Arizona Chamber Foundation looks at postsecondary success goals in new report

In the United States, about two-thirds of all high school graduates pack up their bags, buy a lunch card (or their parents do) and call college home, at least for a year. In Arizona, only an estimated 27 percent of the state’s public school students walk across the stage, move that tassel over to the other side, pick up their degree and change their LinkedIn status to “alumni” within six years of high school. ]

In a new report from the Arizona Chamber Foundation, the organization looked at different programs that help students successfully prepare for post-graduation success regardless of whether they choose a college path or career path. The report, Equity and Attainment: Achieving Two Goals with One Policy, reviewed the benefits of adding incentives to different pathways to postsecondary success while highlighting the success of similar programs in other states, such as Texas and Florida. The report shows a direct correlation between college success and applying incentives for college credit by exam and industry certifications while students are in high school.

For Arizona, even though only 27 percent of public school students earn their bachelor’s within six years of graduating high school, the state is still in need of workers for a number of industries, like manufacturing and computer systems engineering, two areas in Arizona that have seen major growth in recent years. Currently there are more than 15,000 job vacancies for roles in just those two sectors alone, most of which require an industry certification instead of a postsecondary degree.

To balance out the need in workforce development and college enrollment, Arizona has been boosting programs that encourage more students to earn a passing grade on a qualifying college credit exam. One such program is Arizona’s College Credit by Examination Incentive Program (CCEIP), passed in 2016, which awards bonuses to schools based on the number of students who pass a college credit exam.

“Our goal is to prepare every student for success following high school. Just as pathways to college are critical, so too are pathways to today’s in-demand jobs, which often rely more on specialized technical training than traditional college coursework,” said Dr. Matthew Ladner, Arizona Chamber Foundation senior research. “Strengthening incentives for earning college credit and creating a program to encourage the earning of high demand industry certifications can help students achieve success regardless of the route they choose.”

At schools where at least half of the students qualify for the National School Lunch Program, which illustrates the school’s poverty level, a bonus of $450 is applied for each passing test score (i.e. Cambridge International, AP, and IB) set by Arizona public universities. Under the rules of CCEIP, a school district or charter school must distribute at least half the money collected to the classroom teacher for each student who passes a qualifying exam with any left over being used for teacher professional development.

Providing students opportunities to earn early college credit and high demand industry certifications in high school saves families money on college tuition, increases the number of underserved populations going on to college, and increases student preparedness for training and education after high school, said Emily Anne Gullickson, A for Arizona Executive Director.

“We know from our work with A for Arizona principals and system leaders in low-income schools that just the announcement of Arizona’s early college credit bonuses had an immediate effect on their ability to engage students in rigorous coursework and recruit the best teachers to prepare students for these exams,” she said. “Imagine what would happen if we offered these same incentives for students earning high-demand industry certifications.”

Programs like this are active in Florida and Texas and have expanded to include students earning industry certifications for high-demand roles. According to the Chamber Foundation report, Florida saw students enroll in programs to earn industry certifications by a skyrocketing increase of 8,751 percent between 2007, when only 803 certifications were awarded, and 2015, when 105,131 were awarded. Those numbers, encouraging to say the least, are goals for Arizona, especially if lawmakers come together to expand on the CCEIP to include industry certification.

In Florida and Texas, aligned programs are showing to accelerate success in their college credit programs. In the former state, policymakers created a non-profit partnership to prep students for higher education success and paid for all public school students’ 10th-grade PSAT exams. This has arguably helped Florida see its six-year public college graduation rate improve from 56.4 percent to 64.4 percent between 2002 and 2013 and has helped increase credits earned by minority students.

In Arizona, college isn’t the only way for students to be successful after high school, but it can give students a better advantage in landing a job in an increasingly demanding market for tech, engineering, and manufacturing positions, which require higher levels of education. If a traditional university experience isn’t on the minds of graduating students, then technical education is another route to earn a competitive wage and job.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s FY2020 budget proposed funding a bonus for every high school graduate who has also earned an in-demand industry certification, such as engineering or computer coding. Industry certifications in high demand fields expose students to opportunities that can prepare them for entry-level jobs or training and help them identify the right career paths. These experiences increase the likelihood of postsecondary completion and are also critical to meeting the demand for skilled workers in Arizona’s growing tech economy.

Nick Esquer

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