Examining College Readiness in Arizona

Author: Helios Education Foundation

August 10, 2017

As Arizona strives to remain competitive in today’s global economy, it’s important for all of us to understand the barriers – at home, in school and in the community – that prevent students from graduating on time and from pursuing, persisting, and completing a postsecondary education. 

In collaboration with our research partners at Arizona State University, Helios recently published a report identifying some of the reasons students don’t pursue a postsecondary education and highlighting the policies, practices, and investments that can set students in a more positive direction. The study specifically looked at students from 14 school districts throughout the state of Arizona.  These school districts are part of Helios’ College Knowing & Going initiative and most have a significant Latino population.

What we found is that Latino students aspire to earn college degrees, but only about half of the students in our research attend a postsecondary institution the first year after graduation.  Latino students are not as academically prepared for college as their White peers.  However, the research also shows that when students receive the academic support they need, they are more likely to attend college, including four-year institutions. 

Given that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in Arizona, it becomes clear that Arizona’s economic future will depend heavily on the Latino population and it is in all of our bests interests to ensure that Latinos are pursuing and completing postsecondary degrees.   

Solving this problem seems simple enough.  First, we need to motivate students to pursue postsecondary options that will allow them to succeed financially, ultimately benefitting the state with a larger tax base; and second, we need to ensure that students enroll in and complete postsecondary programs.  We also need to provide additional support to navigate the postsecondary landscape

Our research points to the following specific strategies and policies that can promote improvement in postsecondary outcomes for all students: 

  • College knowing and going information can provide more access.  In Arizona, many of our students, especially Latino students would be first-generation college students.  Oftentimes, these students are not given the sufficient guidance or support to help them navigate the college application and going process.  Several counseling and summer-melt programs have shown promise in improving college going rates.

  • Increases in state financial aid for students.  One major way to increase both the proportion of students entering postsecondary education and their persistence is to offer more opportunities for scholarships and grants.  These types of supports help offset the cost for postsecondary attendance, while at the same time they promote a commitment to increases in postsecondary attainment.  State financial support can take many forms.  For example, they can be awarded based upon financial need, merit or even to promote equity by improving diversity.

  • Support, mentoring, and guidance is important to increasing persistence and completion.  Once students make it to college, they often need additional supports to help them stay in college.  Mentoring programs often help students feel like they are part of a community, especially when they are not at home.  Additionally, programs that offer additional support and guidance can help keep students on track or provide support if they began to struggle. 

Click here to read the full report.  We hope you will be inspired by this report and work in partnership with us to expand educational opportunities for Latino students.  Arizona’s economic development as well as the development and success of our children and youth depend on it.

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