By Diana B. Figueroa
Educational leaders in Arizona unite to boost student success
When he first started college, Marcko was discouraged by feedback he got from his college advisers. They didn’t think his pursuit of a degree in criminal justice was going to work out. But thanks to support from his mentor at Education Forward Arizona, Marcko said he realized he could break the barriers in his way. And he did just that.
“Having a mentor has been important because it’s a way for me to get out what I have bottled in. It’s a safe haven,” he said. “I am more than a student and my mentor is more than a mentor. We can both help each other. My adviser reminded me to work hard, but also give myself a break and recognize my hard work and success. There were things I didn’t know were worthy of being proud of or celebrating.”
Mentoring students is just one of the ways that the newly formed Education Forward Arizona will focus on improving student success. Education Forward Arizona is the next evolution of three well-known education nonprofits who joined forces earlier this year – Achieve60AZ, College Success Arizona and Expect More Arizona. The organization will be focused on improving education outcomes for all students across the state, beginning in the early years through college and career.
“The best part of my job is seeing my scholars grow and being able to be a consistent presence in their lives, outside of their school,” Matt Sotelo, success adviser for Education Forward Arizona said. “Seeing them reach their goals, and get job offers a week or two before graduating, or even a few months before graduating – that’s definitely the most rewarding part of this work.”
Education Forward Arizona also provides scholarships to Arizona students, giving over $16 million in scholarships to 580 graduates across the state.
“As we launch Education Forward Arizona, we are prioritizing expanding our programs to serve more students across the state to give every student an equitable shot at success,” said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of the organization. “All students, regardless of where they live, their background or income level deserve an excellent education, starting in the early years, that prepares them to complete a college certificate or degree. We believe in our students’ potential and want to do everything in our power to support their success.”
Beyond providing scholarships and mentoring college students, Education Forward Arizona is also helping to prepare high school students for the transition to college, a university or advanced training.
For instance, Ask Benji is a digital tool that has helped hundreds of thousands of Arizona families with high school seniors complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The digital chatbot can answer a wide variety of questions about deadlines, procedures, and best of all, it’s free for anyone to use.
And through AdviseAZ, Education Forward Arizona helps high school students navigate the complex college exploration process, take college admissions tests, apply to college and more.
But students can’t wait until high school to prepare – success in higher education starts in the earliest years. The new organization’s special attention to early learning and postsecondary attainment will ensure that all students are ready to learn and have the opportunity to pursue and complete a degree or credential.
In addition to expanding these programs, Education Forward Arizona will also champion important education issues and will make the case that education is an investment, and not an expense.
Diana B. Figueroa is Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Strategic Initiatives at Education Forward Arizona. Education Forward Arizona was created in response to the collective will of leaders from across the state who have said they want bold actions that move education forward in Arizona. The organization will do this by using its voice to make the case for education as an investment and not an expense, building a network of courageous champions statewide to advocate to close achievement gaps, and scaling up innovative programs that close achievement gaps at all levels. Education Forward Arizona believes that improving the quality of education in Arizona will improve the quality of life for all Arizonans.