Dropping Latino graduation rates may damage Arizona's economic future

Posted on: April 30, 2012

As colleagues at two local foundations, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and Helios Education Foundation, we encourage you to read a new report, "Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona's Economic Future."

Why "Dropped" with a question mark?

Eleven years ago Morrison Institute for Public Policy published "Five Shoes Waiting To Drop on Arizona's Future."

The lagging graduation rates of Latinos represented one of those shoes that the report warned could drop, damaging Arizona's economic future.

That shoe is a Size 13 today. It is perilously positioned to land, not just on our Latino friends and neighbors, but on all of us.

This new Morrison Institute report, commissioned by the two foundations, is about demographics, economics and the future of Arizona.

We know Arizona needs more high-paying jobs -- and companies that pay well demand a skilled workforce. As "Dropped?" points out, by 2018, nearly two out of three jobs in Arizona will require some training beyond high school.

Technology continues to make more and more of even our low-tech jobs skill-based. Yet while 83 percent of White students graduate in Arizona, 69 percent of Latinos receive their high-school diplomas. The gap at the community-college and university levels is far greater.

What happens if our workforce is unprepared?

Businesses will find states where the workforce is trained and ready to compete in a global economy.

Who will be the largest pool of our labor force?

Latinos. More Latinos than Whites are under the age of 18 in Arizona today -- and these Latinos are not a cadre of undocumented immigrants.

In fact, 88 percent of Arizona's youths under 20 were born in the United States or are naturalized citizens. Among our Latino children 4 and younger, that percentage leaps to 97 percent.

If the young people in our largest pool of future workers don't increase their graduation rates from high school, and if many of them don't go on to get additional technical or academic training, what will it mean?

Measured in 2010 dollars, the combined average income for Latinos and Whites in Arizona could drop nearly $3,000, or 8 percent, by 2030. (Our state average income was $35,339 in 2010.)

This income shrinkage translates into an economic drag and a decline in quality of life. Not as many cars will be sold, meals purchased, services contracted or houses purchased.

It translates into fewer dollars of public support for our schools, police, parks and health programs. It means Arizona will slide backward.

What would narrowing the gap mean?

Those numbers, year after year, student body after student body, add up to game-changing economic impact.

We are not locked into a downhill path unless we do nothing to change the success rate. Progress has occurred since 2000 in Latino graduation rates, but the gap remains at every educational level.

In 2010, Arizona's three state universities awarded 23,487 bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. Latinos earned only 13 percent of these degrees.

We know the reasons for the gap: Poverty is often a sad predictor of student success -- poor school districts, poorer diets, fewer books and computers in the home, and the financial pressure to get any job to help support the family.

Parents who didn't graduate from high school often don't know how to help children with homework or navigate the school system. They can't advise a daughter applying for financial aid for college or a son looking for technical training.

Schools, non-profits and foundations are hard at work trying to address some of these barriers. But these efforts are limited in scope and impact.

To really move the needle on improving the graduation rate of Latinos and their Anglo classmates will require a statewide commitment: financial resources have to be dedicated, volunteers mobilized and expectations raised.

Summer programs need to keep students reading.

Businesses need to offer internships and mentors.

ACT exams must be available for the economically strapped students as well as their affluent classmates. Parents must be encouraged to expect more.

The future of Arizona depends on closing the gap.

The shoe must be caught midair and tossed. 


Category: College and Career Readiness, Postsecondary Completion

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