Their Story – John Fees
This is the fifth installment in a series of articles featuring the Board of Directors of College Success Arizona.
College Success Arizona is a 501(c)3 educational foundation founded in 2005, to increase the number of bachelor’s degree holders in the state of Arizona by providing scholarships and College Success Services to high potential, low-income students. The vision of College Success Arizona is to create an educated workforce ready to take Arizona into the future.
These articles are designed to give a more personal insight into each of our Board Members, to give them the opportunity to share why they care so deeply about Arizona, college attainment, and the mission of College Success Arizona.
1. Please tell us a little about your background.
“I am a second generation Arizonan. I attended Tempe High and graduated from Arizona State University in 1989. I also attended Harvard Business School, graduating in 1999. I am married to Melissa Soza Fees and we’re raising five Latino children.
2. What does your organization do? What do you do within your organization? What are your responsibilities?
“I am the founder of Grad Guard and Next Generation Insurance Group, one of the largest national student benefits companies in the country. Next Generation Insurance Group is a national insurance program manager for colleges and universities. We provide insurance coverage to over 150 institutions across the country. Students are able to protect themselves from financial losses when they move on to a campus. It secures everything they own while on campus for about $11 – 14 per month. We also offer a program that covers tuition insurance, which provides protection for families when a student is unable to complete a semester due to a medical event. What most students don’t know is that they need these types of protections to help them overcome unexpected events that may otherwise disrupt their education. A key message, is that if they cannot afford an extra semester or the cost to replace a stolen backpack or computer, then they will likely benefit from GradGuard.
3. What other projects, activities, groups, are you involved in?
“I am active in the Catholic Leadership Circle, which supports numerous Catholic charities and causes in Phoenix. I am also an appointed member of the Maricopa County, Arizona State University Athletic Facilities District, Brophy College Prepatory Dad’s Club, and a Trustee of University of Mary.”
4. How did you come to be associated with College Success Arizona? Who was your connection? What made you want to support us? What made you so passionate about our mission?
“Vince Roig and Rich Nickel asked me to become involved with College Success Arizona. I’ve known them for more than a decade and I just really believed in the mission of supporting student achievement. I’ve noticed that the organization has really transformed in the last three years; College Success Arizona has done a lot for the scholars of our state. I feel that we can really make a difference in college attainment rates. We just have to be optimists no matter what.”
5. What is your vision for the Arizona of the future?
“Arizona will be a leader in identifying unique pathways to achieve high levels of student achievement, college completion, and career readiness for families of all backgrounds. Our diverse educational system will provide a robust eco-system to assure that our citizens are prepared to compete in global markets as well as fulfilling the local needs of our community. Education will be viewed as a public good that benefits more than just an individual but also strengthens the community.”
6. Why do you feel increasing Arizona’s College Attainment Rates is so important?
“We are currently entering a job market that has a lot of challenges, but if you are prepared it’s also one of the best times in world history to be in your twenties and enter the workforce. The technologies that are out there are amazing; never before in humankind has it been possible to reach most of the universe of people. Within the next five years, most of the world will be connected via internet, and it’s pretty extraordinary. Every problem we have (global warming, availability to clean water, food supply, etc.) is a big problem; but they are problems that need to be solved by creative people, and those people are most likely have been college educated. It’s a great time to be alive; but to thrive in this great time, you have to have an advanced education. You have to be able to think and communicate in both language, and numbers. You’re not going to get the financial benefits of these opportunities without being educated. And, if we’re going to have a world we want, we have to find more affordable pathways to develop the skill and knowledge required to address the complex problems and opportunities.
7. If you had a message for a student just beginning their college career, what would that be?
“I think the most important question to ask yourself is why you want to go to college. It’s not important where you want to go or what your degree will be, it’s why. It’s within that answer that you will find the internal motivation to persist and complete your degree. Making money is one of the answers; but the reality is that if you really push yourself and strive to be the best you can be, you will end up increasing your capacity to earn money anyway. If you figure out why you want to go to college, the rest will manifest itself.
The real challenge is that many people go through life living someone else’s script. You’ve got to stop yourself and say, ‘Own your own script.’ The real problem you have in this country is not student loan debt, it’s the people who don’t graduate. If you don’t graduate and you borrowed, you have an 80% chance of default. The real crime we have right now is that we have too many students who don’t graduate. Understand your motivation, commit and make a plan first before you decide to go to college, that’s the answer.”
Junelle Bautista is a Communication and Engagement Intern and attends the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.