SMCC Achieving a College Education (ACE) Program

Academic Level
Issue Area
Key Personnel
Program Focus
Dual Degree/Dual Credit/Early College High School


Achieving a College Education (ACE) was established in 1988 at South Mountain Community College (SMCC) to address the high school dropout rate in South Phoenix among at-risk and underrepresented populations. ACE assists students in academic transitions from high school to community college, and eventually to baccalaureate degree completion at a university. The ACE program provides support services, advising, academic support, financial aid, support transitioning into SMCC programs, and assistance in the application process. Students in the ACE program take college classes during the junior and senior years of high school and may earn up to 24 transferrable college credits upon graduation.

Program Description

ACE’s mission is to provide educational opportunities to low-income, first-generation, or foster-care students or students who are from a single parent home, facing an economic hardship, or a teen parent. The ACE program has three major goals:
1) graduate from high school,
2) go on to college,
3) earn a degree or certificate.


A study found that nine essential elements make the ACE program a success:

1) the creation of student cohort groups
2) a focus on at-risk students
3) high academic standards, 4) a safe environment
5) student engagement
6) family activities and involvement
7) collaborative partnerships
8) alumni participation,
9) scholarships and financial aid.

The program has served 2,605 students since 1998 through 2014. 56% of SMCC ACE students are Hispanic. For the 2014 SMCC ACE cohort, the average number of college credits earned was 20.6. In the 2015 cohort, 91% of students remained in ACE after the first year in the program. 98% of SMCC ACE students graduated from high school, and 78% of SMCC ACE students have gone on to college after ACE. 82% of community college semester GPAs and 83% of university semester GPAs are 2.0 or higher for SMCC ACE students. 700 SMCC ACE students have earned one or more certificates or degrees to date.