Rich Nickel: AZ Leaders Should Set College Goals to Ensure Healthy Economy

Rich Nickel: AZ Leaders Should Set College Goals to Ensure Healthy Economy
Rich Nickel: AZ Leaders Should Set College Goals to Ensure Healthy Economy

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education that suggests Arizona has one of the lowest college graduation rates in the country distorts the data, said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona.

While Nickel says the findings aren’t wholly accurate, he believes Arizona must do more to ensure students enter and complete college, and is calling on Arizona leaders to set “clear, overarching” college attainment goals similar to those Texas established in late July.


Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona

According to the report, only 29 percent of Arizona’s college students earn a four-year degree within six years of high school graduation.

“The report distorts Arizona graduation rate data (and related student loan default data) because it includes out-of-state students enrolled in online and distance education courses, Nickel said. “This is especially problematic in Arizona’s case due to its large for-profit and online universities.”

University of Phoenix is based in Phoenix and has 227,400 students nationwide.

However, the report does draw needed attention to college graduation rates in Arizona, the important work organizations across the state are doing and the strategic partnerships and collaborative relationships they are forming, Nickel said.

College Success Arizona works to increase Arizona’s college graduation rate through partnerships with college access and scholarship programs, providing scholarships and mentoring and supporting more than 200 college access and success organizations throughout the state.

Q: What are organizations doing to help students get into college?

A: Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN), a program of College Success Arizona, supports a community of organizations focused on college access and success, to facilitate collaboration and offer important assistance for students.

College Depot in Phoenix is a full-service college access center that provides free personal advising and workshops on college admissions, financial aid and scholarships.

The Northern Arizona College Resource Center provides students and families with technical assistance, advice, referrals and information regarding the application process and financing postsecondary education.

Q: How are community colleges and universities helping more students graduate?

A: Arizona’s institutions of higher education have also worked diligently to improve access and success.

The major universities, Grand Canyon University and the Maricopa Community Colleges have established coaching programs, early warning systems and other initiatives that support both academic and non-academic student needs.

In many cases, groups like College Success Arizona and others work in partnership with the colleges and universities to help students succeed.

These combined efforts are showing signs of success.

The three universities governed by the Arizona Board of Regents have steadily increased their graduation rates in recent years, even as they have made efforts to be more inclusive. These rates now either reach or surpass the national average.

Q: What should state leaders do to raise Arizona’s college graduation rate?

A: Arizona must do more,  if we truly wish to increase college attainment for all Arizonans.

Specifically, there is great opportunity for Arizona leaders to set a statewide higher education attainment goal similar to the goal Texas established in late July.

Today, our universities and colleges have completion goals that help guide each system, but no clear overarching goal of how many adults in Arizona must hold degrees for our state to enjoy a bright economic future.

Texas, a state that already enjoys a robust economy, and well-funded universities, clearly envisioned that an attainment goal would serve as a guiding light for organizations and education institutions across the state as they develop and implement policies and programs to increase college access and success.

For Arizona, such a goal would represent a statewide commitment to improving both the state’s economic future and the futures of all our citizens.

By setting an ambitious statewide college attainment goal, building strong partnerships and learning from our successes, Arizona can increase college attainment for all students.