Ensuring Every Arizona Student is Prepared to Succeed in College, Career and Life

Author: Braulio Colón, Vice President and Program Director of Postsecondary Education Initiatives

August 10, 2013

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to talk with individuals from throughout Arizona about the importance of postsecondary education and the need to ensure all students have the opportunity and access to earn a degree, license or certificate.  What I have learned throughout my conversations is that Arizona community and education leaders want the state to be a great place to live and work and want to ensure that we are cultivating the future workforce to help ensure economic growth. 

However, what we must realize is that improving our education system - from birth through career - and ensuring students have the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education is inextricably linked with Arizona's quality of life and economic stability.  As a gateway to intellectual growth and diverse careers, postsecondary education, including certificates, licenses and college degrees, opens the door to opportunities. Individuals who attain a higher level of education tend to have higher incomes, pay more taxes, are less likely to be unemployed, require fewer state supported services, save more for retirement, and in general live longer. Postsecondary education also provides the kind of skills and knowledge that are vital to success in today's global economy including the ability to create, innovate and think critically to solve complex challenges.  Education breaks the cycle of poverty and can open the door to lifelong success.  Ultimately, it has the ability to change lives and transform communities.

At Helios Education Foundation, we are dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to succeed in postsecondary education. As a result, we strategically partner to ensure more students are academically prepared at every stage of the education continuum-from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education-and ultimately, graduate college and career ready. Committed to the success of all students, we are also working to embed a college-going culture across both states which emphasizes and facilitates the successful completion of a postsecondary license, certificate or degree for every student, leading to meaningful career opportunities and a high quality of life.  Although we are invested in the success of all students, our emphasis is on helping traditionally underserved populations - first-generation, low-income, minority and rural - earn a postsecondary certificate, license or degree leading to meaningful career opportunities and the ability to contribute to the long-term prosperity of the communities and states we serve.

Despite the clear benefits of postsecondary education, in 2010, Arizona's high school graduation rate was 67.2 percent, about seven percentage points lower than the national average of 74.7 percent.  Of those that did graduate, less than half qualified to enroll in an Arizona university and almost 60 percent were not prepared to enroll in credit bearing courses and required remediation in community college.  In addition, less than 36 percent of Arizona adults have an associate's degree or higher.  We have work to do.

Helios believes that by providing students with academic supports, more underserved students will attain a postsecondary degree or certificate.   Through our work, we have learned that by surrounding students with a high-expectations, college-going culture and ensuring they are academically prepared, they are more likely to graduate ready to succeed in college and career and more likely to enter and complete postsecondary education.

In addition, by helping to create a college-going culture in the state, we are working to help families understand the value of postsecondary education and that high expectations for academic success starts in the home.   Students need family and community support to achieve postsecondary success and we want to make sure families have the information and resources they need to help create that high expectations culture in the home. 

Helios is a unique partner.  As an engaged foundation, embedded in communities, the Foundation is contributing its leadership, expertise and financial resources to better prepare students to succeed academically and to compete in a globally competitive economy.  The Foundation was created in 2004 with  a passionate mission to help students in Arizona and Florida succeed across the education continuum.  Since, 2006, Helios has invested over $125 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Arizona in Florida. 

In our Postsecondary Success Impact Area, we contribute our leadership, expertise, partnership and resources to:

1.  Structure Supports to Facilitate Successful Transition to Credit Bearing Courses
We work to help students complete developmental education and successfully transition to credit-bearing work through structured supports that enable them to "catch up" while pursuing a degree or certificate.

2.  Construct Scholarships to Support Persistence and Completion
We support innovative scholarship structures and designs with the potential to improve persistence and completion.

3.  Focus Supports and Guidance on Certificate and Degree Pathways
We focus supports and guidance on certificate and degree pathways leading to meaningful careers so that the path of study is directly tied to career opportunities.

Through our work thus far, more than 30,000 Arizona students have taken the ACT college entrance exam at no charge.  More than 600 students have received performance-based scholarships and more than 260 students have had the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research biomedical research through the TGen Helios scholars program.  In addition, more than 11,000 students in the Yuma Union High School District are receiving a high expectations, performance-based, students centered curriculum that is focused on ensuring every student is college and career ready upon graduation. 

There are good things happening in Arizona.  I believe in the potential of this state and the potential of our students.  That's why I'm pleased to join Helios Education Foundation and work to foster strong partnerships around postsecondary education initiatives.  As community leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help ensure our students have the opportunities they need to achieve postsecondary success.  Not only will it improve individual lives but it will strengthen communities and the state's overall economy.

The above op-ed was published in the August issue of Latino Perspectives Magazine


Category: Postsecondary Success

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