Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative (AzSOC)
Access to rigorous coursework is a critical need in Arizona’s rural communities, where qualified teachers are in short supply, particularly in the STEM fields. For example, fewer than one in four rural schools in the state offer calculus.
To help meet this need, the Arizona Student Opportunity Collaborative (AzSOC) formed in 2019 with Helios support to provide students virtual access to key courses for college and career readiness and recruit and train teachers to teach those courses. During its pilot year, AzSOC reached 250 students across 10 school districts and reported greater than expected demand.
With help from a $950,000 expansion grant from Helios, AzSOC 2.0 has dramatically expanded its reach in just two years. The Collaborative now serves approximately 2,700 students across 70 schools, including 12 courses for dual high school/college credit. AzSOC is now emerging as a model for other states also seeking to strengthen rural access to rigorous courses and qualified educators.
Roadtrip Nation – Arizona
Many students, especially first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds, struggle with a lack of guidance and support in identifying and pursuing a career path. Roadtrip Nation, a national organization founded in 2001, works to help fill that gap by documenting students’ career exploration journeys and packaging those stories into a free online curriculum designed to engage students and educators in meaningful conversations about preparing for college and careers.
With support from Helios, Roadtrip Nation came to Arizona and captured the stories of three students setting out to explore their career paths. The final product – The Roadtrip Nation Experience: Arizona Edition – was released in 2022 on PBS and received nearly 30,000 views in just its first month, nearly double expectations.
Reaching Arizona’s ambitious college attainment goal of 60 percent by 2030 demands widening the pathway to education after high school. This includes the state’s DREAMers, students who live in Arizona but lack documented immigration status.
Proposition 308, passed by Arizona voters in November 2022, opens the doors to college for DREAMers who have lived in the state for at least two years and graduated from an Arizona high school by offering them in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities. Prop. 308 enjoyed bi-partisan legislative and community support, recognizing the important contributions DREAMers can make to the state and its economy.
Helios was proud to play a key role in the push for passage of Prop. 308, both by the legislature and voters. Now, more than 3,500 high school graduates in Arizona have a more affordable path to achieving their educational goals.
University of Central Florida Downtown Scholars Initiative
Orlando’s once thriving Parramore community currently faces a number of challenges, including high poverty and low postsecondary degree attainment. With funding from Helios, the University of Central Florida (UCF) is collaborating with Valencia College and Orange County Public Schools to promote a college-going culture, increase degree completion, and foster social and economic prosperity among Parramore residents.
The UCF Downtown Scholars Initiative (DSI) directly serves students from three area high schools: Jones, Evans, and Oak Ridge. The $2 million, four-year grant seeks to impact a total of 200 students by providing ‘college knowing and going’ coaching to students from Jones High School in year one, Evans High School in year three, and Oak Ridge High School in year four.
In 2022, the first year of implementation, DSI reached 40 Jones High School seniors. Of those reached, 10 students (25 percent) applied to UCF and were accepted – a 67 percent increase in acceptance compared to the five-year average. Of the 10 students accepted, six enrolled in the fall.
Navigating college preparation and enrollment is a challenge for many families; it’s particularly challenging for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. To better serve underrepresented students and increase the number who pursue education beyond high school, Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas Education Foundation launched Elevating Excellence in June 2018.
Aided by an investment of $1,300,000 from Helios in 2019, College and Career Centers (Centers) were opened at four selected Title I high schools as part of Elevating Excellence. Centers are staffed with trained volunteers who assists students with college exploration and application, SAT/ACT preparation, and financial planning, in addition to other support services. Over 2,000 Pinellas County students in grades 9 – 12 received guidance at the Centers during the 2021-2022 school year; high schools with a College and Career Center reported a three percent increase in FAFSA completion from the prior academic year.
In 2022 the number of Centers expanded to include one at each of Pinellas County’s 17 high schools.