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Advisory board tries to boost college enrollment

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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"How do we create a community vision where all children go to college?" asked Barbara U'Ren, superintendent of the Cotton wood-Oak Creek School District.

She sat before the Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee on Jan. 21, taking part in a panel alongside Sedona-Oak Creek School District Superintendent David Lykins and Camp Verde School District Superintendent Amber Marchant-Lee. The focus of the educators' addresses, according to WBAC's press release, was to share "their ideas on what their present students and graduate needs are as related to" Yavapai College."This is a very important task, and we take it seriously," Clarkdale Town Councilman William Regner said. Acting as moderator for the committee meeting, which took place on Yavapai College's Verde Valley campus, he urged the three superintendents to help foster greater cooperation between the college and schools.

U'Ren was a notable participant, as her district is ostensibly restricted to K-8 students. She clarified the issue, stating that four years ago COCSD became a K-12-qualified district, allowing her to expand to high school students "if that ever needed to go to the next level."

Regardless, U'Ren said, the issue is important for students of all ages. "We have to start young. It starts down in the preschool level," she said. "If we lose them in the elementary level, we're not going to get them in the high school level."

According to her, one of the biggest issues is that her students do not know Yavapai College is an option. At a recent meeting with seventh-graders, she asked where the students were planning on attending college. Their answers — Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University — dismayed her.

Upon mention of "their local college," the students were stumped.

U'Ren suggested more parent-student tours of the college, with particular outreach to lower-income families, the financial conditions for whom she said are "stressed, strained and stretched."

Lykins followed U'Ren, echoing her economic concerns. Nearly half ofhis district's students are eligible for free and reduced lunches, the National School Lunch Program, reflecting what he called a "changing demographic" as well as a struggling economy.

According to Lykins, with this change comes a greater proportion of students attending community colleges. He highlighted efforts to increase participation in Yavapai College's curriculum, focusing on dual enrollment programs that allow Sedona Red Rock High School students to take classes for both high school and college credit.

The funding situation, he said, is not helping the school system. According to recent data he has received, Arizona ranks 48th or 49th in the nation when it comes to public education funding, with an additional 21 percent cut from budgets last year."How do we all work with legislators and lobbyists?" Lykins asked. He emphasized the difference in funding between the education system and the prison system, wondering aloud why more money could not go into schools and possibly help alleviate the high levels of incarceration within the state.

For all the dire news, however, he said that Arizona continues to use its scant resources wisely. Marchant-Lee spoke about "similar but different" concerns."Our free and reduced students hover between 70 and 80 percent," she said, outlining the challenges her students experience, once again focusing on funding. "We've had to cut and cut and cut."

Transportation, in particular, is a big hurdle for her students."Yavapai College is basically our students' lifeline for the next step," she said.

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Original Publication Date: January 28, 2015

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