Arizonans recognize the importance of a high-quality education for all. As reported in a recent survey conducted by Expect More Arizona, 94 percent of Arizona voters believe that all students regardless of their socio-economic status or family background are entitled to a great education. Eighty-five percent of voters surveyed indicated that making sure a great education is accessible for all students by closing achievement gaps is an important area the state should focus on. In fact, those surveyed rank its importance above hot-button issues such as immigration and border security.
Nearly 31 percent of Arizona citizens are Latino. With this in mind, the fact that Latinos in Arizona are falling behind when it comes to education achievement and outcomes should spur us into action. As our state continues to undergo a significant demographic shift, Latinos will soon make up the majority of Arizonans. Latino youth already make up the lion’s share of students in Arizona high schools. Troublingly, though, Latino high school students are dropping out at rates much higher than their peers. Also worrisome is the fact that only 40 percent of Latino Arizonans have attended college, and only 10 percent hold a bachelor’s degree.
As we know, holding a postsecondary degree or certificate is key to an individual’s chances for success in the 21st century economy. This is particularly true for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree, in that they can expect three times more income over a lifetime than those who graduate from high school but do not attend college. On average, Latinos who hold a bachelor’s degree see benefits that are even greater. They can expect to earn 3.5 times more over a lifetime than individuals whose highest credential is a high school diploma. Simply put, postsecondary education matters greatly to future prospects, especially for Latinos.
It’s worth noting that increasing the number of Latinos earning a post-secondary degree or certificate would not only improve the lives of our state’s Latino population, all Arizonans would feel the impact, especially in terms of its effect on our economy. As a new report from College Success Arizona shows, by equalizing college-going rates by race that would primarily be achieved by increasing the number of Latinos enrolled in Arizona colleges and universities, our state would gain $2.3 billion over the lifetime of each graduating class. These gains would effectively double Arizona’s annual economic growth rate. Essentially, increasing the number of Arizonans who graduate from high school and obtain a degree will be crucial to Arizona’s future economic growth.
Fortunately, across Arizona there is growing momentum behind efforts to help more students and especially Latino students in our state graduate from high school, attend college and earn a degree. Policymakers and education leaders are increasingly focused on ensuring that Arizona’s K-12 and higher education systems are able to meet the needs of all Arizona’s kids, and voters have made it resoundingly clear that education is a major priority.
In recognition of the importance Arizona voters place on education, the Center for the Future of Arizona and Expect More Arizona created the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which will track our state’s advancement toward crucial education improvement milestones. The creation of the progress meter reflects a commitment by more than 30 organizations to elevate the conversation about the state of education in Arizona and to support improvement efforts.
The progress meter also aligns with increased energy in Arizona around establishing a statewide postsecondary attainment goal. In fact, the Arizona Board of Regents recently convened a statewide group of influencers to explore setting such a goal, the importance of which is difficult to overstate. A statewide attainment goal will provide Arizona with a strong tool for organizing efforts across the state to increase postsecondary access and success. It will also help to address the persistent achievement gap between Latinos and their white counterparts, a gap that threatens our state’s future social and economic stability by encouraging policies and programs that lead to increased educational equity.
Arizona is poised to reap the benefits of the hard work that leaders and organizations across the state are putting in to ensure more and more students are able to attend college and earn a post-secondary credential. If we take the important next step of establishing an attainment goal, we stand to benefit from increased prosperity and a brighter future for all Arizonans. We cannot pass up this opportunity.
Rich Nickel is CEO of College Success Arizona.