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Getting to 60: Why Arizona’s Traditional Schools are Key to Meeting the Postsecondary Demands of Achieve60AZ

Author: Dr. Paul Perrault, Vice President and Director of Research and Evaluation and Michelle Boehm, Research and Evaluation Analyst

Regardless of how we look at Arizona’s college-going data, one thing stands clear.  The only way for our state to meet the long-term goals of Achieve60AZ is to ensure that our traditional public schools have the resources to prepare students for college and careers. 

Last fall, over 70 organizations came together to launch Achieve60AZ, a community-owned initiative aimed at boosting post-high school attainment* and workforce training including the Helios Education Foundation.  Governor Ducey supported the initiation of the launch, stating “education advances everyone, and Achieve60AZ will improve quality of life, increase income potential and expand career opportunities for citizens across the state.”  These comments by the Governor show a commitment to improving education for all Arizonans so that it can help improve the state’s economic prosperity.

Getting to 60 (the postsecondary attainment goal set by the organizations) and meeting the demands of Achieve60AZ will not be an easy task.  Currently, we estimate that 43 percent of Arizona’s population has a certificate or an associate degree or higher.  Furthermore, only 38 percent of Arizonans have an associate degree or higher and only 29 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.   Of the larger racial/ethnic groups in Arizona, Native Americans have the lowest postsecondary attainment rate (associate or higher) at 16 percent.  Comparatively the postsecondary rate for Latinos is 20 percent; African Americans/Blacks is 32 percent, and 40 percent for Whites.   Clearly then, as a state, we must do better in preparing our future workforce for college and careers.

In the long term, the most effective way to increase the postsecondary attainment rate is to strengthen the K-12 pipeline in Arizona, which is one of four main strategies outlined in Achieve60AZ.  This means keeping students in school and increasing the state’s graduation rate.  It also means preparing students to leave high school with the skills necessary to attend and complete a postsecondary education.  To carry out this work, Arizona public schools will need the financial resources and tools to ensure our students will be just as competitive as students from across the nation.

As Arizona moves forward with Achieve60AZ, one thing that stands out is that the success or failure of the initiative is directly linked to the state’s traditional public schools.  Traditional public schools have over 80 percent of the state’s enrollment, but they are also outperforming other types of public schools in graduating students who enroll in college.  Figure 1 shows the total number of students that enroll in 4-year colleges, 2-year colleges and total college enrollment by public school type (traditional, charter or magnet) within the first year after graduation.  As Figure 1 shows, the vast majority of students entering college are from traditional Arizona high schools.  In 2014-15, for example, 29,807 traditional public school students entered college after graduation.  This total was more than nine times the number of students entering college from charter schools (3,264) and nearly 44 times the number of students entering from magnet schools.  Figure 2 summarizes the proportion of students entering college from Arizona public schools.  It shows that 88 percent of students entering college the first year after graduation were from a traditional public school, 10 percent from a charter and only 2 percent from a magnet. 

At the same time, the data also show that traditional public schools send a greater proportion of their graduates to college.  Figure 3 (below) shows the proportion of graduating seniors entering college the first year after graduation by school type (traditional, charter, magnet).  In all categories, 2-year, 4-year or total college going rate, we see that traditional public schools send a larger proportion of their students to college than charters or magnets.  Overall, nearly 56 percent of traditional public school students are entering college after graduation, 37 percent of charter school students and 46 percent of magnet school students.  For more context, we also looked at individual schools.  Table 1 (below) shows the top 20 Arizona public high schools (with 100 or more graduates) with the highest college-going rates.  Of those 20 high schools, 17 were traditional public schools and 3 were charters.  Of the 5,993 students that those 20 schools sent to college, 5,742 were from traditional public schools compared to 251 from charters.

Clearly then, the only way for us to meet the long-term goals of Achieve60AZ is to ensure that our traditional public schools have the resources to prepare students for college and careers.  At the same time, the data also show that across all three types of public schools (traditional, charter and magnet) that more needs to be done to increase access and opportunities for postsecondary enrollment.

*Typically “post-high school attainment” or “postsecondary attainment” refers to the highest level of education following high school.  This would include apprenticeship or trade certificates or diplomas and college degrees.

*Note:  For purposes of calculating postsecondary enrollment rates, we consider University High School a Traditional Public school because it is neither a charter or a magnet school. 

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