Arizona College-Going and Completion Rates Improve, but Still Lag Nationally

Arizona Board of Regents

Approximately 52 percent of Arizona’s 2018 high school graduates enrolled in a two or four-year degree granting institution within one year of graduation, as compared with just over 69 percent of their peers nationwide.

College going and completion for Arizona remains uneven across demographics and continues to trail the national average, according the Arizona Board of Regents Fiscal Year 2020 Postsecondary Attainment Report – an annual snapshot of college-going and completion rates among Arizona high school graduates.

Closing the gap between Arizona and the national average requires more Arizona high school graduates to attend and complete two- and four-year degree programs. It also reinforces the continued commitment of the ABOR to strategies that raise attainment and to state budget requests that support raising attainment.

The report also found that 22.4 percent of Arizona high school graduates completed a four-year degree within six years of high school graduation. While this rate shows significant improvement over the last five years, Arizona’s performance still dramatically trails national averages. Nationally, 37 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 34 have achieved a four-year degree. Further, the report indicates 3.6 percent of Arizona graduates completed a two-year degree within six years of high school graduation.

The findings in the report are significant because educational attainment is a critical predictor of individual earnings and opportunity, as well as Arizona’s economic health. In 2019, 232,476 undergraduate degree recipients earned $14.9 billion in Arizona wages and paid an estimated $1.07 billion in state taxes. Similarly, 85,869 graduate degree recipients earned $7 billion in Arizona wages and paid an estimated $497 million in state taxes.

While Arizona is home to some of the nation’s top-performing high schools in which most students after graduation pursue a college or university degree, in some communities – especially rural, tribal and sections of the urban core – few students pursue a postsecondary education. Lack of educational attainment is a primary limiting factor not only on individual prosperity, but also the economy of entire communities and Arizona as a whole.

“Arizona has made modest progress, but we continue to face challenges ensuring enough students pursue a postsecondary education after high school,” said ABOR Chair Larry E. Penley. “It’s critical to improve our state’s educational attainment across all racial and ethnic lines, because we know this is a vital indicator of economic opportunity for individuals and Arizona as a whole. Increasing the number of Arizonans who attend and complete an education after high school will continue to be among the board’s highest priorities.”

Below are key takeaways from today’s report:

  • Just over half of Arizona’s 2018 high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year degree granting institution beyond high school; approximately 29 percent enrolled in a four-year institution.
  • Among Arizona high school students who chose to pursue a four-year degree after graduation, 68 percent enrolled in an Arizona public university.
  • Arizona’s percentage of Black, Hispanic and Native American high school graduates who enrolled in a four-year degree program made a modest improvement.
  • Arizona’s rate of postsecondary degree completion reflects modest improvement across all racial and ethnic groups.
  • Arizona female high school graduates enrolled and completed college at significantly higher rates than males.

High school performance for graduating students who complete college varies widely. Students at the top 10 percent of Arizona schools had a college completion rate of nearly 50 percent, while students who attended the bottom 60 percent of high schools had completion rates of less than 10 percent.

“This report underscores one of Arizona’s most persistent and urgent educational challenges. Unless our state’s postsecondary attainment rate improves, Arizona’s rising generation will struggle to compete and our economy will underperform,” said ABOR Executive Director John Arnold. “We face both a moral and economic imperative to improve the number of Arizonans who pursue and complete a college education, and to ensure this access reaches every demographic and corner of our state.”

Creating a college-going culture remains one of Arizona’s most pressing needs. Among Arizona’s workforce, approximately one in three individuals have completed a four-year or graduate degree, compared with nearly 39 percent of workers nationally.

Over the past two years, Arizona’s public university system has engaged in multiple initiatives and partnerships to boost college-going and completion. Those efforts include:

  • Partnering with the governor to create and establish the Arizona Teachers Academy to address teacher shortages;
  • Launching the New Economy Initiative to garner legislative support for four-year degree attainment;
  • Improving existing and developing new external relationships to promote the higher education value proposition and address a key future risk in the Arizona student pipeline;
  • Pursuit of multiple public engagement initiatives, including launch of the Regents’ Cup, a scholarship program that celebrates free speech, civil discourse and democratic engagement at Arizona’s public universities;
  • Improving public awareness of the value and worth of a college degree, and more.

Arizona has set an educational attainment goal that by 2030, 60 percent of Arizona’s population will have a post-high school certificate or degree. Read more about this goal at Achieve60AZ.

About the report data

The report examines the 2009 through 2018 high school graduating classes for college enrollment purposes and the 2005 through 2013 high school graduating classes for college completion purposes. The universe of students considered in this report is limited to those who attended public high schools and postsecondary institutions that accept federal financial aid. The report is compiled by matching student information from the Arizona Department of Education with enrollment and college completion data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

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