Community colleges serve an incredibly diverse population of students. We’re known for and embrace being accessible. We also know, however, that in Cochise County, only 34 percent of residents hold an associate’s degree or higher and less than half of graduating high school seniors enroll immediately in post-secondary education and training. You probably know or have guessed that these statistics don’t measure up to those of the state, which also trails the nation. 

To tackle this community challenge, the college has implemented three major initiatives.

Career navigators embedded in the high schools for the first time this semester are working with students to identify areas of interest and opportunity and helping them take meaningful steps to pursue them, whether they are enrolling at Cochise or another type of training program altogether. Navigators are tracking their activity so the program can be modified to meet needs in the future, and their constant presence has already resulted in improved communication and new and promising partnerships with the schools.

This semester also is the first that the college is offering a guaranteed scholarship for graduating Cochise County high school seniors. The scholarship serves as a carrot both to entice students to consider Cochise, and to inspire all students to believe that post-secondary education can be a reality for them. When scholarship awards were announced at the high school award nights last spring, the Cochise representatives who were present were pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of excitement and enthusiasm. Crowds of students got to stand on the stage, and some parents even accepted in place of children who were working.

Finally, the college is developing and implementing the “game changer” strategies of Complete College America, an effort to help make completion of post-secondary credentials a reality for all students. College faculty and staff have already tackled math pathways and placement and begun promoting 15 to finish (or just one more class) to facilitate timely completion. Development of the Cochise version of the other strategies, including a better deal for returning adults, is underway.

We simply owe it to county residents to help boost the educational attainment of citizens, and I think we are onto something.

In the first semester of implementation of these initiatives, Cochise has enrolled a greater number of Cochise County graduating high school seniors than in the past. The 420 who enrolled this year is 52 more than enrolled in 2017. While official 2018 high school graduation data is not yet available from the public school system, we suspect this is also a greater percentage of the Class of 2018, given the declining school populations.

This fall, 153 recent grads report Buena as their high school, and 151 report Douglas as theirs. These have long been the two primary feeder schools. Ten to 20 students from Bisbee, Center for Academic Success in Douglas, Tombstone and Benson schools enrolled this fall, while 10 or fewer students graduated from other county high schools. Popular majors among incoming freshman are general studies, administration of justice, engineering, biology, social and behavioral science and cybersecurity. Declaring a major is strongly encouraged, as having a goal is instrumental in success.

Moving forward, the college will continue to use data to tweak its efforts and scholarship offerings around high school students. An obvious next step is measuring retention and acting accordingly. In addition, of the several thousand students at Cochise, a high percentage of them are not recent high school graduates. Capturing and evaluating data on these students, and formulating initiatives to meet their changing needs, is underway, and data will help us do it.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at jdr@cochise.edu.

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