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Educational Equity and College Access are Key to Increasing Attainment

March 5th, 2020

By Dr. Richard Daniel

Here at College Success Arizona, there is one big question that we return to, in some form, every day: how can we help more students in our state go to college and graduate with a certificate or a degree? This focus, on both the big picture in Arizona and our own impact, will come as no surprise to folks who are familiar with our work and our mission to increase college attainment in Arizona.

As part of this work, much of our effort focuses on expanding access to college. This is because one of the most important things we can do to increase attainment is empower more students to go to college by ensuring that all students – regardless of their background or where they go to school – have access to higher education options that align with their needs and goals. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that increasing college enrollment rates is essential to increasing attainment; improving student success rates in college is important but, on its own, insufficient.

If Arizona does not increase college access for all students – and particularly those from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education, including low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color – we are unlikely to see the significant attainment gains. This means that breaking down barriers to college access and building the college-going culture in more Arizona communities is essential to meeting our statewide goal of 60 percent attainment by 2030.

Increasing college access is not just the responsibility of the higher education institutions in our state. The entire education system shares this responsibility, and our K-12 schools have an important role to play.

It is well understood, if not always accomplished in practice, that schools must ensure that all students have access to educational resources and opportunities that prepare them academically for college, such as effective teachers and engaging, challenging learning experiences. Too often, though, the non-academic supports that are vital to developing college and career readiness – including timely information about college, school counselors, social and emotional development opportunities, trusting relationships with mentors – are undervalued, minimized, or sacrificed altogether, especially when budgets are tight.

Fundamentally, this is an issue of educational equity. In the context of ESSA, as we rethink and discuss how we can ensure the K-12 system in Arizona better serves all students, equitable access to the supports and resources that enhance college readiness, access, and attainment represents a key dimension of that conversation, a conversation that is about no less than the future of our state and of all Arizonans.

Dr. Richard Daniel is the Executive Vice President and COO of College Success Arizona where he directs the organization’s research and policy activities.

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