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ASU Local reimagines the college experience for Washington, D.C., youth

Students pursue their ASU degree with in-person experiential learning, while rooted in their community

A Student Success Coach stands behind two students who are completing and assignment in their laptops

ASU Local students engage in college success programming with support from their student success coach.

November 24, 2021

Camal Shorter is an ASU Local – Washington, D.C., first-year student pursuing a BA in philosophy. He describes himself as open, willing and engaged and hopes to one day become a lawyer or professor, in addition to a best-selling author. His top motivation for staying in school is to become the best writer he can be. In fact, he has already begun that journey. He co-authored a children's book through a reading literacy program in Washington and is working on another book — a memoir he hopes to publish soon.

Before joining ASU Local, Shorter had plans to study abroad for a year after finishing high school. Then COVID-19 happened. An administrator at his high school mentioned ASU Local, and he decided to apply. 

"I know ASU is a good school and ranks No. 1 in innovation. I had already applied and was accepted, so it made sense to stay in Washington to stay close to my family," Shorter said.

ASU Local is a new college experience from Arizona State University that brings bachelor’s degrees options to students in the communities where they are rooted. Students benefit from in-person college and career success coaching and programming, intentionally designed to help them in their academic and professional lives. They also enjoy the flexibility of completing coursework anytime, anywhere through ASU Online's learning platforms, choosing from more than 130 online bachelor's degree programs.

“We designed a college experience that provides support in areas such as career readiness, well-being and connection so that students may navigate their college journey successfully and prepare for the jobs of the future — all while staying rooted in their own community,” said Martha Juarez, head of ASU Local. “The program incorporates the city as a campus and its rich cultural and historical heritage as an immersive learning environment. We believe this empowers students to both grow and contribute to their communities.”

The program launched its first site in downtown Los Angeles in fall 2019 to meet the growing demand for high-quality undergraduate degrees for high school and transfer students. It provides students with a small-campus feel in a close-knit community without relocating to attend college. ASU Local allows students to remain near their families and tap into existing support systems to navigate college for a more accessible and affordable university experience.  

In Washington, ASU Local is partnering with CityWorks DC – CityBridge Education. This nonprofit organization works to better understand and address the challenges students in the district face in pursuing higher education. CityWorks DC's mission is to redesign education and employment systems to ensure young people can build family-sustaining careers by acquiring what they define as the "social mobility trifecta": academic and professional credentials; paid, relevant work experience; and a supportive network of professionals.    

"D.C. youth are pulled out of their postsecondary pathway by factors largely beyond their control, primarily the cost of college, the need to care for family and the need for academic and social support to help them know they will succeed," said Jennie Niles, president and CEO of CityWorks DC. "We need more postsecondary opportunities that provide support systems that enable students to complete their degree. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with ASU Local to launch the D.C. location." 

In addition to ASU Local, students in Washington also have access to ASU Local Bridge Pathway to Admission program. As part of it, students enroll in Universal Learner Courses — a portfolio of more than 20 low-cost, online college courses that are transferable and can also be used by students to earn admission into the university while completing degree requirements, regardless of prior academic performance. 

"My GPA wasn't where it needed to be to be fully admitted (to ASU Local), so I was referred to the Bridge Pathway program," said Rose Etinoff, who joined the program in Washington this year. "The rules are clear: You make a certain GPA, and then you can be fully admitted. That helps me stay motivated." 

As a Bridge Pathway student, Etinoff is able to take advantage of the in-person support and programming available through ASU Local – Washington, D.C., to help her transition to earning a bachelor’s degree successfully through the university.

The ASU Local and ASU Local Bridge Pathway to Admission programs are two of the innovative initiatives of the university’s Learning Enterprise. The enterprise aims to reimagine the role of universities in society and help learners across their entire life span — from kindergarten to high school to mid-career to postretirement — to access and leverage education to serve as an effective ladder to social and economic opportunity. 

Etinoff is currently taking two classes — computer science and technology, as well as psychology 101. She sees herself doing social work, perhaps as a family therapist. She wanted to go out of state but decided to be near home after the pandemic started. Having access to the financial support available for ASU Local Bridge pathway students and an ASU Local Scholarship, once she’s eligible for full admission, motivated her to enroll. Another motivation was to try college courses in a safe environment because the Universal Learner Courses only transcripts courses with a C or better.

"My mom and my siblings — we are five sisters, including my twin, and a brother — motivate me to stay in school. My mom said, 'Go to college; if you don't like it, at least you did an entire year and tried it.' So far, I like it — I'm going to do better than I am doing now," Etinoff said. "I'll excel!"

Bola Olaniyan, site director of ASU Local – Washington, D.C., said, “We build trust with our students through weekly, in-person check-ins and learning experiences and programming that help them prepare for a future that is increasingly uncertain and ever-evolving. We want students to be confident in their ability to tackle any uncertainty or jobs that might come their way and know that we are here for them, no matter what.”

Shorter, who enjoys starting the week “the right way” with ASU Local’s in-person student success programming every Monday and Tuesday, says that the best advice he has received is to find a "why" that is bigger than himself and pursue that goal. Raised by his mother and grandfather after his father passed away when he was only 1, his “why” helps him stay motivated and energized about earning his degree.

"I want my mom and grandfather to be proud of me,” he said. “I want my grandfather to see me succeed and excel in life.”

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