On Saturday, hundreds of Arizona families with middle-school-aged children, most of whom reside in low-income school districts in eouthern Arizona, learned about the costs and academic steps needed to afford and be accepted into the University of Arizona.
They also learned that a college education is attainable for their children.
The program, College Knowledge for Parents, is held each year for 8th graders and their families so that they can begin planning for college.
"How much do you think a university educations costs in the state of Arizona?" Manny Leon from the UA's Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, program asked the families.
Hands rose and the answers ranged from $7,000 to $50,000.
"How much do you think books cost?" Leon also asked about room and board and transportation.
He explained that there are two primary fees that are mandatory for a UA education: tuition and books: a total of $8,000 per year for a full-time student. He also said the UA remains in the lower third in the country among peer institutions when it comes to tuition rates.
Leon explained the options parents and future students have to help them manage the costs of a higher education.
The UA houses many programs, like College Knowledge for Parents, which work together to keep parents and students informed on how to be admitted to the UA and provides information on programs that help them after they are enrolled at the University.
UA programs that help students and their parents plan for college from middle school to high school are housed under the UA's Office of Early Academic Outreach.
In addition to College Knowledge for Parents, Early Academic Outreach programs include the GEAR UP Program, which is aimed at students in the class of 2012 at five Tucson-area high schools – Cholla, Desert View, Pueblo, Sunnyside and Tucson High Magnet schools.
College coaches, a math specialist and a writing specialist from the UA work at each school, partnering with teachers to offer a variety of free programs and services to students and their families.
Activities include career exploration opportunities, college knowledge workshops, tutoring, educational field trips, campus visits and tours and summer enrichment activities.
Another is the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, or MESA, a University-based outreach program operating in eight states. In Arizona, MESA strives to provide an opportunity for ethnic minority, low-income and first-generation college-bound students to explore college majors and career interests with a group of peers interested in attending college.
The College Academy for Parents serves parents of elementary students in the Sunnyside Unified School District. This initiative is designed to help parents understand current and future academic expectations, improve communication with schools and increase their involvement in order to prepare students for a college education.
"Many of our programs are open to any student and their families, but we do target populations that live in low-income areas," said Rudy McCormick, director of the UA's Office of Early Academic Outreach.
"It's important to provide them with information before they register for high school classes so that the students and their family members are armed with information and are on the right track to plan for college," he added.
The Office of Early Academic Outreach focuses on three key elements in the road to UA admissions and maximizing financial aid offerings: 1) Taking the required "sweet sixteen" courses needed in high school. 2) Graduating in the top 25 percent of the high school and 3) Being an Arizona resident.
The UA Office of Admissions offers peer mentors in high schools as well as coordinating efforts between UA admissions counselors and high school counselors.
Catalina Carlos, an adviser from the UA's Office of Equity, Acess and Inclusion, said many people think college is out of reach but are surprised to learn how accessible the UA can be.
"We have seen tremendous success with our Student Recruiter Program," said Carlos. The program is staffed with 20 UA freshmen and sophomores who visit area high schools each week and meet with students who are interested in attending the UA to provide them support and information on programs and services to help them successfully apply.
The UA has several programs to help enrolled students acclimate.
The UA's Next Steps Center is aptly named in that it eases the transition from admissions to enrollment, walking students through their initial steps in becoming a Wildcat.
The Student Affairs program offers a virtual online portal where new, returning or transfer students are provided with their UA e-mail address, sign up for new student orientation, take an online academic tour, apply for campus housing and more. The program also hosts a reception at Old Main, which serves as a central location for newly admitted students.
The UA's New Start Summer Program, also a part of Student Affairs, offers a six-week summer bridge program designed to help first-year freshman succeed in the transition from high school to University life.
But the key tool in the UA's arsenal in helping students attain a college education, Carlos said, is the Arizona Assurance Program.
Arizona Assurance is a initiative begun by UA President Robert N. Shelton that provides financial aid for students whose families earn less than $42,400. By combining grant and gift funds provided by UA and outside donors with on-campus jobs and family contributions, Arizona Assurance covers the essential costs of tuition, books and room and board.
Arizona Assurance also uses a peer and professional mentorship program. The peer mentorship program relies on Arizona Assurance scholars who are in the second, third or fourth year in the program to mentor new students. The professional mentorship involves UA faculty or staff mentoring Arizona Assurance students in their professional development. The program admitted 770 new students last fall.
The Think Tank is open to all UA students and provides writing, math and science tutoring, entry level course tutoring as well as weekly course review services, peer mentors and more, all in the effort to help students graduate. The Think Tank is part of the UA's Student Academic Learning Center, or SALT Center.
Many parents attending the College Knowledge for Parents event said they were surprised at the variety of programs offered to help their children.
Manuel Cota from Rio Rico, Ariz., said he first was concerned about the cost of higher education. Cota has three children, one enrolled at Pima Community College and a son and daughter in middle school.
"I was not enthusiastic, but now this workshop has opened up the possibilities," Cota said.
Lucette Mimiaga and her daughter Alexis, an eighth grader from Nogales, Ariz., said they felt more confident in being able to make a four-year plan on the road to admissions at the UA.
"I now know what I have to do to take the classes I need and a goal for grades," Alexis said.