According to a prominent new study, Arizona is winning a race, not to the top but to the bottom: we are about to lead the nation in jobs for high school dropouts. To reverse this dangerous trend, the state must reshape its higher education system to attract, serve and graduate more college students.

The study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce tells us that Arizonans are at-risk of being locked out of the middle class. It predicts that Arizona will have enough jobs for high school dropouts, but soon we will be woefully deficient in the number of college graduates needed to fill the high-wage, modern jobs that businesses demand.

What may be most concerning about this report is that it speaks to a persistent mediocrity in our state. Already, 45 percent of Arizona’s high school students do not pursue any form of higher education after high school – the lowest rate among 50 states. Only 25 percent of Arizonans hold bachelor’s degrees.

While it may be easy to find a job in Arizona with just a high school diploma, the new middle class is being defined by college degree holders who are in a better position to sustain a family and grow their income.

Arizona’s residents can aspire to a higher quality of life and the state’s public higher education system is improving how it helps students achieve that dream.

Under way right now is a collaborative effort called “Getting AHEAD – Access to Higher Education And Degrees,” which will improve access to higher education for students across the state.  We are developing new and progressive partnerships between the state’s community colleges and the three public universities to allow more residents to complete a bachelor’s degree at a lower cost without ever leaving their home county.

We’re enhancing a student-centered, online advising portal – – to help plan academic careers from high school to community college to university. We’re also improving the credit transfer process so students can reliably carry their community college credits and/or an associate’s degree program into a bachelor’s degree program.

Finally, we’re exploring new ways to manage funding and governance among Arizona’s public community colleges and universities so that college is more accessible and affordable no matter what your age or circumstance.

As leaders of Arizona’s higher education system, we believe education is the agent that delivers a better quality of life. The mix and quality of workforce skills of our state residents are directly linked to our ability to move out of this economic recession. While our economy requires all types of workers and skill sets, more Arizonans must complete college degrees in order for business and our economy to grow. Only then can Arizona can move ahead.

Dr. Rufus Glasper is chancellor of the Maricopa County Community Colleges District.
Regent Fred DuVal is Vice Chair of the Arizona Board of Regents.
Both serve as co-chairman of “Getting AHEAD – Access to Higher Education And Degrees,” a comprehensive initiative to reshape Arizona’s post-secondary education system and encourage more residents to complete college degrees.