By Rick Myers, chair of the Arizona Board of Regents

Several years after the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) developed a statewide plan to reach the national average of adults with bachelor’s degrees to ensure an educated workforce for the state, new data from the 2011 American Community Survey demonstrates Arizona is making steady progress toward that goal.    The percentage of adults 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree in Arizona has increased almost a full percentage point over a one-year period: 26.6 percent versus 25.9 percent in 2010.

While there is still plenty of work to do to achieve important goals in higher educational attainment in Arizona, including reaching the national average for adults with bachelor’s degrees at 28.5 percent, this achievement has noteworthy implications for the future of the state’s economic vitality.

Higher education institutions serve as incubators for innovation, ideas, research and entrepreneurial activity resulting in business development and job creation throughout the state.

Access to a high-quality workforce is one of the driving forces behind attracting and retaining businesses.  Arizona’s three public universities are the primary suppliers of that workforce in our state, producing highly-qualified individuals with the knowledge and skills to advance business, and ultimately our economy.  Additionally, individuals with bachelor’s degrees reap greater career success and individual earning potential.

The case for continuing to increase educational attainment in Arizona is compelling. Consider:

  • In Arizona, bachelor’s degree holders have median earnings nearly double than what high school graduates make — $24,900 for a high school graduate versus $46,900 for a bachelor’s degree holder (in past 12 months in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars, 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates).
  • Every one percent increase in the percentage of a state’s population holding a college degree results in a $763 increase in per capita personal income.
  • Increasing our adult population with bachelor’s degrees by three percent would equal a $2,300 increase in Arizona per capita personal income and an aggregate statewide increase in personal income of roughly $14 billion.
  • The result would be a significant positive impact on the state’s general fund and the economy through taxes paid and goods purchased.

In addition to the many economic advantages of higher education attainment, the societal dividends are also tremendously beneficial.  Communities with higher education attainment rates have a larger tax base, use fewer public services and have lower employment rates.  Numerous studies also indicate a strong correlation between educational level and civic participation, productivity and life expectancy. All of these benefits contribute to and promote our state’s fiscal health and a positive social environment.

The board of regents and our state community colleges have worked diligently together over the past several years to increase affordability and accessibility to higher education.  Today, there are over 1,200 pathway programs from the community colleges to our universities.  More than 12,000 students are taking advantage of these pathway programs in which they can access a multitude of degree options in convenient locations with reduce tuition rates, some as much as 50 percent less than the tuition at one of the universities’ main campuses.

The Arizona Board of Regents is committed to reaching the national average of adults with bachelor’s degrees by 2020.   We are on the right track to achieving higher education attainment in Arizona, and this recent gain in a notable milestone for Arizona’s knowledge-based economic competitiveness.

Rick Myers was appointed to an eight-year term on the Arizona Board of Regents in January 2010. He currently serves as board chair.  Myers serves on the board of directors for Critical Path Institute and was that organization’s chief operating officer for more than three years. Critical Path is a non-profit organization that works with the pharmaceutical industry, patient groups, academia and the Food and Drug Administration to tackle significant issues in drug development. Prior to joining Critical Path Institute, Myers was the vice president and general manager of IBM Tucson. He retired from IBM in 2003 after a 25-year career with the company.