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Arizona lags in earning degrees

By Daniel Scarpinato
Wednesday November 28, 2001

Lack of jobs for graduates may be related to scarcely educated population

"There is a direct correlation between college education and getting the right kind of industries. It is a very important part of the well being of the state."
- Kay McKay, Arizona Board of Regents president

Arizona lags nationally when it comes to the number of residents with college degrees, and that may play a role in the vitality of the state's economy, education officials say.

According to census figures released last week, an estimated 22.5 percent of Arizonans age 25 and older hold bachelor's degrees or higher. That places the state 37th in the nation. The national average is 25.1 percent.

The census report also said Arizona students are graduating from high school at the same rate as the rest of the nation.

Kay McKay, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, said a great deal of work is being done to create a "pipeline" for high school graduates to enter into college.

She said that pipeline - which involves increased communication between universities and high schools - is key in getting college degrees into the hands of more Arizonans.

McKay said the quality of education in the state and the number of educated residents has a huge impact on the financial stability of Arizona.

"There is a direct correlation between college education and getting the right kind of industries," she said. "It is a very important part of the well-being of the state."

State regent Judy Gignac said Arizona needs more college graduates, particularly because she believes few of the residents holding degrees are natural born Arizonans who have earned degrees in the state.

"There are many things the state can do," she said. "We can make education more accessible."

Gignac said Arizona has one the lowest amounts of state-appropriated dollars for financial aid in the nation. She said most money for financial aid comes from federal dollars.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the 50 states contributed a total of more than $3 billion in financial aid. Arizona's portion of this figure is only $2.7 million, or less than 0.1 percent of the total number. Arizona has about 1.8 percent of the total population of the United States.

Gignac said the state economy is growing, but not in the way business leaders would like.

"There is a difference between having the Intel manufacturing plant, which is great to have ... and having their corporate headquarters," she said.

Gerald Swanson, a University of Arizona professor of economics, said part of the reason there are few high paying jobs in the state for college graduates is because there are few corporate headquarters.

He said that when he asks for a show of hands from his class of how many students plan to stay in Tucson after they graduate, fewer than 10 percent say they will, because they know they will not be able to find a good job, he said.

Swanson said Tucson is having luck winning the fight to be Optics Valley, which will be a haven for high-tech optics companies, partly because of the UA's prominent optical sciences program.

He said there are approximately 200 small optics firms in Tucson, but in order to attract the large, high-paying corporate headquarters, the city needs more than just a comfortable climate and the large university. It needs convenient air travel and people to fill the positions.


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