National College Application Month
By: Rich Nickel, President and CEO – College Success Arizona
Last month, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation: November would be National College Application Month. The president asked that all Americans—including public officials, educators, parents and students—observe this month and encourage more of our youth to follow paths to higher education.
Arizona itself has more than 80,000 students in their senior year of high school. And, as many of them think about applying to college, they are hopeful for their futures—futures that include a college certificate or degree. Recent data shows that as higher education attainment levels are reached, racial differences in unemployment and underemployment are marginalized. The bottom line is, if you want a good job, get a degree!
But, the process of applying for college is not a simple task for any graduating high school senior, and especially for students who come from low-income families or will be the first in their families to go to college, like many of the Latino youth in our state.
In Arizona, Latinos enroll and complete college at significantly lower rates than white students. This leads to disparate education gaps between the two population groups. Only 11 percent of Latino adults in our state hold a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 33 percent of white students.
One reason for this: the college application process is anything but straightforward. Many students are unsure of how to select the best college for their needs, what information they need or how to apply for financial aid. As a result, too many students—especially those who would benefit most from a degree—never enroll. An upcoming report from the American Council on Education finds that low-income students are much less likely to enroll in college after high school than they were in 2008.
Even when a student is able to clear the hurdle of the admissions process, many often struggle to complete their programs of study. At a national level only 52.9 percent of students who started college in 2009 finished six years later, down from 55 percent of students who started school in 2008. And, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education released in June, Arizona tied Alaska for the lowest college completion rate in the country in 2013, with just 29 percent of students able to earn a four-year degree in six years or less.
To help all Arizona students—and especially our Latino students—enroll and succeed in college, we need to provide them with extra supports from the moment they sit down to fill out their applications and apply for financial aid, to the days spent studying for college exams. They will need assistance financially, academically and emotionally to achieve success.
Improving access to college, and providing supports that lead to degree attainment, will not only increase opportunities for all Arizonans—including low-income and minority students—it will also substantially strengthen our states economy.
According to projections from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an estimated 68% of all jobs in Arizona will require post-secondary education by 2020.
An essential first step towards improving college access and graduation rates in our state is to establish metrics and goals. Last week the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) adopted an updated series of performance metrics and goals to achieve by 2025 to reach these goals, including plans to increase the freshman retention rate by nine percent and the six-year graduation rate in the Arizona Public University System by 20 percent.
All students deserve the opportunity to succeed and graduate from college. As a state we need to commit to establishing a broader, statewide college attainment goal—which would be consistent with ABOR’s goals—to guide the creation of policies and supports that lead to more students enrolling in and completing college. It is not only in the best interest for our state economy, but also for our future generation of Arizonans.