How the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted college plans for Latino students in Arizona

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Excerpt from "How the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted college plans for Latino students in Arizona"

ARIZONA - Cesar Soberanes was a high school senior planning what to do after graduation. It was spring 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining steam.

The son of a working-class, Mexican immigrant mother, his goal was to become the first in his family to attend college.

He had his sights set on Arizona State University after graduating from ASU Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in downtown Phoenix affiliated with the university.

He had filled out the application and, after learning he had been accepted, Soberanes enrolled.

Ready to start classes the following fall, he began proudly telling friends and family he was headed to ASU. During his high school graduation ceremony, which required graduates to stay in their cars because of the pandemic, the words "Arizona State University" flashed on a movie screen alongside his name, indicating where Soberanes was headed.

That really made it feel official.

But Soberanes never made it to ASU. In March of that year he lost his minimum-wage job greeting guests at the former Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix. When the pandemic lockdown hit, the arena was forced to temporarily shut down.

Unable to land another job as the pandemic wore on, Soberanes could not justify the financial expense of attending college, especially because he was footing the bill himself.

So just weeks before classes were scheduled to start, Soberanes made the painful decision to withdraw.

Soberanes felt like he had let a lot of people down. Above all, himself.

"For the longest time I had been I announcing that I would go to ASU, like to my whole family, (and) friends," Soberanes said. "I didn't know what to do. I felt like a liar almost."

Soberanes is not alone in his pandemic-related frustration as a young Latino with college ambitions.

The number of Latino students enrolling in college in Arizona had been steadily increasing in recent years, considered key to overall efforts to significantly boost Arizona's college-educated population, which lags behind other states.

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