One Funder's Strategy to Boost College Completion Rates in Two Fast-Growing States

The Helios Education Foundation is all about improving educational opportunities from kindergarten through college for children in Florida and Arizona. The funder maintains offices in both states and recently provided grants intended to raise college completion rates.

In Florida, Helios provided a three-year, $1.5 million grant to the Tampa-based Florida College Access Network, or Florida CAN. College access networks such as Florida CAN focus their efforts on removing barriers to college admission and ensuring increases in the number of men and women with postsecondary credentials. Helios' new grant will support Florida CANs efforts to increase the number of Floridians with college degrees or other postsecondary credentials. Florida CAN is no stranger to Helios. The organization is a past recipient of grants from the funder, and Helios' director for postsecondary education, Braulio Colon, is a former executive director for the network.

In Arizona, meanwhile, Helios wants to increase college completion rates among the state's Latino population. The funder provided a $2 million grant to the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation to do just that. With this grant, Helios is targeting one of the country's fastest-growing areas, as well as a key demographic. Maricopa County includes Phoenix, now the nation's sixth-largest city.

In the past 20 years, Phoenix has grown in population from just under 1 million to nearly 1.5 million residents, with Latinos accounting for much of that growth. The Latino proportion of Phoenix's population doubled in the last 10 years, and now accounts for 40 percent of the city's residents. A growth in the number of Latinos with college credentials is vital for the Phoenix economy.

Like Florida CAN, Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation also is a past recipient of funding from Helios, which appears to prefer working with known organizations. It solicits grant requests, which can make it difficult for new or smaller organization's to reach the foundation's attention.

However, organizations focused on college readiness in Arizona or Florida can gain Helios' attention by becoming active in those states' college access networks, which bring together a wide range of educational players who are interested in improving the higher education prospects of young people.