Arizona Western College is “promising” high school graduates a debt-free community college education when they complete their associate’s degree.
Dr. Daniel Corr, AWC president, announced the new Yuma Promise program at a press conference Monday.
Starting with the Class of 2020, high school students can have 100% of their out-of-pocket tuition and fees reimbursed when they complete an associate’s degree within five semesters while attending AWC full time and who transfer to a state university in Yuma.
Corr, calling it “a momentous day for AWC and the communities we serve,” said the program was part of his commitment to developing a college-going culture in the communities that AWC serves.
Corr explained that the program is part of a “big, hairy audacious goal” adopted by the AWC governing board that seeks to double the rate of baccalaureate attainment in Yuma County. AWC doesn’t offer bachelor’s degrees but is partnering with the three state universities to build a student pipeline. The University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University all offer classes on the grounds of AWC.
AWC is here to “fundamentally change the fabric of our community with increased higher educational attainment rates, better jobs and higher wages,” Corr said, adding that research shows that a degree from AWC “has a profound impact on social mobility for our students.”
The board unanimously approved the program Monday morning. “We’re excited to have the Yuma Promise,” Dennis Booth, board chairman, said.
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls said that the program would lead to a better quality of life for students and the community. He noted that this can’t be accomplished with one group alone and pointed out AWC’s partnerships with other educational institutions, from elementary and high schools to universities.
Another key element, Nicholls added, is the collaboration with economic development partners. He noted that Corr has “listened” and responded to the needs of the local commerce.
Gina Thompson, superintendent of the Yuma Union High School District, explained that she’s a first generation college-going graduate. “I made it because I had two amazing parents who literally sacrificed everything,” she said.
She’s proud to be a partner in this effort, she noted, pointing out that supporting students “together can create better lives not just for students but their parents.” She added: “I believe the students in Yuma County will be the ones to change the world.”
Corr has been asked why the program is called “Yuma Promise,” not “AWC Promise.” He explained: “We did deliberately refer to it as the Yuma Promise because it’s not just one institution, not just one organization, it’s a community or sets of communities coming together to dream big, think big and most importantly act big.”
To qualify for the program, students must sign a Yuma Promise commitment form, apply for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and enroll full-time at AWC. Upon completion of their AWC associate’s degree and transferring to one of the state universities in Yuma, students will be eligible to apply for reimbursement of 100% of their out-of-pocket tuition and fee costs. Yuma Promise does not cover equipment, housing or food.
Although she no longer qualifies, the program will benefit students like Fatima Covarrubias, president of the AWC Student Government Association, who said during the press conference that she comes from a “very low-income family.” Her older sister joined the Army and didn’t pursue higher education because her family couldn’t afford it.
“I’m not the most athletic, so that wasn’t my path,” she quipped.
But Covarrubias always knew she wanted more than a high school education, she added. She filled out the AWC application with trepidation, but she soon noticed that everyone, from students to faculty, supported her.
“I was really scared, but I noticed everyone was invested in me, not just me, but all the students,” she said.
That gave her confidence, and Covarrubias now serves as the president of the Student Government Association. “My ‘why’ has always been my mother. I can see how proud she is of me. And I want to thank everyone here because you gave me the support I needed so I can make my mother proud,” she said, her voice breaking.
She encouraged others to continue supporting students “because I want their mothers, or whoever is supporting them, to give them that look and for them to know they’re proud of them.”
She’s about to finish an associate’s degree in engineering and plans to transfer to a university. “I’ve learned so much here, I’ve grown so much, I know I’m going to be able to do it, and it’s all thanks to you,” Covarrubias said.
AWC is actively soliciting partners to support the program. “It doesn’t cost anything. It just says you as an individual or organization support higher education in Yuma,” Corr said. He invited them to pledge their support on a poster.
Nevertheless, donations are welcome. Over the weekend, the college received a commitment of $25,000 in support of Yuma Promise. Corr encouraged supporters to connect with the AWC Foundation.
Yuma Promise follows the La Paz Promise which was launched with the class of 2019. For more information on Yuma Promise, go to www.azwestern.edu/promise.