College Success Arizona

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College Success Arizona and Arizona Community Foundation announced a partnership to coordinate student funding and support services. President and CEO Rich Nickel talks about what this partnership means for college students.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. Two Arizona education groups announced a partnership to ensure college success for students. College success Arizona and Arizona community foundation will expand efforts to coordinate student funding and support services. Joining me to talk about this partnership is Rich Nickel, president and CEO of college success Arizona. Rich, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Rich Nickel: Thanks for having me.

Jose Cardenas: We're going to talk about the partnership that was announced, but before we do that, tell us about college success.

Rich Nickel: College success Arizona was originally started in 2005 as the Arizona college scholarship foundation. Governor Napolitano worked with several leaders around the state, because Arizona, as you well know, has some issues when it comes to state funding for students in the state, especially low-income, high potential students. The goal is really to raise capital, to then give away in the means of scholarships to low-income, high-potential students, to really align ourselves with what the business needs are here and the economic needs, which is to provide more skilled workers as business enters the state.

Jose Cardenas: So you've been doing this for almost 10 years.

Rich Nickel: Right.

Jose Cardenas: Why the name change?

Rich Nickel: One thing we recognize is that the Arizona college scholarship foundation name presented certain challenges. In Phoenix especially, the foundation name implied that maybe we're fully funded, givers instead of raisers, if you will. We wanted to make sure people understood that we are in the business of raising capital in order to give that away to our students. There was also some other interesting concepts there. We wanted to be a success organization that used scholarships and mentoring as tools to make people successful. Not really just known as a narrow scholarship foundation. We think our focus and our impact could be wider.

Jose Cardenas: And that is one of the areas of evolution, of scholarship fund that you and I talked about off camera, which is that now you're offering services to ensure success as the name implies.

Rich Nickel: Right. As we took a look at what we thought we did best, what we had feedback on that we did best, it was not just getting the students access to school, but a lot of people don't realize that just getting that access doesn't mean that student is going to graduate. As a matter of fact, if a student is marginalized or not trained if you will, to how to be successful in college, giving that money really is a good way to get them in, but doesn't ensure one thing. What we intend to do is widen the impact by helping through these really intensive success services, mentoring, advising services and building relationships with the students as they move in. Just to help them through the barriers that a lot of people, maybe rural students coming to the big university for the first time, or maybe come from a single parent home where they may have not had a role model that went to college that can help them through the first couple semesters or years to keep them in school and keep them on track to get their degree.

Jose Cardenas: This is something you've been doing for a little while. What's going to change with the announcement of this partnership? Tell us about that.

Rich Nickel: We scholarship students each year, and this year we have about 400 students that we're giving $6,000 apiece, so it's a $24,000 commitment. We've always provided these services to those that we scholarship, and we have seen graduation rates of these students that are Pell grant eligible, over 70%, which is roughly double what the standard graduation rate would be around the state for that type of student. We really looked at how we could increase our impact and help the state the most, we said, hey, why don't we take what we do best, this mentoring, and provide it to more students through partnerships that we may create with Universities, colleges, other large scholarship foundations that may not offer these types of services.

Jose Cardenas: And so you're doing that now with the support of the Arizona community foundation. Which as I understand what they're doing is they're taking advantage of the fact they've got a lot of scholarship funds, but it's just the money, and I don't mean to diminish the importance of that, you're now providing the added services.

Rich Nickel: Right. So we started talking with the community foundation, one thing we realized is they had a great market of scholarship funds there and they're serving lots and lots of students every year. And most of those students are students we're very interested in. Low-income, first-generation, diverse students who are the opportunity group that we need to help to move the needle when it comes to the achievement gap. So in talking with them, we said, hey, what if we provided services we're really good at, and work with you to help make your programs better? And Steve sales, the CEO there, thought that was a terrific idea and worked hand in hand with us to let us get closer to their funders and explain what we're doing and eventually came to this partnership.

Jose Cardenas: You mentioned diverse students. A lot of these scholarships go to Hispanic Latino students. Why is that important?

Rich Nickel: Well, in Arizona, we know a few things. One is that we have a rising Hispanic Latino population shift. Somebody said the other day, don't talk about the changing population, talk about the changed population. Because it's already happened. So about 2030, the state has set a goal for itself to have at least 60% of its adults have at least associate's degrees or higher. Today the Latino population, 18 to 64, has only a 17% achievement rate of those degrees and certificates. So we know if we don't focus on increasing that achievement among the rising Latino population, that there's no way we can mathematically reach those goals and if we do reach those goals, the economic impact to the state is just tremendous. You can draw straight lines between achievement at the post-secondary level, and poverty levels. They work hand in hand.

Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, that's one of the reasons why this program is of particular interest to people like the Helios foundation.

Rich Nickel: That's right. They understand that you have to work across the continuum of space. So where we fit into this continuum with their support is really taking great high school students that have high potential, have done everything right along the way, but still may not have that opportunity to gain access, we're trying to provide that through scholarships. And then once they get there, we don't want to leave them in a worse state in which they entered so we have to make sure they graduate and Helios understands that and has given support not only to us, but organizations across the state to help achieve that goal.

Jose Cardenas: Sounds like a great program. Congratulations on the new partnership. Thanks for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."

Rich Nickel: Thank you.

Rich Nickel:President and CEO, College Success Arizona;

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