Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Number 3

Diversity Digest
Volume 7,
Number 3
(2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Diversity News
Diversity and Democracy:
the Unfinished Work
Dimensions of Diversity: Legal Lessons from the Decisions
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Longhorn Scholars and the Opportunity Scholarship Program
Bridging the Gap: The ACE Program in Arizona
Aimed for Success: Meyerhoff Scholars Program
Campus Community Involvement
UCLA’s Success in Reaching Out
Student Experience
Rallying for Affirmative Action:
A Student Perspective
Research
The Class is Half Empty: Report Supports Class-based Affirmative Action
Resources
Affirmative Action Resources

Bridging the Gap: The ACE Program in Arizona (Achieving a College Education)

By Lori Webster, editorial associate, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, AAC&UU

Pima Community College Students

Pima Community College Students

Arizona has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the country. Nearly 50 percent of all high school students in the state fail to graduate from high school. Arizona also has one of the lowest college-going rates in the country—about 25 percent. One initiative to address the educational shortfall in the state is an innovative collaborative partnership between Pima Community College, the University of Arizona, and the Pima and Santa Cruz County school districts —Achieving a College Education Program (ACE).

ACE Goals and Objectives
Founded in 1997, the purpose of the program is to provide a structure that encourages at-risk students in the Tucson area to graduate from high school and continue their education at the college level. “The ACE Program works to provide a supportive, caring environment that sends a message of encouragement to students and support to parents. We look at the individual and support the student through completion of their college degree,” says Katie Elandt, coordinator of the ACE Program at Pima Community College.

The program tries to attract students who are not thinking of attending college or may not think that completing a B.A. degree is an attainable goal. In order to make the college-going process less intimidating, the program eases the transition between steps by ensuring that students and parents know what to do next at every step of the educational process through a series of letters and ACE activities.

This ACE Program is adopted from an earlier model founded at Smith Mountain Community College in 1987 in collaboration with the Phoenix and Tempe Union High School Districts and Arizona State University. “Our ACE Program is modeled after other successful programs in the state, but it is adapted to meet the needs of the community and the resources of the institutions,” according to Ann Huber, director of the Transfer Center at the University of Arizona.

The ACE Program is designed as a “two+two+two” transfer bridge program that encourages at-risk students in the Pima and Santa Cruz counties high schools to continue their education through to the completion of a baccalaureate degree. Although students are urged to remain in the program until the completion of their degree at the University of Arizona, they can participate even if their goal is solely to get an associate’s degree from Pima Community College (PCC). The program offers a strong foundation in academic preparation to guide students from high school to community college to a baccalaureate institution. Pima Community College and the University of Arizona are committed to covering tuition expenses of students not covered by the Federal Pell Grant. PCC also covers the cost of course books through the students’ first year at PCC.

The ACE Program defines an “at-risk” student as being economically disadvantaged, a member of an underrepresented minority population, or a first generation college student. Students who meet one of those prerequisites and rank in the middle two quartiles of their high school class are eligible to apply for the ACE Program. The program tries to attract students who are not thinking of attending college or may not think that completing a B.A. degree is an attainable goal. In order to make the college-going process less intimidating, the program eases the transition between steps by ensuring that students and parents know what to do next at every step of the educational process through a series of letters and ACE activities.

From High School to College
For students, the ACE Program begins in their sophomore year of high school with the application process. PCC K-12 Outreach and Talent Search coordinators in collaboration with high school guidance counselors help identify at-risk students. As the program coordinator, Elandt follows up with “ACE nights” and classroom presentations at the Pima and Santa Cruz high schools to notify students about the benefits of the program. Since the program’s inception, the number of incoming students has grown from about thirty to 120 students.

In order to attain high achievement through the program, students must sign an ACE contract listing their responsibilities and emphasizing the program’s expectations of the students. Students must attend class, maintain a C or better in all classes, and attend required program activities, such as “financial aid night.” The underlying message that those involved with the program want students to understand from the start is that there is always help available. “The program offers three ACE events each year,” says Elandt. “These events host guest motivational speakers from the community and student panels to reiterate our constant message: talk to your instructors, create study groups, use the tutoring labs, and meet with your counselor twice a semester.”

To facilitate success in the classroom and ensure that the students excel in their studies, a College Success Skills course is offered to first-year program participants in order to teach study skills, note taking/test-taking tips, time management methods, and different learning styles. A subsequent career exploration course encourages students’ to discover and research career paths that could be pursued through a college education.

Once equipped with this knowledge and these skills, high school students follow a solid and rigorous academic course that will prepare them for a college-level curriculum at PCC. During the summer between their junior and senior year, ACE Program participants have the option of either taking a course at PCC or having a summer internship in the Tucson community. As part of their senior year, students take one college-level reading, writing, or math class each semester and must enroll in a critical thinking course during the summer before their first semester at PCC.

Once the transition is made from high school to PCC, a Steering Committee, comprised of members of the admissions staff, counselors, and administrators and staff from PCC and the University of Arizona meet monthly to review student progress and the effectiveness of program success indicators. Counselors are readily available at PCC and UA to advise students about course selection and potential career paths.

Program Success
While still in its infancy, a few indicators reveal that the program is making progress. After the second full year of the program in 1998, 92 percent of the ACE Program students graduated from high school and 52 percent of those students continued in the ACE Program to attend college. For the past three academic years, there has been a 100 percent high school graduation rate for participants and 75 percent of those students went on to PCC. The numbers of students graduating high school and attending college have been consistently climbing since the inception of the program. However, “solid data about graduation rates from the University of Arizona are not yet available,” according to Huber because of the newness of the program.

As a result of the ACE Program’s mission and strong structural support, the program has drawn a diverse group of students and the evidence is beginning to show that it is promoting access to higher education for underserved students. Eighty-nine percent of students involved in the program are first-generation college students and 35 percent come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Eighty-one percent of the students are members of underrepresented minority populations—the largest percentage being Latino/a.

The ACE Program at Pima Community College, University of Arizona, and the Pima and Santa Cruz school districts is keeping the goal of reducing drop out rates and increasing the number of students attending college central to its focus. Through the support, structure, and resources offered by the ACE Program, at-risk students in the Tucson area are given the tools and knowledge to achieving the unthinkable—earning a baccalaureate degree.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
Copyright 1996 - 2014
Association of American Colleges & Universities | 1818 R Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009