New report: Less than half of Arizonans are going to college after high school

Education Forward Arizona said that if 20% more students enrolled in some type of post-high school education, the state could eventually gain $5 billion.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 9:30 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A newly released report by Education Forward Arizona shows 47% of Arizona high school seniors pursue post-secondary education within a year after graduating high school. These numbers not only account for college enrollment but also include trade school, a two-year program or any kind of post-high school certification.

The organization considers these rates alarming and said the state is at a real risk of not having the attainment needed to support Arizona’s growing economy. Through the data, EFA has found that if the state can enroll 20% more students in some kind of post-secondary education, Arizona would have $5 billion to gain. This not only shows through higher lifetime earnings and beneficial tax spending into the state, but EFA President and CEO Rich Nickel said this can really save on Arizona’s social spending.

“People don’t realize how much savings there actually are to a community, a city or a state when you have a highly educated population,” he said. “You don’t use the prison systems, you don’t use subsidized childcare and health care, we don’t have to subsidize housing as much.”

Nickel adds that rates have been dropping every year since 2016 and never truly recovered since the pandemic. On top of the organization’s worries, Nickel said more businesses have been approaching EFA, saying these numbers are alarming. After reviewing what the root of the problem could be, Nickel and his team have found more people believe the cost of education isn’t worth it, and social media may have a role in this.

“We kind of live in an influencer culture — if you will — on social media,” he said. “You know there’s a lot of people out there that students are listening to them saying, ‘Hey, I’m making really fast money, and I don’t have to go to college to get it.’ You kind of throw all of that in a pot and stir it around, and what you come up with is a really challenging time to talk to the public about the value of post-secondary education.”

Nickel said if rates keep dropping, this can also put students’ future jobs at risk — if they don’t have the education to attain a job that won’t be replaced by artificial intelligence or dissolve if a recession were to hit again. To try to boost those numbers, EFA said it will create more opportunities for students and businesses to come together, plus increase marketing and outreach for resources to mitigate the cost of higher education.

Nickel also said it will start a public poll to track how Arizonans feel about higher education and learn what barriers may be in the way to help find a long-term solution.

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