Achieve60AZ, a community-based organization that is dedicated to helping 60% of Arizonians hold a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030, recently finished a statewide tour where they met with leaders from each county to discuss plans to repair the attainment gap in Arizona.
Currently 45% of Arizonans hold a postsecondary degree or certificate, according to Expect More Arizona.
According to the organization’s State of Attainment Report released in February, nearly half of Arizonans are not enrolling into a two-or four-year college after high school graduation. In Arizona the enrollment rate of these colleges are 52.6 percent which is below the national average of 69.8%.
Rachel Yanof, the executive director for Achieve60AZ, said the organization plans to increase the number of Arizonans with postsecondary degrees by a million is too massive to discuss on a statewide level because of how diverse each county is.
“Arizona is a huge state and geographically there are really massive differences between Yuma and Cochise County and different aspects and different resources available (there),” Yanof said.
“So the sort of best practical way to actually build off of what is wonderful about Arizona and our state is to actually give local control to a very big challenge.”
Yanof also said that the statewide tour allowed people from the business, education and faith communities, among others, to come together and give each county the framework to start working on their own goals for increasing postsecondary education.
The organization’s report detailed strategies to reach the organization’s 2030 goals for postsecondary education, including potential opportunities for financial aid assistance programs and the implementation of three working groups that aim to increase attainment within their communities: Native American, Latinx and African American.
According to a press release by Achieve60AZ, 17% of Native American, 26% of Latinx and 33% of African American Arizonans hold at least an associate degree.
Yanof said young minorities are currently still trying to navigate both K-12 and postsecondary education.
“For a lot of those students, they’re first generation (and) their families may be first-generation Americans and so the whole maneuvering of the K-12 system is new. Adding that layer of postsecondary for them may be really, really complicated,” Yanof said. “There’s a whole bunch of access and equity issues that come with being a young state with a generationally young population.”
Yanof said the report was written to create the framework to start the conversation about where Arizona is in terms of attainment. She said many people do not have common definitions of attainment or postsecondary, two things the report tries to outline and explain.
“We’re a brand new organization supporting a goal that is also brand new so this report gives us a stake in the ground. It sort of tells people ‘Here’s what we are and here’s what we’re here to do to help facilitate the conversation,’” Yanof said.
She said Arizona is a state that has heavily relied on the “boom and bust” of industries in the past and that many career options that were once available without a postsecondary education are now disappearing.
“Other jobs, for a long time, have been able to provide great careers without a postsecondary credential but even those careers are changing or they’re drying up,” Yanof said.
Campaigns like Build Your Future Arizona, a project created by the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation, have provided alternatives to postsecondary education for young people. It is an industry-driven campaign aiming to educate people about career opportunities in the construction field.
Claudia Kunkel, a public relations specialist with Build Your Future Arizona, said that Build Your Future Arizona can be a stepping stone for those who do not know if they want to pursue a college degree.
She said Build Your Future does not discourage people from pursuing postsecondary education but instead provides them with other opportunities.
“What it’s doing is reaching out and maybe giving other alternatives to young men and women that maybe aren’t sure what they want to pursue in college or they’re maybe not interested in accumulating that debt if they’re not sure what they want to do,” Kunkel said.
Josh Umar, the project manager for Build Your Future Arizona, said that the campaign gives people the ability to earn while they learn and was created to recruit and train the next generation of craft professionals.
He said the campaign brings awareness to the career opportunities that the construction field has to offer for young people.
“We feel like the construction industry has an incredible amount of diverse opportunities for people to come in and build a future,” Umar said.
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