Kethia Kong ’16 and Morgan Larson ’14 ’15 share similar stories.
Both were high-performing students in high school who earned a place at the University of Arizona but were unable to afford the cost of a college education.
Both saw their lives change after learning about the Arizona Assurance Program.
“If not for Arizona Assurance, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Larson says. “I wouldn’t have a degree, and I would probably be stuck at a job, rather than pursuing a career.”
Arizona Assurance is a UA initiative that gives financial assistance to low-income Arizona students. To be admitted into the program, students must demonstrate academic excellence and the ability to succeed at the UA. The program, which also provides student support services such as peer mentoring and partnerships with faculty who help guide students through their transition into college and beyond, has supported more than 5,300 scholars in its nine years.
A Clear Path
Kong was born in Cambodia. He was 8 years old when he and his family moved to the United States in 2002. His parents encouraged him to work hard in school so he could go to college. He graduated fourth in his class and received his college acceptance letter from the UA.
But even with the financial aid he received, he could not pay for all his expenses.
“For a week I was really excited, but when I received my financial aid package and found out I couldn’t afford it, I was confused and upset,” he says.
Kong apologized to his mother because he felt like he had disappointed her. He refused to take out a loan that would further burden his family. Kong’s sister, who was attending the UA as an Arizona Assurance scholar herself, connected him with the program.
Kong was accepted. Not only was he able to attend the UA, but he also had access to a peer network that helped him transition into college.
“I had a peer mentor who really walked me through my first year,” he says. “It was nice to connect with other people who’ve had the same experiences I have.”
Kong became a peer mentor in his sophomore year and has maintained a connection with other Arizona Assurance scholars. Today, he is a program coordinator for the UA’s Student Affairs and Enrollment Office and is working toward earning a graduate degree.
A Valuable Network
Larson says Arizona Assurance was the chance she needed to attend the UA, find out what she was good at in life, and earn a degree that opened doors for her career.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2014 and a master’s degree in accounting in 2015. When she graduated, a job at accounting firm Ernst & Young was waiting for her. The firm supports the Eller College of Management’s accounting department and offers internships and programs for students.
“Unlike other accounting firms, Ernst & Young has a huge focus on diversity and inclusion, which really drew me to them,” she says. “It’s a firm that wants to reinvest in the community and make a positive impact.”
Ernst & Young’s culture has attracted not only Larson, but other Arizona Assurance scholars as well. Larson says she was glad to see UA and Arizona Assurance alumni working there.
“I love that there’s a UA community at the company, but also a small Arizona Assurance group,” Larson says.