Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) is big on helping high school students graduate with a slew of college credits already under their belts and this year is no exception. Thanks to a generous grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, EMCC’s ACE program is experiencing record enrollment.
“We were one of four Maricopa Community Colleges to receive the grant in 2017,” said Omar Romandia, Student Services Specialist - Recruitment and Piper Ace Representative. “So the last two years, we’ve had huge graduating classes. It’s allowed us to double our ACE population.”
ACE, or Achieving a College Education, is a nationally recognized Maricopa Community Colleges program that targets high school juniors and seniors who may not think going to college and getting a degree is an achievable goal. ACE students enroll in college courses while attending high school to experience and acclimate to a college environment in a real-time setting. They attend on scholarships that cover tuition, registration fees, and course fees. EMCC currently has about 245 ACE students total, 143 of whom will graduate this May.
ACE student Kristina Chambers will graduate from Estrella Foothills this spring with 21 college credits. She is the first in her family to attend college. She plans on going to Grand Canyon University and majoring in political science this fall.
“If it weren’t for the ACE program, I probably wouldn’t go to college right after high school,” she said. “I’d probably work first. But the ACE program has helped me think of better ways to fund college. There are so many helpful people in the program. They’re like my back-up team.”
ACE students begin their college classes the summer after their sophomore year. Over the next two years, they take classes during the regular summer sessions and on Saturdays during the fall and spring semesters. By the time they graduate from high school, they will have earned up to 24 college credits.
The ACE program is very structured. All ACE students take CPD150 (Strategies for College Success) and COM100 (Introduction to Human Communication) their first semester before jumping into English and math classes.
“Every school should have a class like CPD,” Kristina said. “It really helped me navigate my way through college. It was very helpful my freshman year.”
In addition to taking college courses, ACE students also participate in workshops that focus on topics such as budgeting, time management, and mental health.
“Our ACE program is more than just classes,” Romandia said. “It benefits students in so many ways.”
Tammy Hernandez Escamilla is another ACE student who will be graduating this spring. The Youngker High School senior will have 24 college credits when she receives her diploma. She plans on staying at EMCC for another year and then attending a coastal university to study marine biology. The ACE program has been especially helpful in honing her time management skills.
“It’s definitely helped me with time management,” she said. “Because you have to think about how you’re going to balance high school life and college life.”
The ACE program also helps students mature and transition more easily into a full-time college schedule.
“After the two years, they’re more formal, their language changes,” Romandia said. “They recognize that they’re more capable than they thought they were.”
While Tammy and Kristina both acknowledge that they’ve had to give up some things in order to participate in the program, they are quick to admit that those sacrifices have been worth it.
“The hardest part has probably been giving up so much of my social life,” Kristina said. “But it was worth it. I would do it 10 times over if I could.”
To learn more about the ACE program, including eligibility criteria, click here.