Fixing AZ’s attainment problem will boost economy - AZEdNews
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Fixing AZ’s attainment problem will boost economy

A Graduation Ceremony On 12 June 2015. Photo Courtesy Of Bites85

A quick look at what Arizona students do after high school graduation shows why increasing post-secondary attainment is essential to boosting Arizona’s economy.

While 29 percent of Arizona’s current workforce has a four-year college degree or higher, just 17 percent of Arizona high school freshman will graduate college by 2028 if trends continue, according to the College Going & Completion Update for the Arizona Board of Regents’ 2018 College Enrollment and Completion Report.

“We’re retiring at 29 percent, and we’re producing at 17 percent. That is a long-term economic disaster,” said John Arnold, executive director of the Arizona Board of Regents.

Not only is Arizona’s four-year degree attainment rate half the national rate, the state’s per-capita gross domestic product is three-quarters of the national amount, Arnold said.

“If our workforce doesn’t have the level of attainment that the national workforce has and that the national economy demands, Arizona’s economy is going to underperform versus the national economy,” Arnold said.

Increasing postsecondary attainment to Arizona’s projected labor market needs of 68 percent would provide $7.6 billion in economic and social gains and has the potential to more than double the state’s annual economic growth rate, according to research by College Success Arizona.

To fill all the Arizona jobs being created that require post-high school attainment, “we’re going to have to import that talent from out of state, and in the meantime, Arizona kids remain in poverty,” Arnold said.  “We’ve got to fix this.”

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Efforts to increase attainment

Increasing attainment is important because, a person with a certification, two-year, or four-year college degree earns substantially more than a person with a high school diploma and has a substantially lower unemployment rate, according to  College Success Arizona’s policy brief “Advancing the Economy through Attainment: What Arizona Can Learn from States with Higher Education Attainment Goals” released in August 2015.

Fixing AZ’s attainment problem will boost economy UnemploymentAndWeeklyEarningsChart1000
Chart courtesy College Success Arizona’s policy brief “College Success Arizona (2016) Doubling Arizona’s Economic Growth: The potential fiscal and social gains from increasing postsecondary attainment” released in August 2015.

“I want to be clear. We’re interested in all post high school attainment, not just four-year degrees,” Arnold said. We want to help support certificate programs, community college, and four-year degrees. We believe most students are going to need something post high school to be successful in the modern economy.”

To reach the goal of 60 percent of Arizona’s adults aged 25 to 64 having a post-secondary credential or degree by the year 2030, Achieve60AZ, a coalition of nearly 100 organizations, set out its pillars and strategies in its recently released State of Attainment 2019 report.

The group’s work began in 2015 when Expect More Arizona, College Success Arizona and The Center for the Future of Arizona set a goal to better match the state’s post-secondary attainment rates to meet Arizona’s workforce needs.

Working together with the Governor’s Office of Education, Helios Education Foundation, Maricopa Community College District and the Arizona Board of Regents, Achieve60AZ brought together business groups, education advocates, municipalities and other organizations to meet the goal through increased public support of postsecondary options, boosting awareness and support for what’s working, reporting data and educating and empowering decision makers.

Currently, 45 percent of Arizona adults aged 25 to 64 have a post-secondary credential or degree, according to Expect More Arizona’s Arizona Education Progress Meter highlighted in the Achieve60AZ report.

Nationally, 40.5 percent of American’s 25 years and older had an associate’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. There was no category for a post-secondary credential in the American Community Survey.

Fixing AZ’s attainment problem will boost economy ArizonaEducationProgressMeterIncludingAttainment-March-2019-1024x542
Chart courtesy Expect More Arizona’s Arizona Education Progress Meter

“The amount of progress made on the postsecondary attainment goal so far has been good. But to reach our 60 percent attainment goal, as a state, we all need to see ourselves and our place in this work,” said Rachel Yanof, executive director of Achieve60AZ.

To reach the 60 percent attainment goal, Achieve60AZ is working to increase the number of career counselors in schools, researching what is working at high schools with high graduation and post-secondary enrollment rates, streamlining enrollment systems, increasing access to college level coursework including dual enrollment, expanding access to career and technical education programs and ensuring all students take college placement exams in high school.

For their part in increasing attainment, the universities and regents are actively recruiting all students, Arnold said.

“We have developed on-campus programs to help at-risk students succeed – Native American students, Hispanic students, impoverished students – and we’ve seen a significant change in our student demographics, so they’re more reflective of Arizona’s demographics,” Arnold said.

That reflects Achieve60AZ’s call to expand enrollment policies based on multiple measures, highlighted in their recent report.

On a broader level, the regents are developing communication partners throughout the state to develop a stronger dialogue with younger students and their families about the importance of post-secondary attainment, Arnold said.“In addition, we have a number of tools that we’ve put in place to help students along their pathway to college,” Arnold said. “Everything from remediation programs – we have 9th grade math remediation classes. We have a tool called me3 that ASU has put out that helps students understand what they want to become in life and how college can help them do that.”

me3 is a free interactive game developed by Arizona State University that helps elementary, middle and high school students see how their career interests connect with college majors and what they need to do during high school to make their career goals happen.

Arizona State University video: College Major and Career Quiz: me3® at Arizona State University

College Major and Career Quiz: me3® at Arizona State University from ASU Unscripted on Vimeo.

The regents are trying to make sure that students and their families are aware of these tools and know where to find them and how to access them, Arnold said.  

“Additionally, we’re looking at developing some specific tools and resources for the K-12 community,” Arnold said. “We’re looking at developing curriculum support for counselors so that when counselors speak to students about higher education and post high school attainment opportunities that they have the materials that they need.”

This K-12 and postsecondary alignment is another way to increase attainment, according to Achieve60AZ.

Later this spring, the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Department of Education will include a supplement to high school report cards that shows post high school performance.

“That will show by high school the percentage of their graduates that go on to college, the success of those graduates at college, how they perform in their freshman classes and then the percent that go on to complete a two- or four-year degree,” Arnold said.

To meet the attainment goal colleges and universities will also need to help the 1 million Arizona adults with some college but no degree complete a postsecondary program, according to the Achieve60AZ report.

A section of the IRS code that lets businesses offer annual tax-free tuition benefits of up to $5,250 per employee can also help if participation increases, according to Achieve60AZ.

Fixing AZ’s attainment problem will boost economy ASUGraduationHP
Arizona State University students at graduation. Photo courtesy Arizona State University

How state financial aid could help

Creating financial aid programs that support the real cost of attending an Arizona college or university are critical to reaching the attainment goal, according to the Achieve60AZ report.

It would also make college affordable for students from under-represented groups – a priority College Success Arizona mentions in its response to Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2019 State of the State address.

“If Arizona is to remain competitive regionally and nationally, we need to help more low-income students go to college and earn a certificate or degree,” said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona. “There is a great opportunity now to create new policies that will significantly increase Arizona’s college access and attainment rates.”

The group estimated that $1,000 in need-based grant aid could boost enrollment by 11.5 percent in its March 2017 report “Investing in College Access, Supporting Completion: How need-based grant aid can help increase higher education attainment rates in Arizona.”

While most states have a state-level financial aid program, Arizona does not, Arnold said.

That means most of the financial aid that helps students afford college comes from the federal government, some comes from the community colleges universities themselves and a little comes from scholarships from various organizations that students seek out themselves.

Increasing the percentage of Arizona students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to 75 percent and ensuring affordable tuition so DREAMERS can start and continue their postsecondary education are also key to increasing attainment, Achieve60AZ’s report says.

In Arizona, students pay a greater portion of their higher education costs, especially since ’s spending per student on higher education dropped 53.5 percent from 2008 to 2017, while tuition at Arizona’s public, four-year universities increased 90.9 percent during that same time  period, according to College Success Arizona’s research.

Also, the state’s two largest community college systems in Maricopa and Pima counties no longer receive any state funding.

“A lot of our impoverished students don’t understand that financial aid is available,” but if a state financial aid program was developed and marketed well, students would know that and what they must do to qualify for it, Arnold said.

Research indicates that Georgia’s Hope Scholarship – which began in 2015 – raised freshmen enrollment by 5.9 percent in all colleges and by 9 percent in four-year public colleges. The study also found that the Georgia’s Hope Scholarship increased minority enrollments at a greater rate and reduced the number of high achieving students leaving the state for college. 

When Tennessee made community college free for everyone, their college going rate increased sharply, Arnold said.

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Other ideas to boost attainment

Seventy five percent of people nationwide overwhelmingly support the idea of tuition-free community college which is already being done in several states and cities and 68 percent say federal funding should be increased to help students pay for four-year college, according to the 2018 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

More than 60 percent of parents say a two-year college degree prepares someone for a good-paying job in today’s economy and 80 percent say a four-year degree does, but 46 percent of parents of school-age children who say they likely will not be able to pay for their oldest child to go to college, according to the recent PDK Poll.