What Arizona must do to reach 60% educational attainment

Above: Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels Business News | 11 Oct, 2020 |

To reach Arizona’s widely agreed-upon statewide educational attainment goal – that 60 percent of Arizona adults possess a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030 – Achieve60AZ’s State of Attainment Report demonstrates that Arizona must prioritize the needs of Latinx, Black/African American, and Native American communities, and adult learners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many shortcomings in our educational system, particularly in underserved communities and for adults trying to prioritize their education. According to Achieve60AZ’s second annual State of Attainment Report released today, 46 percent of Arizona adults between the ages of 25 and 65 have a postsecondary degree or credential, an increase of just four percentage points in the four years since the goal was established. The report makes clear: to reach Arizona’s critical educational attainment goal, the state must focus on implementing education strategies that lead to equity among minority populations and assisting adult learners.

“2020 looks different than anything we could have imagined. We have witnessed how Latinx, Black/African American and Native American communities have disproportionately borne the burden of the pandemic and how working parents and essential workers have struggled,” said Rachel Yanof, Achieve60AZ Executive Director. “By prioritizing the needs of these groups – and all adult learners – we can not only move toward meeting our attainment goal, but position Arizona for a healthy, just, and prosperous recovery.”

The statewide attainment goal has been in existence since 2016, having been adopted by over 40 municipalities around the state and supported by more than 150 organizations in the Achieve60AZ Alliance. While overall attainment, the percentage of Arizona adults possessing a postsecondary certificate or degree, sits at 46 percent, only 39 percent of Arizonans have either a two- or four-year degree. Those numbers are much lower for Latinx, Black/African American, and Native American communities, where two- or four-year degree attainment is 22, 36, and 18 percent, respectively.

Throughout the past two years, Achieve60AZ has been working with task forces focused on Latinx, Black/African American and Native American attainment, each group composed entirely of and facilitated by members of their own communities. These attainment task forces established community-specific goals and priority strategies to close opportunity gaps. These strategies include:

1. Enacting culturally relevant curriculum practices,

2. Ensuring that the fallout from the pandemic does not exacerbate these gaps, and,

3. Exposing students to post-secondary education options and career training opportunities.

“Arizona will not move forward toward reaching our goal without taking a laser focus on equity.  There is simply no way to reach our attainment goal if we do not strategically address scenarios that are unique to communities of color or lower income,” said, Darcy Renfro, Chief Workforce and Economic Development Officer for Maricopa Community Colleges and chair of the Achieve60AZ Board of Directors. “One size does not fit all. The sooner we can adjust our strategies as recommended in the State of Attainment Report, the better we will do for our state, our communities and our economy.”

Another group the Achieve60AZ report identifies as essential to the economic recovery of Arizona is adult learners. More than 600,000 Arizonans over age 25 do not have a high school diploma, and 1.2 million have some college but no degree. Research suggests that over 86 percent of adults agree that pursuing a postsecondary credential is important to them.

Enacting strategies to bring these adults back into higher education will have a huge impact on attainment. With working parents having to balance their work and education while their children may be learning at home, and students contemplating gap years in order to work and help support their families, it is more vital than ever to prioritize the unique needs of adult learners. Financial support strategies designed around “non-traditional” students, and community resources to help adults focus on learning are all needed to help this community.

Arizona’s economic recovery will be inextricably tied to education. To learn more about Achieve60AZ’s strategies for reaching the statewide attainment goal, and how they plan to invest in equity, and reengage adult learners, view the 2020 State of Attainment Report at bit.ly/stateofattainment2020.

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