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Strengthen Arizona’s economy by raising college attainment rates

Rich Nickel

Rich Nickel

Arizona has a remarkable opportunity to make significant economic gains by increasing its college attainment rate, and the need to do so is pressing.

Projections from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce indicate that, by 2020, 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require a postsecondary credential, such as a certificate or college degree. However, only 37 percent of adults in Arizona hold a postsecondary credential that makes them ready for our state’s workforce needs.

This gap between Arizona’s projected workforce needs and the college attainment rate has significant consequences for our residents and our economic prospects. Individuals holding a bachelor’s degree earn approximately twice as much as those who hold only a high school diploma. By adding just 1,000 college graduates to the workforce, we estimate that Arizona stands to increase its tax revenue by more than $2.2 million each year.

As part of our mission to build public support for increasing college completion and the number of degree earners in our state, College Success Arizona recently released a non-partisan, evidence-based policy brief that demonstrates the benefits of increasing college attainment. Advancing the Economy Through Attainment: What Arizona Can Learn From States With Higher Education Attainment Goals provides an in-depth account of how Arizona compares to five peer and competitor states—Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas—that, unlike Arizona, have taken a key step towards strengthening their economies by establishing strong statewide attainment goals.

In a recent blog post, Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, and Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, make a strong argument for setting a statewide attainment goal in Arizona. Ms. Klein and Mr. Hamer rely on data provided in Advancing the Economy Through Attainment to make the case that setting a strong attainment goal will enable our state to improve its economic performance and contribute to expanding the college-going culture in Arizona.

Ms. Klein and Mr. Hamer also rightly note that our competitor states—Colorado and Texas in particular—have already taken the important step of setting ambitious attainment goals in pursuit of higher attainment rates and highly educated workforces. In fact, leaders in Texas, which already had a strong attainment goal and a powerful economy, have recently adopted a new, accelerated goal to maintain their competitive advantage.  It is clear that if we delay, or fail to establish, a statewide attainment goal, Arizona risks falling far behind our competitor states.

It is also clear that policymakers in Arizona are recognizing the importance of attainment goal setting, and that momentum is building across the state. In a conversation I had recently with Rep. Reginald Bolding Jr., he noted the importance of setting an attainment goal to serve as the impetus for implementing policies that support college access and success. “The experiences I had as a former teacher in Arizona provided me with insight into the hurdles young students must jump through to not only make it into, but graduate from, college,” Rep. Bolding, Jr. said. “As Arizonans we need to help with setting and meeting a college attainment goal because it has the potential to clear the way for our students’ success—helping thousands more earn a degree.”

Notably, attainment is an issue that transcends partisan lines. The 16 states Lumina Foundation identifies as having set strong attainment goals represent a range of political dynamics, suggesting that states of all political makeups see the potential social and economic value of setting an attainment goal. Among the five states highlighted in our research brief, for example, Kentucky has a mixed political disposition, Colorado currently leans left, and Texas remains solidly conservative.

By setting an attainment goal, Arizona leaders would signal the importance of higher education to our state’s future, and set the stage for meaningful conversations about policies and programs that will set us on a course for success. Increasing higher education access, success and attainment for all students is an opportunity we cannot miss.

— Rich Nickel is president and CEO of College Success Arizona.

One comment

  1. Restructure the Arizona University System to provide greater accessibility, affordability, and accountability to a public university education for many more Arizonans:

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