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ABOR report shows decline in Arizona post-secondary enrollment

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FHS 2021 Graduation Ceremony

Tayna Myers waves as she walks to her seat at Flagstaff High School's graduation ceremony in this 2021 file photo.

The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) released a report on post-secondary attainment in the state during its November meeting showing that less than half of Arizona’s 2020 high school graduates enrolled in college within a year of graduating, while college completion rates for students six years after graduating were similar to those reported over the past five years.

Arizona had a lower number of its 2020 high school graduates enroll in a college (46.3%) than in 2019, both in state (52.9%) and the United States as a whole (66%). Only 27.4% of the 2015 graduating class completed a degree program within six years of graduating.

“Lack of educational attainment is a primary limiting factor not only on individual prosperity, but also the economy of entire communities and Arizona as whole,” according to the report’s introduction.

The report uses enrollment and completion rates for Arizona public high school graduates to measure the state’s progress. Enrollment metrics focused on 2020 graduates and completion rates were based on the graduating class of 2015. ABOR's executive director, John Arnold, and director of institutional analysis, George Raudenbush, presented the report to ABOR on Nov. 18.

Nearly 85% of high schools in the state were underperforming compared to the national average of post-secondary enrollment (42.8%). Students at these high schools make up 84% of those in the state.

“Where students went to high school correlates with whether they enrolled in and completed a four-year degree,” according to the report. Raudenbush noted that smaller schools tended to have higher post-secondary enrollment rates, which then also led to higher completion rates.

Several Flagstaff schools were in the top-10 percent of post-secondary enrollment and completion rates, including Basis Flagstaff (which had the highest enrollment rate at 95.3% and an 81.3% completion rate), Northland Preparatory Academy (74.6% enrollment, 63.6% completion) and the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (61.4% enrollment, 54.5% completion).

The number of Arizona public high school graduates has risen over the past decade, with 73,373 students graduating in 2020. The post-secondary enrollment rate has remained in the mid 50% range over the same time, however. It fell to 46.9% in 2020 -- which Raudenbush attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment in two-year institutions and trade schools has been decreasing over the past 10 years (from 29.1% in 2011 to 17.9% in 2020) while enrollment in four-year institutions has risen (24% in 2011 to 28.3% in 2020).

ABOR institutions (NAU, ASU and U of A) make up most of the four-year college enrollment, enrolling 19.4% of state public high school graduates in 2020. The percent enrollment in ABOR institutes has been decreasing since 2011 (72.4% in 2011 to 66.3% in 2020). NAU had the third-highest enrollment of high school graduates in the state, with 3,092 (4.21% of the total number of graduates) in 2020.

Post-secondary completion rates for Arizona high school graduates also fell in the report. Students who graduated in 2006 had a 24.1% completion rate, which mostly rose through 2013’s graduating class (a peak of 29.9%). It then fell slightly, with the 2015 graduating class reporting a 27.4% post-secondary completion rate six years after graduating.

Associate’s degree completion has remained steady (between 6.4 and 7.5%) since the class of 2006, while completion rates for bachelor’s degrees or higher have grown through 2013 (a peak of 23.2%).

The report’s summary lists possible reasons for the shift toward four-year degrees, “including the value proposition of a four-year degree compared to a two-year degree and increased availability of financial aid that has brought a university education within reach of more Arizonans.”

ABOR universities accounted for 70.9% of bachelor’s degree completions from the class of 2015. This number has been decreasing over the past decade, however, with ABOR accounting for 76.7% of bachelor’s degrees completions for 2006 graduates. NAU ranked third in 2015 bachelor’s degree completion rates, graduating 2,177 (3.2%) individuals from the class of 2015.

Based on these trends, the report projected that the workforce contribution of a ninth-grade class 10 years later would mostly be made up of those with a high school diploma or lower (78%). Those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher made up the next largest group (16.8%), with post secondary certificates and associate's degrees accounting for a much smaller proportion of the workforce (2.2% and 3%, respectively).

About 39% of the United States workforce currently has a four-year degree or higher, compared to 34% of Arizona’s workforce, according to the report.

This projection is based on the Arizona Department of Education’s high school completion rate (which Raudenbush said was 79.9%) as well as the information from the report. It tries to project based on an average class, what the attainment level might look like in their mid-20s.

According to an ABOR press release on the report, “Arizona has set an educational attainment goal that by 2030, 60 percent of Arizona’s population will have a post-high school certificate or degree.”

This year’s report has also added data about students who are economically disadvantaged (from households with an income less than 185% of the federal poverty level), English language learners or who qualify for special education services.

English language learners reported a 26.4% enrollment rate in 2020, with a higher percentage enrolled in two-year colleges (21.9% compared to the 4.5% that enrolled in four-year colleges). The group reported an 8.3% completion rate from the 2015 graduating class.

The enrollment rate for special education graduates was 17.2%, also mostly at two-year institutions (12.3% and 4.8% enrolled in a four-year college). Completion rates for 2015 high school graduates was 8%.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students was higher in high school graduates than in ABOR enrollments, while the opposite was true for female students. This was also the case for completion rates across the state.

“We know that education is the door to opportunity and creating a college-going culture is one of the board’s paramount priorities,” ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson said in the release. “It is crucial to ensure every high school student in Arizona has access to post-secondary education and can reap the many rewards and benefits of a college degree.”

The full report and presentation can be found at

College enrollment is dropping and community colleges are seeing the biggest declines. That's according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.The report shows undergraduate enrollment fell more than 3% this year. Researchers say this is part of the largest 2-year enrollment drop in decades.A previous report by the research center showed only 13% of college dropouts return within five years and even fewer graduate.This as President Joe Biden's long-sought goal of free community college appears to be a victim of cost-cutting in his social spending plan, dealing a major blow to his vision for a historic expansion of educational opportunity to all Americans.Advocates say the pandemic has taken a heavier toll on students at community colleges. Many juggle jobs, parenting and other responsibilities that took priority during the pandemic, and many were put on furlough or lost their jobs, putting tuition out of reach.Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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