Arizona Western College (AWC) ranks in the top 2 percent of the nation’s community colleges for changing people’s income, and has the grand goal of eliminating poverty.
A National Community College Benchmark Project survey used data from government sources covering all students from 1999 to 2013. The data reports estimates of students’ household income before and after earning a credential from a community college, and it finds that AWC ranks 17th out of 690 two-year colleges.
AWC is the community college serving La Paz and Yuma counties. According to the report, these counties rank in the lowest 2 percent of median household income, at only $38,600 per family. But 31 percent of students at AWC will move up 2 income quintiles after earning their credential from the college, which makes AWC one of the powerful drivers of income improvement in the area.
Parker Live spoke to one student who fits this description. Julie Vences earned an Associates Degree in Applied Science in radiology, a program which prepares graduates for application to the certification examination administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
“The program was 22 months long and had to be done in the AWC Yuma campus, but I took all my prerequisites online or in the Parker campus except for one which was not offered,” she said. “It probably took me about 2 years to get all my prerequisites done, mostly because I only took about 2 classes a semester since I was working full time and my son was only one year old.”
Julie graduated in May. She took her registry exam on July 10th and officially started work as a Radiology Technologist at La Paz Regional Hospital on July 25th.
“As of now, I am working full-time and also working to obtain my CT license which I hope to get all my requirements met in a month or so and I can sit for that registry soon,” Julie added.
Social mobility is a measure of change in social status. Mobility has declined in the United States, but education is one of the few reliable ways people still make it out of poverty. Statistics say that very few other investments yield as high a return as a college credential.
AWC’s vision statement for the next few years contains a prominent reference to eliminating poverty, a goal which may be considered far-fetched if it weren’t for AWC’s exceptional record at doing it for people like Julie.
Parker Live talked to Dr. Daniel Corr, AWC’s President, about the college vision statement.
“I will tell you, there’s a lot of excitement around this vision statement,” he said. “This is my 26th year in community colleges, that’s the most powerful vision statement I’ve seen. And this is an investment. When I’m sick in that hospital bed, I want someone very well qualified to be caring for me.”
Corr gave a reminder about the low income area AWC serves.
“This issue of poverty came up,” he said. “John, our students are profoundly impacted by poverty. Over a fifth of our students have family income under $20,000. That’s serious stuff. It means you’re worried about everything, transportation, food, everything. And there is a direct and irrefutable correlation between lack of education and poverty.”
On AWC’s ability to change someone’s household economy, Corr said the report was very encouraging.
“So, if you’re in the bottom fifth of income, you can move up into the middle fifth as a result of getting a credential from Arizona Western College. If you’re fourth, you move up into the upper half.”
Last month, AWC’s tax rates came up at a Board of Supervisors meeting, where District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor reportedly said he’d been approached by local taxpayers who think the college costs too much. Parker Live asked Corr about the concerns.
“Our tax rate is arrived at through a fairly complex formula,” he said. “This past year, the college did not increase its rate. The Board approved a zero, flat, tax rate. Yet, the rate at which local property owners were taxed went up, that had to do with declining home values. The part that’s in our control we didn’t change.
“We refunded to the taxpayers; when we collect levies we’re allowed to keep 10 percent buffer, if you will, for folks who don’t pay their property taxes. That 10 percent has accumulated over many years, and we returned those excess dollars to the taxpayers. For the entire district it’s $3.4 million that we returned, La Paz County is around 15 percent of that.”
Corr mentioned refinancing existing bonds to take advantage of better interest rates, again reducing the tax rate. While keeping tax rates reasonable, he said that his focus as president is ensuring that communities see value from AWC, such as meeting its vision to reduce poverty.
He said the college is investing heavily in the idea of what he called “stackable credentials”, meaning that someone can get a credential that is useful by itself but can later be added to, with vocational usefulness eventually leading to a degree.
Part of doing that, he said, is to share expensive assets between the campuses where possible, for example by putting machinery or lab equipment in trucks and moving it to where it’s needed within the AWC system.
Dual enrollment for high school students will be expanded, too, because Corr says the students who participate tend to succeed at college after they graduate high school.
The Town of Parker should expand its gift card program by providing local citizens with gift cards to reduce poverty.