Arizona already labors at a big disadvantage when it comes the education level of its work force, although studies show that a state’s economy depends on the size of its college-educated work force. That applies to both the state’s ability to attract new industry and on the tax base.
For instance, people without a high school diploma earn $20,000 annually and people with only a high school diploma earn about $27,000 annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, people with a community college degree earn an average of $36,000 annually, people with a four-year degree earn an average of $46,000 annually and people with a master’s degree earn $55,000 annually. Professional degrees bring in an average of $86,000 and doctoral degrees about $78,000.
Those figures suggest that a college graduate will earn an extra $1 million in her lifetime compared to someone with only a high school education. That difference has actually widened as a result of the recession and the long-term unemployment rate has risen sharply for people without a college degree.
Unfortunately, Arizona’s education level does poorly when compared to other states.
About 1 million Arizonans have at least a bachelor’s degree — about 25 percent of the adult population. That puts Arizona in the bottom half nationally. Most of the other states with even lower college attendance rates are either in the south or small rural western states. That largely accounts for Arizona’s per-capita income of $25,000, far behind the $35,000 average of the states with a well-educated work force. Arizona’s 25 percent college graduation rate compares to 42 percent in the top-performing states, according to Census Bureau figures.
At every key point along the way, Arizona has faltered. For instance, nationally 38 percent of the students who get a high school degree continue and earn a bachelor’s degree. In Arizona, that figure stands at just 30 percent.
Worse yet, Arizona has a low high school graduation rate. In Arizona, just 64 percent of students graduate from high school, compared to 69 percent nationally and 91 percent in the top-performing states.
Compounding the problem, the state’s universities suffer from a high dropout rate. In Arizona, 15 percent of ninth-grade students end up with a college degree within six years of graduating high school, compared to 18 percent nationally and 27 percent in the highest-performing states.
Arizona also fares especially poorly when it comes to the percentage of low-income students who earn a college degree. For instance, in 2006, just 16 percent of children from low-income families in Arizona went to college, compared to 23 percent nationally. That figure has grown steadily worse in Arizona since 1995, when 24 percent of low-income children attended college. In that time, ASU’s tuition has risen nearly 800 percent.
Those figures suggest that the state’s economy will falter unless it finds a way to dramatically increase its supply of college graduates by lowering the cost of a degree.