Next fall, Phoenix Union High School District will open the Phoenix Coding Academy, the first of its kind in Arizona. In the largest high school-only district in the state, in which nearly 90 percent of students are minorities from low-income backgrounds, this academy is a beacon of opportunity for the entire city of Phoenix.
Phoenix Union’s Coding Academy will offer core courses like English, math and science that will be complemented by software development, Web development, networking, information security, and entrepreneurship. The goal of the academy is to provide an inquiry and project-based setting to help kids become career-ready by the time they finish high school.
The Phoenix Coding Academy integrates innovative Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to create a true college and career-ready student. Dozens of school districts across Arizona have done the same, many of whose CTE programs garner national attention.
If we are looking for a foolproof strategy to improve Arizona’s high school graduation rate and even college completion rate, we need not look very far.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, the high school graduation rate in 2014 for students who completed at least two or more classes in a row of a state approved Career and Technical Education program was a staggering 98 percent, compared to the state’s overall graduation rate of 76 percent. The reason for this is pretty simple: relevant, real-world learning opportunities keep kids engaged in school because they see a clear correlation between what they are learning and what they hope to do as a career.
CTE programs enjoy broad support from educators, parents, and business leaders. In fact, a recent poll by Expect More Arizona shows 87 percent of voters believe programs that help students receive real-world training and prepares them for jobs should receive additional funding.
Yet, these highly regarded programs are at risk.
Last year, the state budget cut CTE programs at students’ home campuses and specialized career campuses known as JTEDS, or joint technical education districts. These cuts amount to about $30 million and stand to impact 90,000 students enrolled in CTE classes. If the funding changes are not reversed, there is a real possibility that many CTE programs will be eliminated in Arizona high school districts within a few short years.
The potential loss to students and to Arizona is huge.
By 2020, we know that almost 70 percent of Arizona’s jobs will require some form of education or training beyond high school, such as a certificate, credential or degree. Not only does CTE improve high school graduation rates, it leads to increased levels of post-secondary completion. National data from the Association for Career and Technical Education indicate that more than 75 percent of high school students who took three or more CTE courses pursue post-secondary education shortly after graduating from high school, and four-out-of-five CTE graduates who pursue post-secondary education after high school had earned a credential or were still enrolled two years later.
Increasing Arizona’s post-secondary attainment rate should be a priority for everyone. Recent research by College Success Arizona indicates that if Arizona simply met the national goal for postsecondary attainment of 60 percent, it would pump an additional $3.5 billion in personal income and tax revenue into the state economy each year.
We applaud Governor Doug Ducey’s vision for making Arizona one of the best places in the country to work and for making education a priority. With Arizona on a very promising path forward, we have several opportunities to make strategic investments in our future.
If we want to grow Arizona’s economy, fill existing jobs and attract new businesses to the state, we must invest in pathways that help prepare students for career and life, such as Phoenix Union’s Coding Academy, JTEDs throughout the state, our state’s community colleges and public universities.
— Glenn Hamer has been president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2006. Chad Gestson is interim superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District and former principal of Camelback High School. Pearl Chang Esau is president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, a nonpartisan education advocacy organization, championing a world-class education for all students, early years through career.