Higher education is one of the most important investments for an individual’s future and our future as a state, an investment that will transform individual lives and elevate our state’s standard of living and quality of life.
Study after study confirms the exponential return on this investment through economic measures such as higher wages and a stronger economy and other life benefits, including longer life expectancy, greater life satisfaction and better health.
A 2017 report finds that graduates of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona have median annual earnings of $50,500, nearly double those of individuals with a high school diploma alone – $27,700.
Arizona public universities’ graduates are also more likely to be employed and have stronger earning power five years after graduation – even when factoring in the impact of student-loan debt. University graduates earn an estimated $1 million more than a high school graduate over the course of a career.
Arizona needs more graduates
Arizona high school students go to college at a rate far less than the national average. America’s economy is transforming and without a much higher rate of educational attainment, we know our state’s economy will underperform. I support and will work toward our state’s goal of increasing the number of high school graduates seeking post high school education, whether at one of our fantastic universities, through community college or other career paths. To be successful, all students need to plan for college and career. Arizona’s economy depends on it.
Arizona is home to three exceptional and cost-effective universities
Understandably, rising costs of higher education are a concern throughout our nation. The Arizona Board of Regents and our public universities are committed to maintaining the affordability of our institutions. Our efforts have led to real savings for students and increased tuition predictability. Only three states nationally have lower overall rates of student-loan debt than Arizona. A recent analysis looked at 2012 graduates of Arizona public universities who continue to live and work fulltime in Arizona. The study found that nearly 40 percent of these graduates earned their degrees without accruing any student-loan debt. Among those who graduated with debt, the median amount was just shy of $20,000, which works out to an estimated monthly payment of $170-$175 a month.
At a time when colleges in other states are experiencing shrinking enrollment, Arizona universities are healthy and growing. Graduation rates are up, and more students are completing their studies on time. Student success and preparedness are on the rise.
Benefits far beyond financial
University degree holders are less likely to get in trouble with the law and have lower usage rates of social services and government assistance programs.
For the individual student, a university education is an introduction to a world of new cultures and experiences – broadening horizons, learning critical thinking skills and fostering individuals’ growth and maturation in ways that cannot be calculated or measured.
Good news for Arizona graduates
Our rapidly evolving economy challenges every university to ensure its students receive the skills and training they’ll need in the marketplace. As the new chair of the Arizona Board of Regents, I’m keenly focused on not just the cost of a university degree, but also its value. We’re working with universities to provide greater tuition predictability to Arizona students and families, new degree options and alternative coursework settings – including online. Our entrepreneurial institutions continue to search for and implement opportunities to roll out additional lower-priced degree options.
In short, an Arizona public university education remains one of the best investments that you can make as an individual and we can make as a state. On behalf of the board and the tens of thousands of students we represent, we’ll continue our efforts to ensure public higher education in our state remains within reach of Arizona’s students and families. While the last decade has taught us that the economy will ebb and flow, a quality higher education stands the test of time. More than almost anything else, a college degree is an appreciating asset.
— Ron Shoopman is chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. He was appointed to the board in 2014 and is a graduate of Arizona State University. He lives in Tucson.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.