Celebrating a Year of College Success: 2019
By Rich Nickel
As 2019 comes to a close, College Success Arizona and our partners here in the state have plenty to celebrate from the past year and plenty to look forward to in 2020.
This fall we launched AdviseAZ in partnership with Earn to Learn. Now one of the largest AmeriCorps programs in Arizona, AdviseAZ brings near-peer college advisers into high schools across the state to help more students access information about their college options.
Alongside Achieve60AZ, Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, Arizona State University, Mesa Public Schools, Maricopa Community Colleges, Be A Leader Foundation, and Helios Education Foundation, we also helped launch Ask Benji, a text chatbot that provides students and families with information and guidance to help them fill out the FAFSA. Already having reached 10,000 Arizona students, Ask Benji is now a vital component of a larger strategy to increase FAFSA completion statewide.
Beyond our work to strengthen direct services for students in Arizona, we also had a busy year advocating for improved state policies to help increase attainment rates statewide. We released a new policy brief on the importance of funding community colleges in Arizona. We also advocated for higher K-12 teacher pay, greater support for service programs like AdviseAZ, and increased attention and support for rural student success.
We also did a significant amount of work to articulate the overall value of increasing the FAFSA completion rate in Arizona, both to increase college-going and as a way to strengthen the state economy. A major highlight this year came when Mesa Public Schools, won a $100,000 grand prize for the National College Access Network’s FAFSA Completion Challenge in recognition of the district’s innovative approach to increasing its FAFSA completion rate.
More broadly, we’ve seen great strides towards improving college access and attainment throughout Arizona. The community owned initiative, Achieve60AZ released its first State of the Attainment Report this past February, which has helped to advance the conversation about strategies and initiatives needed to achieve the 60 percent postsecondary attainment goal over the next ten years.
The growing momentum behind efforts to increase attainment in Arizona is also in funding for college access programs throughout the state. Notably, the AZ GEAR UP grant for Northern Arizona University is a seven year award that will bring over $31 million in resources to help strengthen our education pipeline. Arizona State University and Be A Leader Foundation were recently awarded a $8.7 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve college-going outcomes. Increased and continued funding for programs that helps Arizona’s students can only help improve high school graduation and college attainment rates throughout the state.
We’ve also seen some great wins at the state government level. This fall, the Governor’s office released $20 million to enable schools to hire more student support staff, including more school counselors in an effort to reduce the state’s staggering student to counselor ratio. Currently, there are 905 students for every counselor in Arizona, almost double the national average.
All of the progress we saw statewide in 2019 was, without a doubt, encouraging and inspiring. In 2020, we want to continue to build on what we’ve collectively accomplished. College Success Arizona’s hopes for next year, which we know can be accomplished through ongoing collaboration and partnership, are for:
- Arizona to create and fully-fund a state-sponsored, need-based financial aid program to put college within financial reach for more students;
- A heightened focus on strengthening rural schools and supports to build the college-going culture in rural communities and increase attainment rates; and
- Development of a broad-based plan for education that provides more financial resources for the entire education continuum, from early childhood education through college.
There is no limit to what Arizona can accomplish in the coming year. These measures would make a significant impact and help us achieve our shared goals of making college more accessible and increasing attainment to secure a prosperous future for Arizona and all Arizonans.
Thank you for your support in 2019. We look forward to what is to come in 2020!
Rich Nickel is the president and CEO of College Success Arizona, where he leads the organization toward its goal of assisting all Arizonans in gaining access to, and successfully attaining, a college credential.