The places you’ll go…

Making the case for a statewide educational attainment goal


Eileen Klein and Glenn Hamer

August 31, 2015

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose.”

– Dr. Seuss, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”

Dr. Seuss redefined inspiration in his oft-quoted poem, “The Places You’ll Go.” Indeed, the tale of achieving great dreams against difficult challenges holds a timely narrative for Arizona.  Where will Arizona go in the future? What direction do we steer to ensure a thriving economy for the state?

We don’t need a crystal ball to find the answer for Arizona’s future economic vitality. Data clearly demonstrates the strong correlation between educational levels and personal income, productivity, civic participation, life expectancy, employment status and community strength. The surest way to increase Arizona’s per-capita income and foster greater economic growth is to increase educational attainment in our state.

Put simply, it pays to get more education – for personal prosperity and the well-being of our state. An undergraduate student working in Arizona has median earnings that are $30,804 (82 percent) higher than a high school graduate. Additionally, according to data in a recent policy brief from College Success Arizona, “Advancing the Economy Through Attainment,” a five percent attainment increase will produce an estimated $487 million more in revenue for the state’s general fund.

Our competitor states have certainly seen the connection between a highly educated workforce and economic prosperity and are aggressively pursuing higher attainment rates. Texas, for example, has implemented a plan to have 60 percent of adults with a degree by 2030. Similarly, Tennessee is shifting into high gear with its Drive to 55 plan calling for 55 percent of adults to have a college degree or certificate by 2025. Kentucky has already netted benefits from its plan to increase attainment, including an increase of nearly 4.5 percent of their overall attainment rate since 2011.

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.

You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.”

Apart from setting a specific goal, there is plenty we can do here. First, we must create a college-going culture in Arizona so that all students aspire to more education and skill development beyond high school. We know that 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require some post-secondary education by 2020, yet Arizona has only a 36 percent attainment rate (U.S. Census Bureau). We can’t afford for anyone to be left behind in our growing economy. We need everyone — from parents, families, teachers, business leaders, elected officials and champions of social services and faith-based organizations, to school district and charter school leadership — to come together and encourage every student in Arizona to pursue additional education, skills or military training after high school.

We also need to improve the alignment of our education system around student success. Just as the public universities and community colleges have set goals of increasing the percentage of adults with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees by 2020, our high schools should also set specific goals for every student to pursue education and training after graduation. This is already at work in the Glendale Union High School District where the district sets goals and then follows the success of their students once they leave high school. Best of all, the students are involved in a four-year planning process to fully leverage their high school academics as well as post-secondary planning so that all students have identified what they will do after high school. This simple shift gets students on track early to make sure they are taking the classes and getting the experiences they need to continue their schooling or directly enter the military or workforce.

Finally, we must continue to make Arizona the most vibrant educational marketplace in America so that students have multiple options and pathways available to them to pursue their dreams in the setting that works best for them in K-12 and beyond.  This includes not just traditional students but options for adults already in the workforce and returning military professionals.

As Dr. Seuss shares in his poem, “Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

Let’s make this a win for our state by working together to set Arizona on a path of continued prosperity through greater educational attainment. There are no losers when we dare to go all in.  We will succeed indeed, 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!

Eileen Klein is the president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.