Local learning in LA: A redesigned college experience

People connections, personal education coaches, deep career preparation all help ASU Local students succeed

Portrait of ASU student in downtown Los Angeles

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2022 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Victor Sanchez sought personalized support and individualized attention in his college journey. He had come to expect that after the college readiness program he participated in during high school called GEAR UP, a federal program for middle and high schoolers. That close connection and sense of community is what drew Sanchez to ASU Local-Los Angeles. From the very first interaction, the admissions staff members were approachable and responsive, Sanchez says.

“They reached out to me. They broke down the financial plan. They followed me every step of the way,” Sanchez says. “I feel like I belong here.”

student's portrait

Victor Sanchez, a second-year student, aspires to build affordable housing in LA’s Koreatown. ASU Local is helping him meet urban planners who can help him along his path to his purpose.

Since then, Sanchez, a second-year student majoring in urban planning, says the close bonds and intentional programming have helped him move closer to his college and after-college goals in numerous ways.

With an intentional focus on personalized support, ASU Local debuted in Los Angeles in fall 2019 to provide the academic and student service resources of a renowned research university, while allowing students to stay rooted in their local communities. 

The program’s innovative hybrid setup combines online coursework completion with in-person programming at the college’s downtown Los Angeles location, with support through career-oriented, project-based learning, internships and programming focused on student well-being — along with success coaches. The coaches are a key part of what makes ASU Local stand out for students.

Expanding access to higher education

ASU Local, which now has locations in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Yuma, Arizona, was launched by Executive Vice President of Learning Enterprise Maria Anguiano, who saw a need for more flexible options for learners. 

The program allows students the flexibility to access all coursework online 24/7 through ASU’s advanced digital learning platform. Students have more than 130 bachelor’s degree programs available as options.

“It was created for students from all backgrounds who are rooted in their communities and would like to grow in and have an impact on the places that are important to them from a personal and cultural perspective,” Anguiano says.

“Not only does this approach help students access their existing support systems of family and friends during their college journey,” Anguiano says, “but their presence also ensures the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that they live in.”

Students are able to continue to work in their current jobs if desired, help with their families if necessary, build upon their roots, rely upon already established social networks and envision themselves contributing locally in their professions.

Coaches on deck

Success coaches are a key part of the program. With each coach serving no more than 35 students, students participate in well-being programs, community-building programming and networking connections, while receiving support for their individual learning needs. 

For the coaches, they see their role as helping remove any obstacle to success for their students. 

“We are here to help in any way possible, not only through formal programming and ASU’s many resources, but also through our personal connections and understanding of each individual student,” says Success Coach Jessica Guzman.

Says third-year student Jose Nava, “All the coaches and professors and other support people really get to know us. They care about us. That’s a nice benefit to have the built-in mentors that come with this program. They feel like family.”

A place to learn, grow and excel

ASU Local-LA students take part in on-campus programming two days a week and can use the on-campus resources as many days as work best for them. 

One important benefit the campus provides: places for students to focus and prioritize their learning with spaces for studying and reliable high-speed Wi-Fi. 

“For many ASU Local students, the physical space as well as the amenities deliver a quiet, dedicated place for them to focus and prioritize their learning,” Guzman says. Many students find it helpful to spend time in this environment where everyone is focused on learning, on their education and on their future careers, Guzman adds.

The campus also creates the environment and programming for students to bond with their fellow students and their success coaches. 

Maria Visoso, a sophomore and behavioral science major, says that she loves these community-building activities. She takes part in collaborative projects with fellow students, along with talks, presentations, study groups and student groups. She also enjoys the regular workshops that provide tips on a variety of subjects, from how to manage time to well-being. 

student's portrait

Kara Smith, a mass communication and media studies major, enjoys ASU Local’s sense of community and the way it allows her to organize her own time.

The warm, welcoming on-campus environment is also a big draw for second-year student Kara Smith. A writer who was published in the Los Angeles Times while still in high school, she is now a mass communication and media studies major.

Smith says that one of the things she enjoys about ASU Local is the ability to take her classes and do her work on her own time. 

“I like being able to organize my own time,” she says. 

But she also enjoys going to campus because of the sense of community. 


An important aspect for future success is preparing students for their careers. ASU Local’s career readiness programming takes a holistic approach to identifying students’ skills and talents and providing them with experiential learning opportunities to get ready for their unique professional paths. 

Throughout the programming, each student is provided personalized opportunities toward their career aspirations. For example, Sanchez’s ultimate goal is to build affordable housing in Koreatown that offers some of the amenities of middle-class housing. Through his success coach, he has met with local leaders, including an LA suburb’s head of city planning, to learn about housing and gentrification challenges unique to LA to help him craft the steppingstones toward his purpose.

Because real-world work experience is a key part of securing jobs and in career success, ASU Local helps students secure work experiences, including internships, project consultancies and shadowing opportunities. These internships run the gamut across career fields, from law to entertainment to nearly anything in between. 

Sports management is what interests Nava, a business communication major, so ASU Local helped him find and obtain a five-week internship with the Impact Learning Institute, which helps people break into the sports, media and entertainment fields. 

“It will give me a good background and skills that are needed for a sports-like industry, to further my goal of becoming a general manager for a soccer team,” Nava says.

Community, college and inclusion 

Although ASU Local breaks down barriers to higher education to improve access to include everyone, each location reflects local demographics. At ASU Local-Los Angeles, about nine of every 10 students are from underrepresented communities. A little less than half are the first in their families to attend college. Nearly 66% are Pell Grant recipients. The vast majority, 56.8%, are Hispanic or Latino. The second biggest group, 17%, is Black or African American. White students make up 9.1%, and Asian students make up 4.5%.

“The gap between white Americans and Black and Latino Americans with college degrees is more than 20 percentage points. In addition, we know that a third of students who grew up with non-college-educated parents drop out of college,” Anguiano says. 

“We are closing these gaps through a community of support,” Anguiano says. “Many of these students carry the burden of being the first or only member of the family to have a shot at professional success and end up feeling isolated and hesitating to reach out for help. Through our network of success coaches, mentors, peers and well-being counselors, we normalize asking for help while keeping our expectations high for their performance in the program.”

Transforming lives  

student's portrait

Maria Visoso, a first-generation college student, appreciates the inclusive community she has found at ASU Local.

“ASU Local is designed to equip students with a robust foundation for today’s accelerated, global and transdisciplinary world,” explains Martha Juarez, head of ASU Local. “It’s all of this together that creates a purposefully designed support network focused on students’ success.” 

It has paid off for the students, including Visoso, who, as a first-generation college student, feels she has found a warm, friendly community where she’s supported and enabled.

“Maria is a stellar example of why we’re all fully dedicated to ASU Local and to our approach. With the support and resources here, Maria has become a confident young leader. The program has been nothing short of transformative for her — and for so many of our students. We want to help each student grow and realize their potential, get excited about their future, see the possibilities in the positive changes they can make to their communities and the world,” Guzman says. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we created ASU Local.” 

Written by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Top photo: Jose Nava graduated from Wallis Annenberg High School in Los Angeles. He now attends ASU Local programming with colleagues at the ASU California Center.

Photos by Amanda Lopez and Trevor Traynor

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