Creating Higher Education Pathways for Students in the Payson Area

Payson, AZ | Submitted by Janet Vidnovic

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The Aspire Arizona Foundation (AAF) was established in 2013 by engaged residents in the Payson area who were dedicated to bringing a four-year university presence to the region. Knowing the vital importance of continuing education beyond high school, AAF has been working tirelessly since then to make this priority a reality.

But because a satellite university campus takes time to happen, AAF began seeking another way to encourage Payson students to pursue higher education. Helping students get there was critical, since many come from low-income households and don’t foresee college in their future. They would be first generation college students, which is a significant roadblock for many. About 15 percent of Payson’s high school graduates proceed to four-year schools and 30 percent to community colleges, which is well below the state average. It was clear to the AAF team that students couldn’t wait for a new university campus, so the team moved forward to create a program aimed at getting high school students to consider education at a college or university.

The resulting partnership between Gila Community College and Payson Unified School District means that high school students can now earn college credits while still in high school through a dual enrollment program. AAF has stepped in to assist these scholars by offering subsidies to cover the fees associated with the class, which would be a significant barrier for some.

The $200 per semester tuition grant is aiding nearly 100 students this year, in classes including math/statistics, pre-calculus, calculus, English composition and chemistry. Eligibility was determined by placement test to ensure that students were well-prepared for the course, and Payson Unified provided necessary textbooks.

The program became a reality in less than a year, much to the appreciation of the 99 students who are currently enrolled. That means that in its first year, one-in-three high school seniors and one-in-five juniors are being impacted. Many are taking two or more classes, and a substantial portion are also involved in career and technical training at the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology.

AAF is thrilled to be aiding students immediately and helping them further their education beyond high school. The students are excited and the school has been so engaged that the program is bound to grow by leaps and bounds in future years. Knowing that their work during high school will lead somewhere positive has spurred them to work harder and dream bigger.

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