New college initiative aims at boosting postsecondary student base in Cochise County

Cochise County, the far southeastern portion of the state that includes Bisbee and hugs borders with Mexico and New Mexico, is home to quiet desert drives and active international commerce, but it’s also home to a low postsecondary transition rate. In fact, only about half of the county’s youth who graduate high school move on to some kind of post-high school education following their senior year. This has leaders in Cochise looking for solutions as most jobs in today’s changing economy require a college degree or some type of certificate, especially in the technology sector that’s thriving one county over in Tucson.

Now, there’s an initiative aimed at changing those numbers, moving the number of students who pursue a degree or training after high school from about 50 percent to 70 percent. They want to reach their goal by the year 2030.

Efforts to interest students in continuing their education following high school have become more active as Cochise College has developed a guaranteed, renewable scholarship for graduates. In 2018, nearly 450 students signed up for the scholarship, showing an improvement in interested students in the area. Local high schools throughout the county now have college navigators to help students understand their future educational opportunities more clearly.

“The biggest challenge keeping students from advancing to postsecondary education is knowing how to navigate the higher education system,” J.D. Rottweiler, president of Cochise College said. “In July 2018 the college began transitioning its staff to include college success navigators and a scholarship navigator. The college success navigators are embedded in local high schools to provide guidance and encourage students to look to future educational opportunities at Cochise or elsewhere.”

The scholarship program that encourages students to consider postsecondary options has seen some major support. In fact, students earned nearly $200,000 toward continuing their education on account of the program’s annual fundraising event and other significant gifts. This has provided some students the ability to pursue college full-time instead of part-time while supplementing their income through work.

“Knowing when to apply for scholarships or how to complete the financial aid application can be overwhelming, especially for students who are the first in their family to attend college,” Rottweiler said. “Ultimately, our goal is to make a positive impact on students and provide the right mix of services and resources for students to achieve their educational goals.”

Part of the program’s success is due to the available resources on hand to provide students guidance, such as college navigators. These counselors work with students to find scholarships, courses, majors and areas of study, and possible career paths related to their studies. So far, the navigators have helped assemble nearly 30 workshops meant to bring more hands-on education and resources to students and their parents in the county.

“As the program has grown in the past year, high school staff have come to appreciate our college success navigators assisting students,” Celia Jenkins, recruitment coordinator said. “Navigators provide in-class presentations and assistance with college applications, scholarships, and degree opportunities. They spend one-on-one time with students to personally get to know them and help them explore what students are interested in whether that is a degree, a certificate, training or any career pathway.”

Nick Esquer

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