Education: Creating Economic Success by Evelyn Casuga, Economic/Community Development Advisor, Access Arizona
n territorial times and early statehood, success in Arizona was grounded in the five C’s: copper, cotton, cattle, climate and citrus. Good-paying jobs required a willingness to work and hard physical labor to achieve a decent quality of life for individuals and families. By the year 2020, however, projections are that 68 percent of Arizona jobs will require post-secondary education and training, according to the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University. From the Center for the Future of Arizona at Arizona State University Vision 2025 publication, two other facts stand out worthy of attention: • Arizona’s productivity and prosperity are declining compared to U.S. averages and those of many neighboring states • One in five Arizonans lives in poverty and the per capita income of Arizonans has declined. Education, training and retraining have everything to do with shifting the trajectory for Arizona and the Golden Corridor. For existing business and industry that we would want to grow and expand and for businesses and industries we would hope to attract, the talent pipeline becomes a more compelling driver of their success. Of course, access to markets, infrastructure, access to raw materials and a stable business environment (i.e. taxes and regulations) are still critical inputs, but a qualified workforce has risen in the ranks of site location decisions, particularly when businesses can and will follow talent versus the other way around. Industries already in Pinal County recognize and acknowledge that today’s second graders are their work force of the future and require high level skills and educational attainment for which companies will pay higher salaries
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and benefits. At the same time, Arizona is at a crossroads in terms of a shifting job base. From the same Vision 2025 publication, the economic base of the region (Greater Phoenix, which would include Pinal County commuters) is shifting from advanced high-tech manufacturing jobs that require high-level skills to jobs more in line with a low-wage service economy. Are we prepared to create a different future with education as the foundation for success and with benefits to all generations in the Golden Corridor? A look at education data through a joint effort by the Center for the Future of Arizona and Expect More Arizona, the Education Progress Meter launched in April, http://arizonafuture.org/exchange/education/, provides indicators of collective progress for Arizona and Pinal County. This snapshot of where we stand highlights opportunities where current and potential actions at the state, regional, and local levels can make substantial impacts. A peek at the definitions for four of the eight indicators highlights opportunities. The actual percentages can be found on the website. 1. Third grade reading - Percent of third graders passed the AzMERIT English language arts test by scoring proficient or highly proficient. (Arizona Department of Education, 2014-15 AzMERIT results) Research shows that a student’s ability to read proficiently by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of high school graduation and career success. 2. Eighth grade math - Percent of 8th grade students passed math by scoring proficient or highly proficient on the AzMERIT assessment. (Arizona Department of Education, 2014-15 AzMERIT results) Basic math skills provide a valuable tool for problem solving and decision making. Better math skills have been associat-
ed with higher earnings and higher probabilities of graduating from high school and college. 3. High school graduation - Percent of Arizona high school students graduate in four years. (Arizona Department of Education, 2013) While Arizona’s high school graduation rate has improved, we still fall short of the national average. In addition, significant gaps exist among minority and at-risk populations. To increase overall education levels of Arizonans, completing high school or the equivalent is essential. 4. College Attendance – Percent of 2011-12 Arizona high school graduates attend a postsecondary institution. (Arizona Board of Regents and National Center for Education Statistics) Individual earning potential increases based on education level. A more highly educated citizenry also leads to greater economic gains, decreased reliance on government services and reduced likelihood of criminal activity. Although reductions in public education funding at the state level over several years have hampered progress in Arizona, the local community has demonstrated action in support of education in many different ways. Casa Grande’s Mayor’s Reading Club; Casa Grande Elementary School District Career Camps, a partnership with local businesses; Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce ongoing classroom support; corporate support for STEM education; Central Arizona College Foundation Promise for the Future Scholarships are only a partial list of local actions benefiting local students. A healthy education system supported by the local community is the foundation of a thriving economy.
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Summer 2016 Vol II