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Third Arizona Assurance Cohort Set to Graduate Saturday
Arizona Assurance makes higher education degree attainment a reality for low-income Arizona residents.
Arizona Assurance, the University of Arizona's promise to financially support Arizona families experiencing barriers to higher education, is graduating its third cohort of students on Saturday.
The donor-supported institutional financial aid and student retention program helps ensure that low-income Arizona students can get a UA education debt-free.
The program's third graduating class began in 2010, earning their degrees within four years, representing a promise the UA made to the state in 2008 that it would support low-income Arizona families so students could have an opportunity to graduate without student loans.
"That is absolutely amazing. The whole idea and design of Arizona Assurance was to make sure that these students graduate in four years," said Christine Salvesen, director of UA Academic Success & Achievement and Arizona Assurance.
"It is pretty touching to see how dedicated these students are to their own success," Salvesen said. "With the University meeting them halfway, with financial supports and networks, these students are able to succeed over and over."
Departments and colleges have begun to offer additional support to scholars, Salvesen said. Also, Arizona Assurance staff members partner with other UA offices and programs, including the federally funded TRiO Program, New Start, Career Services, Think Tank and others.
Also this month, in honor of the donors who have supported Arizona Assurance, the program's staff, in partnership with the UA Foundation, unveiled the new Arizona Assurance Tribute Wall, located near the ballrooms of the Student Union Memorial Center. The wall honors each donor who contributed at least $100,000 the program, which is accepting gift support.
"The program has taken full bloom," Salvesen said.
Lindsay Santana – who graduates Saturday with a double major in family studies and human development and speech, language and hearing sciences – said the benefits of being part of Arizona Assurance extend to her family.
"Arizona Assurance allowed me to attend a university without the constant worry and stress about how I was going to pay for tuition," Santana said. "It allowed my parents and I to have an easier transition into the college lifestyle. Being a part of Arizona Assurance allowed me to instantly feel part of the University."
Santana was paired with mentor Michelle McKelvey, assistant director of Arizona Assurance, and said her mentorship has been especially valuable.
McKelvey, who has supported other students, said that in only six years, Arizona Assurance has shown that the investments of the University and donors has benefited not only the institutions and its students, but the state. She also noted that high school counselors are helping spread the word about Arizona Assurance and encouraging students to apply to the UA.
"As a university, we are working hard to get students to graduate, and to be able to support students who are minority, often first-generation and considered low-income, and to see them succeed. It speaks to the importance of the UA providing finding and support to these students," she said. "We are making a cultural change across the state of Arizona, saying that if you invest in students and support them, there is a huge return."
Bryanda Acuña, who graduates this weekend with a degree in family studies and human development, also could not afford to attend the UA, but applied anyway. Soon after being accepted, she learned that she would be an Arizona Assurance scholar.
That letter would launch Acuña's academic career and professional development. She secured an internship working with therapeutic animals, worked with a respite home provider with families whose children are autistic and spent last summer studying Spanish in Chile.
Acuña also helped to establish and eventually served as president of the Cubs to Wildcats club through Arizona Assurance, a group that informs K-12 students about college.
"Only four years, to do all that," Acuña said, reflecting on her own achievements with some surprise.
"Besides all the educational knowledge, the family studies program is incredible and gave me a foundation for any field I want to go into," Acuña said. "It was the best decision I ever made."