Through an innovative program designed to alter students’ expectations of what they can achieve academically, Phoenix College is working to increase the number of at-risk students successfully pursuing higher education.
The nationally-recognized Achieving a College Education (ACE) program targets students who may not consider going to college and attaining a bachelor’s degree as an achievable goal. The program is specifically designed to help students make a smooth transition from high school to an accredited community college, before moving on to a university in order to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Students accepted into the program meet at least one at-risk criterion, including: being the first in their family to attend college, experiencing environmental challenges such as homelessness or a temporary housing situation, being a member of an underrepresented group, coming from a single-parent home, and experiencing economic hardships.
“ACE provides an outstanding opportunity for students who didn’t think they were a candidate for higher education,” said Rody Randon, director of early outreach programs at Phoenix College. “Through this program, they learn that they are capable and worthy of academic success. And because ACE takes place on a college campus, students become more comfortable with navigating through the higher education system while they gain tools for their future success.”
Phoenix College has been serving students through the ACE program since 2001, and statistics show that an average of 86% of students who complete the program continue their higher education at the university level.
Students in the Phoenix College ACE program can choose from several pathways, including general studies, fire science, crime scene investigation, and interpreter preparation. The model helps prepare students to enter the workforce by providing hands-on training through internships in professional settings. Students also attend success workshops that cover important topics such as career exploration, financing a college education, time management, and leadership skills.
Randon recounted the story of a student who, prior to joining the ACE program, had no aspirations to attend college and did not set a high career goal for herself. Following her involvement in the ACE program and her completion of an associate’s degree at Phoenix College, she transferred to Arizona State University. This month, she will graduate from ASU’s Cronkite School with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an exciting career path ahead of her.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than when one of the ACE students comes back and I get to hear that they are finishing their associate’s degree and preparing to transfer to the university,” said Randon, who has been heading up the ACE program at Phoenix College since 2007. “I love what I do because I can see the results.”
The ACE Program at Phoenix College targets high school students from the Phoenix Union High School District. High school juniors and seniors in the ACE program take college courses Monday through Thursday during the summer and on Saturdays during the fall and spring semesters. Throughout the two years, the students are able to experience and acclimate to the college environment in a real-time setting. The program enables high school students to earn up to 24 college credits by the time they graduate from high school. Upon high school graduation, many ACE students enroll full-time at Phoenix College before eventually transferring to a university to complete their degree.
The success of the ACE program has led to the implementation of the Junior ACE program, which Phoenix College began piloting in 2007 for students entering the 7th grade. Students who participate in Junior ACE take a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) course and a college survival course to develop academic skills needed for college and university success. Junior ACE is a successful pathway to the ACE program, with 85% of Jr. ACE students continuing on. Phoenix College is one of five Maricopa Community Colleges that have implemented the Junior ACE program.
“Junior ACE participation has doubled within one year, and we had 86 students this past summer,” said Randon. “It’s a critical program because it reaches students while they are still so young. It really instills in them the idea that achieving a college education is possible.”
If you would like to help sustain the ACE or Junior ACE programs at Phoenix College, or to request more information, contact Rody Randon at 602.285.7391.