By Marybeth Bock

Applying to college and finding success there can be a daunting experience for any student. It is especially challenging if that young person is economically disadvantaged or is a first-generation college student. Did you know that according to the US Department of Education, only 14% of low-income students complete college?

In 2010, Liz Paulus was asked to assist a high school student with the intimidating FAFSA form, which is required to apply for any college financial aid. Liz quickly realized that the procedural language and family experience needed to complete just this one component of a college application could easily discourage a first-generation college student.

Liz reached out to a group of local Mesa/Phoenix area business and civic leaders who decided to form a non-profit organization, to give talented and deserving young Arizona students from economically depressed families, the motivation and support needed to both graduate from high school and go on to college.

Today, College Bound AZ is in its ninth year of helping to support our state’s goal of ensuring that 60% of Arizonans have a certificate or college degree to secure prosperity for our citizens and future workforce.

The organization begins working with low income students in their 8th grade year by partnering with schools and providing teachers with lesson plans and students with books and supplies.

They introduce students to their “6 Step Critical Path to College” plan, which assists students in these key areas: Grade Point Average management, involvement in extracurricular activities and community service, university track academic classes, SAT and ACT prep and completion, resume, letters of recommendation and personal essay compilation, and application completion for college entrance, scholarships and financial aid.

College Bound AZ, in collaboration with Arizona State University and the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), also assists students in becoming eligible to be accepted as a RISE Scholar. Pell grant-eligible students can qualify for four years of free tuition at ASU, provided they major in certain areas of study such as Engineering, Business, Information Technology, Psychology, Teaching and Health Services.

Once in college, RISE Scholars participate in monthly check-ins, community service, and in annual professional development workshops to prepare for jobs after college. Once they’ve completed their degree, they are also provided with job placement assistance.

College Bound AZ also recognizes that many community college students face unique challenges while in school. They assist students by stocking a food pantry with items from a local food bank and they offer Care Kits which include hygiene items needed by community colleges’ homeless population.

Liz Paulus offers this important reminder, “Education is a journey. Along the way students fill their toolbox with knowledge, experience and the latest research to move humankind forward. When we improve the graduation rate for low-income students, we increase the people available to resolve the issues facing society and add their contribution to enrich all of our lives.”

For more information on College Bound AZ and to read some student success stories, please check out their website at