awarded on a first-come, first served basis. Completing the form is especially important for low-income students because colleges and the government use the FAFSA to award need and merit-based aid like Pell grants.
In addition, College Knowing & Going has leveraged existing activities within the partner school districts that are focused on creating a college-going culture. For example, all Arizona students are required to complete an Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP) which provides an opportunity for them to think about their future and the education necessary to help them reach their career goals. College Knowing & Going is building on the momentum of the ECAP process to help junior and senior students utilize that tool in their college planning process.
“College Knowing & Going is already seeing tremendous success,” said Norwood. “And we are just getting started. We believe this initiative will be a game changer for postsecondary success in Arizona.”