Approximately 60 percent of jobs in Arizona don’t require a 4-year degree, which is great news for students who aren’t sure that path is best for them. But don’t let the statistic confuse you. The majority of those jobs, and particularly positions that pay a good living wage, still require skilled candidates who receive a high school diploma and some form of additional post-secondary training or education.
For more than two decades, business and education leaders in Arizona have focused on ways to build a pipeline of skilled employees to fill hundreds of thousands of essential jobs throughout the state. Their innovative thinking led to the creation of joint technological educational districts, or JTEDs.
JTEDs are school districts that offer career and technical education (CTE) programs to students at partner school districts. There are currently 14 JTEDs in Arizona, serving students across the state. The impact these programs are having is pretty astounding.
“Career-driven education” is keeping more students engaged in high school because it is applied learning. Kids are able to see the immediate relationship between school and what they want to do for a career.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, the high school graduation rate in 2010 for students who completed a CTE program was 99 percent, compared to 76 percent for all other students. In addition, data shows that full-time CTE students continue on to complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degree at a higher rate than other students.
In some communities throughout the state, the dropout rate is as high as 50 percent and we know that students who drop out of high school are more likely to rely on state assistance programs or, worse yet, end up in jail. The incredible social costs tied to high school drop-outs – as opposed to the cost of career training, technical education or higher education – is something I wish more Arizonans were talking about.
If we really want to grow Arizona’s economy we must be able to fill existing jobs and attract new businesses to the state. To do either, we need a qualified workforce.
While I applaud Governor Ducey for trying to address Arizona’s very serious structure deficit, we must be creative in finding ways to invest more in education.
Budget cuts imposed beginning July 1 impact anywhere from 50 to 73 percent of JTED funding, depending on the specific district. These cuts impact 90,000 (or 90 percent) of students enrolled in CTE classes statewide. Remaining funding will likely not cover the cost of salaries and benefits for CTE teachers funded by JTED, let alone supplies and equipment. As a result of the formula through which JTEDs are funded, it is a very real possibility that CTE programs will be eliminated in Arizona high school districts within a few short years.
Additional cuts to the K-12 system, community colleges and our three great state universities will merely compound the issue. We simply cannot continue to shortchange Arizona’s students and schools and expect different results.
We have the ability to improve Arizona’s education system for all students. School districts should have the tools and programs needed to support student achievement and we must create easy pathways to education or training during and beyond high school.
Tax cuts can often help boost the economy, but after a while even that strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, and that’s where I believe Arizona is today. Do we want our kid’s to become economically independent and our state to thrive or do we want to continue to feed the social network of a failed strategy?
Countless research reveals the many economic rewards of educational quality, including the creation of high wage jobs, lower unemployment rates, higher property values, lower crime rates, reduced health care costs and more.
Perhaps it’s time Arizona’s elected leaders join with business and education leaders to come up with other innovative ideas – this time for ways we might grow state revenues to adequately fund a high-quality education system for every student.
Doug Pruitt is Chairman of Sundt Construction and Chair of the CEO & Business Advisory Council of Expect More Arizona.