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Partnering to Increase Latino College Completion

By Anna Solley

Arizona college is working with other local educational institutions and community-based organizations to create a college completion culture for Latino youth.

Just as I was, many of our students at Phoenix College are first-generation Latino students. I was fortunate that my parents encouraged my educational pursuits and supported me on my path toward work I am passionate about: providing access and opportunity to underrepresented student populations.

Latinos are the fastest-growing student population in America, and their success is critical — by 2025, half the nation’s workforce will be of Latino descent. Those of us in higher education work to ensure that these students receive the expert instruction and support they need to reach their goals. But if we are to be successful, it cannot be our job alone.

Degree Phoenix, a collaborative effort

Partnerships are critical to strengthening educational attainment among Latino students, and Phoenix College is proud to play a key role in a group of partnerships that are truly making a difference. During the past two years, we have led the Degree Phoenix collaborative, a partnership designed to enhance Latino students’ pathways from high school to college and from college to the workforce.

Funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, our partners in this effort include the Phoenix Mayor’s Office, Phoenix Workforce Connection, Phoenix Union High School District, Valley of the Sun United Way, the Raul H. Castro Institute, Arizona State University, sister colleges and several community-based organizations. These partners represent key education, policy, and community-based nonprofit organizations and business sectors, all working together to capitalize on our local talents.

Our goal is to increase the number of Latino students receiving postsecondary credentials by 20 percent during a four-year period.

Our goal is to increase the number of Latino students receiving postsecondary credentials by 20 percent during a four-year period. 

Engaging Latino youth

Phoenix College is a Hispanic Serving Institution, with a Latino student population of 40 percent. Like all of our students, Latino students are working toward improving their lives, preparing to be leaders, role models and contributors to their families and communities.

Latino students often face major obstacles to education: family and work commitments, affordability and a deficient “college-bound” culture. The Degree Phoenix effort focuses on engaging Latino youth at different points along the educational pipeline, from awareness to preparation to entry to progression to completion and, finally, to market value employment. Here are a few examples of what we are doing:

  • Awareness: The Dare 2 Dream Conference, hosted by the Raul H. Castro Institute, annually convenes more than 500 middle school students and 150 parents. The event is designed to motivate middle school students to go to college and to prepare them to assume leadership roles in their schools, families and communities. Presented by Phoenix College, the Raul H. Castro Institute, Phoenix Union High School District and Cartwright School District, the conference also involves parents through breakout sessions and a community agency fair.
  •  Preparation: To help ensure college readiness, high school students in Phoenix Union High School District are piloting math MOOCs. Degree Phoenix partners have provided professional development to community-based organizations interested in using these courses for their GED cohorts. In addition, Faculty Exchanges are creating alignment along the educational pipeline: So far, 60 high school faculty have attended a Faculty Exchange at Phoenix College, and 82 high school faculty have attended college faculty-led workshops.
  •  Entry: The College Access Professionals Curriculum is designed to ensure that students receive consistent information regardless of their higher education “on-ramp.” This has already been successful elsewhere and has now been customized for Arizona. The curriculum is being rolled out to pre-service counselors at Northern Arizona University, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) coordinators and Phoenix Union High School District counselors.

By 2018, nearly two-thirds of jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary certificate or degree, so it is essential that we expand our efforts to work together to create a strong educational pipeline focused on access, retention and successful college completion. With our Degree Phoenix partners, Phoenix College is working to strengthen all the points along this continuum, helping to ensure that our Latino students are prepared to take on everything they can envision for their future.

It has never been clearer: If our Latino students succeed, Phoenix will succeed as a city and Arizona will succeed as a state.

What partnerships is your college involved in to increase completion? Tell us about them in the Comments.

Anna Solley

is president of Phoenix College in Arizona.

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