Arizona has the second largest percentage of high school dropouts in the nation. Even among those who do graduate high school, poor, first-generation college students have a lower chance of getting a bachelor’s degree. Dr. Cathy Small, an anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU) responded to a 1996 report on the state of education in Arizona that outlined these problems. Local data showed that intervention programs designed to help first generation college students are often started too late in the school career, lack enough parental involvement and lack enough continuity to make a difference in student lives.
In partnership with Flagstaff Unified School District No. 1 of Coconino County and Big Brothers of Flagstaff/Big Sisters of Northern Arizona, NAU formed the Pipeline Program based on the principles of early intervention, parental involvement and long term mentoring. The program pairs seventh grade students with NAU faculty and administration, who mentor the students in a one-on-one relationship over a period of five years. The program's goal is to assist these first generation college students in achieving academic and personal success during middle and high school, developing skills needed for them to successfully enter and complete a college education at NAU.
The 1998-99 school year is the first year of the NAU Pipeline Program. The Pipeline currently mentors 10 eighth grade students and will expand next year to include a second cohort of 10 students. Each mentee is assigned a volunteer mentor, who is a university faculty member or administrator and who will work with the same mentee over a five-year period until the student formally enters NAU. Big Brothers/Big Sisters selects the students and screens all mentors, providing an intensive training program for the mentors selected. The mentors and mentees meet at least once a week for 10 weeks, in both the fall and spring semesters. Each student who completes the program will be awarded a full four-year scholarship to NAU, from a scholarship fund created by NAU President, Dr. Clara Lovett. At the present time, the scholarship fund will cover half of the scholarships for 20 mentees and fund-raising efforts have begun to raise funds for the other ten scholarships.
Students chosen for the program must be first generation college students. Because there is a commitment to long-standing local families, all mentees must have been in the Flagstaff School District since kindergarten. Parents must have a commitment to their child's participation and give their written consent to follow the rules of the program. Mentees have been identified by counselors and teachers as being "academically promising" and having potential "leadership ability." Most are in the top half of their class. Although most students selected have household incomes below the poverty level, the program considers children from households with annual incomes as high as $45,000. To stay in the program, students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average by their sophomore year in high school and remain in good disciplinary standing.
In addition to their grant from NAU, Pipeline receives money and support services from Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Flagstaff Public Schools and community organizations like the Mexican-American Counsel. Pipeline also does fundraising and is applying for grants from companies such as Coca-Cola Foundation, but has not yet been funded.