Boosting AZ college enrollment could mean billions in economic impact
Increasing college attendance in Arizona would generate billions of dollars for the state economy, in addition to improving individual earning potential, per a new report from Helios Education Foundation and Education Forward Arizona.
State of play: Metro Phoenix education and business leaders are pushing back against a growing narrative that "college isn't for everyone," by highlighting the financial and social gains that come with higher education.
- Nationally, college enrollment declined about 8% between 2019 and 2022.
- Arizona's four-year universities bucked that trend and increased enrollment, but our two-year programs saw about a 4% decline.
What's happening: City University of New York economics professor Clive Belfield, who authored the new report, said a growing number of students across the country are skeptical about continuing their education because of concerns about the cost and value in today's wobbly economy.
- Yes, but: "Study after study" — including the one released Wednesday — disproves these concerns, he said.
Why it matters: Skilled workers are critical to ensuring Phoenix's continued economic growth, particularly in key industries like advanced manufacturing and health care.
What they're saying: "A more educated workforce leads certainly to more total income and more earnings. [There's] a definitive tie to more quality jobs, which leads to more economic diversity, and finally more socioeconomic balance and a healthier society," Greater Phoenix Economic Council president and CEO Chris Camacho said at a media event Wednesday.
What they found: Researchers determined college attendance produces significant benefits in three categories: individual income potential, increased state and local tax revenue and social impact.
- The average Arizonan with an associate's degree will make $287,000 more over their lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma. That increases to $852,000 for bachelor's degree holders.
- A 20% increase in college enrollment would generate more than $5 billion per graduating class in lifetime social gains like increased work productivity and better health outcomes.
- It would also result in a $1.8 billion tax revenue boost — the equivalent of about 15% of the state's 2022 general fund budget.
The intrigue: The research also found that if non-white students completed college at the same rate as white students in Arizona, the state would see a tax revenue increase of $3.3 billion and social gains of $8.7 billion
Flashback: In September 2016, Arizona launched Achieve60AZ to get 60% of adults ages 25-64 to hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.
- As of this year, the state is up to 48%, from 42% in 2016.
What's next: Helios president and CEO Paul Luna said to reach the 2030 goal and reap the financial benefits that come with it, the state needs to:
- Increase dual-enrollment options at the high school level so students can start working toward degrees sooner and at a lower cost.
- Prioritize college readiness as early as elementary school.
- Work to bring down the cost of a college education and provide financial assistance to low-income Arizonans.
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