Mesa Counts on College Access Center Boosting Postsecondary Outcomes

Mesa, AZ | Submitted by Amy Trethaway

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It’s hard to believe, but the entire city of Mesa (the third largest city in Arizona) is covered by one school district. With more than 64,000 students in grades K-12, there’s no shortage of things to do. But a few years ago, the city recognized that while their students were graduating at high rates, not enough of these youth were continuing onto postsecondary education. And even fewer were finishing.

That’s why Mesa Counts on College was created five years ago. As the umbrella brand for the city’s education initiatives, it means a lot of things to a lot of people. But most recently, the program opened an Access Center in central Mesa that serves students through free college advising, summer camp and internship programs, GED prep and PSAT/SAT practice. With a focus on low-income junior high and high school students, the Mesa Counts on College aims to double the number of low-income students who complete college in the next nine years.

The Mesa Counts on College Access Center opened in August 2015. Since then, they have doubled initial projections, seeing an average of 80 new clients every month. The small, but highly qualified staff has engaged with nearly 700 clients to-date. They’re doing more with less; the Center only employs two individuals and relies on highly qualified volunteers from AmeriCorps. The small staff is also able to reach youth at additional locations, including five Mesa high schools and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Accelerated Learning Academy.

Their efforts are customized to ensure that each individual receives the unique attention and preparation that they need to be successful. It’s a one-on-one environment that stays with students through their higher education experience in order to answer questions, maintain motivation and keep them on track.
Of course, the City couldn’t do it alone. They work closely with strategic partners, including Mesa Public Schools, Mesa Community College, United Way and New Leaf.

So far, results of the Access Center are primarily anecdotal, but lives are already being changed. GED classes are full, and thirty individuals have either passed the exam or are nearing completion. Forty percent of the Center’s clients fall within the disconnected population and the remainder are active high school students. What’s more, there are more people than ever talking about postsecondary education, its value and how to improve completion rates.

It’s an effort that is sure to pay off in the long run. City leaders are well aware that a region’s economy is closely linked to its school system. Strong schools make it easier to attract new business, create residents that are less likely to be dependent on government and weave a strong community fabric.

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