May 1, 2024 - News

How Arizona students are getting accepted to universities without applying

Illustration of a graduation cap but the tassel is a ladder.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Hundreds of Arizona freshmen are expected to attend one of the state's three public universities this fall without having ever submitted a college application.

The big picture: It's part of an automatic admission program that aims to increase college enrollment among Arizona high schoolers, especially those who are Latino or live in lower-income communities.

Why it matters: The percentage of Arizona high school students who pursue secondary education is 15 points below the national average, according to the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence.

How it works: The Personalized Admissions Project allows Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University to review the transcripts of high schoolers in participating districts.

  • University admissions determine which students have already met the requirements to qualify for admission and send them an acceptance letter, which includes financial aid resources, in the fall of their senior year.

Flashback: The project began as a pilot between ASU and the Phoenix Union High School District in 2021 and has since expanded to include all three in-state universities and high school districts that enroll about half of Arizona's graduating seniors, ASU program director Luke Tate told Axios Phoenix.

By the numbers: About 20% of high schoolers who received letters during the 2022-2023 school year enrolled at ASU this school year. Data was not immediately available for UofA and NAU.

  • Of the roughly 11,000 students who received letters this year, about 43% are Latino and 41% qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Zoom in: Tate said the program is designed to alleviate doubts students may have about whether they're qualified or able to afford college and to help guide them to the starting line.

What they're saying: "As a university, we have a moral responsibility to students who have the talent, who have the drive, but they may not know that they had the opportunity or understand what the opportunity would look like," Tate said.

Psychology and sociology major Alexis Alba told us receiving his letter solidified his decision to leave Lake Havasu City and attend ASU's Tempe campus.

  • Knowing he was already admitted allowed him to focus on dual enrollment classes, which meant he entered ASU with 45 credits.

Engineering major Ariana Romayor said she was shocked when she received the letter and brought it to school to show her teachers. She said it made her feel valued to know the university wanted her before she'd even applied.

  • As a first-generation student, Romayor said she appreciated that the letter had next steps on how to move forward and apply for financial aid.

The bottom line: The average Arizonan with a bachelor's degree will make $852,000 more over their lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma, according to a 2023 report from the Helios Education Foundation and Education Forward Arizona.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Alexis Alba is majoring in psychology (not philosophy).

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