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AZ Earn to Learn - Investing in College Success

Author: Helios Education Foundation

Did you know that by 2018, 61 percent of Arizona’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary training?  Yet, currently in Arizona, only 36 percent of working-age adults have completed at least a two-year degree.  As an organization focused on creating opportunities for postsecondary success, Helios develops strategies and invests in programs and initiatives to increase the degree attainment rate in both Arizona and Florida.  And, while we believe that a postsecondary degree should be the goal of all students, we have a particular focus on traditionally underserved populations including low-income, minority and students from rural areas. 

One such initiative – specifically for low-income students in Arizona is called AZ Earn to Learn (AZEL).  Helios is a proud partner of this groundbreaking program that prepares high school and community college transfer students for college with financial education and matching funds.  The goal is to help low income students with the opportunity, incentive and support necessary to save for postsecondary education.  The program utilizes Individual Development Accounts (IDA) which are special matched savings accounts for people with low incomes.  These accounts are designed to help families and individuals of modest means establish a pattern of regular saving and, ultimately, purchase a “productive asset,” in this case – a postsecondary education.

Individuals who are part of the program save a total of $500 in their IDA account.  A “savings match” is provided to supplement a student’s initial investment.  AZEL offers an 8:1 savings match so that a student who meets all of the program requirements, will be eligible for an additional $4,000 toward their postsecondary education.  The match dollars come from federal grants which are given to the three state universities as well  university scholarships dollars already earmarked for low income students.  As a result, the program has leveraged nearly $12 million in scholarship funds for low income students in the state of Arizona.

“We are thrilled to be a part of a program as innovative and strategic as the AZ Earn to Learn program,” said Braulio Colón, Vice President and Program Director, Postsecondary Completion for Helios.  “The work that this organization is doing is helping to leverage federal dollars for students in Arizona.  It is also making a postsecondary education a reality for some students who may not otherwise have that opportunity.”

To be eligible for AZEL, students and their families must earn200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Students begin the program with their families as seniors in high school or as community college students. They are required to save at least $25 a month in their IDA for a minimum of six consecutive months, complete financial education classes and receive one-on-one financial coaching and college readiness training.  

“Our sole focus is to increase access to higher education among disadvantaged students in Arizona and ultimately break the cycle of poverty through the benefits a college education offers,”  said Kate Hoffman, founder of AZEL and executive director of AZEL’s non-profit administrator Live the Solution.  “The students we are working with are committed and determined.  The median household income for our students is $25,230 so saving $500 takes discipline and focus for them.” 

In addition, 85 percent of the participating students identify as an ethnic minority, 74 percent are first generation and 68 percent are women.  

The impact of AZEL is already seeing results: 

  • Since inception (combined Fall 2013 and Fall 2014 cohorts) 290 students have successfully saved $145,000 and received $1,160,000 in match for a total postsecondary investment of $1,305,000 towards tuition, books, fees, and other approved education related expenses
  • 6,702 hours of financial education have been provided to 1,401 Arizona students
  • Over 65 percent of participating students identified science, technology, engineering and math fields as majors

In addition to increasing access to postsecondary education for low income students, it also helps them persist and complete their degrees and instill lifelong habits of good financial management. 

Category: 10 Year Anniversary

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