The recently established Aspire Arizona Foundation has launched its first effort in support of a university campus in Payson — a partnership with Payson High School and Gila Community College to offer dual-credit college courses.

The long-discussed but unformed Aspire Foundation was established to collect donations to reduce the cost of attending the proposed, four-year college campus in Rim Country.

“Aspire Arizona’s first project will be to help Payson High School students get ready for the university when it opens,” said president Tom Slonaker.

The program would help cover the cost of GCC tuition for high school students starting in the 2016-17 school year, with donations and $20,000 in promised matching funds.

The Foundation wants to cover the cost of community college classes in math, science and English for Payson High School juniors and seniors. The classes would both fulfill high school graduation requirements and give students college credits that would then transfer to the university.

“AAF plans to pay $200 of GCC tuition per semester for every Payson student who participates. Our hope is that by offering free access to college-level courses, PHS students will be inspired to pursue a higher education,” said Slonaker.

In theory, this could allow highly motivated high school students to start college with one semester or more already finished.

It would also boost enrollment at Gila Community College and substantially reduce costs for required introductory courses for Rim Country students.

The Aspire Foundation already has matching pledges totaling $20,000 to “jump-start” the project.

“Your tax deductible donations can help give Payson students a big head start toward a college degree,” said Slonaker.

Donors can send a contribution to Aspire Arizona Foundation, 308 E. Aero Drive, Payson, AZ 85541.

The release announcing the fundraising effort includes a list of board members of the foundation, long talked about as a key component of the university campus effort but not previously publicly revealed. The board members include Charles Beier, DDS, Paul Brocker, Richard Johnson, Sanja S. Long, Margaret Michels, Paige Porter, Tom Slonaker, Craig Swartwood and Janet Vidnovic.

The mission of the nonprofit, tax-deductible foundation includes:

• Provide student aid

• Support unique academic programs

• Fund faculty and cutting-edge technology

• Improve educational aspirations of local students.

The foundation will likely play a key role in the effort to attract up to 6,000 students to a four-year university in Payson.

Project backers from the start have hoped to lure students to the campus by offering tuition that’s some 50 percent less than at the other public universities in the state. ASU currently charges about $10,000 a year for tuition for in-state students — which is nearly twice as much as when the Payson campus effort started six years ago.

Initially, backers talked about simply charging lower tuition rates. But in the last several years, they have instead suggested that the Aspire Foundation could instead provide scholarships to lower the cost.

Slonaker said, “Our hope is that by offering free access to college-level courses, PHS students will be inspired to pursue a higher education. If AAF is successful in fundraising, we also intend to offer need-based scholarships for students taking multiple dual credit courses.”

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