John Castillo got tired of writing on job applications that he was still pursuing a community college degree after more than a decade. “I just wanted to say that I had the degree,” the 38-year-old Tucsonan said. Pima Community College and Adelante have helped him reach that goal.

On Friday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. at PCC’s West Campus, John will be among about 50 students taking part in a Completion Celebration for Adelante, which is part of a nationwide study examining whether performance-based scholarships provided in addition to federal needs-based funding can improve the academic achievement of college students. This is the third and final PCC cohort to complete Adelante.

Nationwide, students come from varied backgrounds at educational institutions across the U.S. They range from single parents in Ohio to adult learners in New York. At Pima, the focus is on Latino males, who enroll and graduate from higher-education institutions less often than other groups, research has shown.

At Friday’s ceremony, John will talk about his postsecondary education journey, which started 20 years ago after he graduated from Cholla High School in 1992. John attended PCC for two semesters but put his education on hold because “life happened,” he said. John spent much of the next 20 years earning a living: as a landscaper, convenience-store clerk, and owner of a party-supply-rental business.

John returned to PCC in 2011 and in May earned an Associate of General Studies degree, receiving a diploma in front of his four children and family. “I wanted to show my kids that if you put your mind to it, you can do it,” he said. Next month, he will graduate with an Associate of Liberal Arts degree and an Arizona General Education Curriculum certificate, which will smooth his transition to The University of Arizona. John intends to enroll at The UA in the spring for a bachelor’s degree in social work or education.

John became part of Adelante at the urging of the project’s advisors, and he says they helped push him to aim higher educationally.  “They showed me that UA really is within reach,” he said.

John also praises the pláticas, student-driven discussion groups in which Adelante participants talk about obstacles they face and how they overcome them. “They were good brainstorming sessions. It was good to hear that everyone had ideas to help each other out, like when you are juggling school and work, or if you are dealing with a tough boss.”

Other students also will relate how Adelante helped make the goal of postsecondary education a reality. They include:

  • Vincent Marquez, a 19-year-old graduate of Willcox High School who will receive an Associate of Liberal Arts degree in December. Vincent, who intends to pursue a Medical Assistant certificate at PCC before attending The UA, appreciated the pláticas. “To listen to all of these older students who went back to school talk about their experiences . . . . It’s a form of guidance.”
  • Oliver Martinez, a 37-year-old Chicagoan who is working toward an Administration of Justice degree at PCC. Oliver appreciated Adelante’s mandatory tutoring and success workshops. “I learned that it’s OK to ask for help, and you see that the help benefits you.”
  • Salvador Sanchez, a 36-year-old native of Mexico on track to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in Systems Administration/Networking with a concentration in cybersecurity in Fall 2013. Salvador has plenty of workforce experience, but knows that businesses want employees with college credentials.  “I want to have something to rely on for the future,” he says.  Adelante has been a great program, he says. “The camaraderie of other men sharing their stories. . . . It has united us.”

Frank Velásquez Jr., the program coordinator of Adelante, says, “Adelante is helping students create connections. Through the relationships they’ve built with their Adelante advisors, the Adelante staff, and each other, they are creating a connection to the College that we hope will go beyond their time with Adelante.” 

Like numerous existing academic-aid programs, Adelante rewards performance and is back-loaded. Students must complete classes, achieve C’s or better, and take part in orientation, academic advising, student success workshops, tutoring and pláticas.

Part-time students can earn up to $700 a semester for up to three semesters; full-time students can earn $1,500 a semester for up to three semesters. More than 600 PCC students have taken part in the study, ranging in age from 18 to the mid-50s.

Adelante is funded by private foundations; no taxpayer dollars from residents of Pima County or Arizona have been allotted. The study is being conducted by MDRC, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization whose findings are used by policymakers across the political spectrum.

  • What: Adelante completion celebration
  • When: Friday, Nov. 30, 6 p.m.
  • Where: PCC West Campus, Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road

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