Phoenix Among Lowest Large U.S. Metro Areas for College Graduates

More than one-quarter of working-age Arizona residents attended college but didn’t finish, a new report states.

The percentage of Arizona residents between the ages of 25 and 64 who went to college but didn’t complete their degree is nearly 26 percent. That’s higher than the national average of 21.5 percent, according to an annual report on post-secondary attainment released this week by the Lumina Foundation, an organization working to increase the portion of Americans with college degrees or other credentials.

In 2014, the last year for which complete data was available, 870,928 Arizona residents ages 25-64 went to college but didn’t finish, more than the number of those who received a bachelor’s degree. The report found 597,133 Arizona residents received a bachelor’s degree.

What’s more, the report ranks the Phoenix metropolitan area fourth among the 25 most-populous metro regions in the country with the lowest post-secondary attainment rates. Only 38.3 percent of residents of working age in the Phoenix-Mesa area have a degree or credential beyond high school.

“As the data in this report make clear, increasing overall attainment is not the only challenge Arizona faces,” the report states. “There are also significant gaps in attainment that must be closed.”

The report found attainment gaps in Arizona when data was broken down by race and ethnicity. For example, Hispanics had lower attainment rates than whites in 2014. Only 17.84 percent of Hispanics in the state between the ages of 25 and 64 had degrees, certificates or other post-secondary credentials. In contrast, the attainment rate for the state’s white population was 45.66 percent.

For African Americans it was 33.77 percent, and for Native Americans it was 19.47 percent. Asian and Pacific Islanders had the highest attainment rate in Arizona, at 60.51 percent.

“Our nation will only thrive to the extent that we provide opportunities to the millions of Americans who need them,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “It’s up to all of us — policymakers, employers, educators, community members — to better support those not well served by the current system, including in ages 15-24, first-generation students, older working adults, and minority and low-income communities.”

Several other reports have found that many college students don’t graduate on time while some don’t attend college immediately after high-school graduation, which helps explain why the Lumina Foundation report began tracking education attainment of individuals age 25 and older. A recent report by Complete College America found only 36 percent of students pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree graduate on time. 

The Lumina Foundation has been tracking the portion of Americans with post-secondary education since 2009. That was the year it released its first nationwide post-secondary attainment report. It’s also the year it set an ambitious goal to increase the percentage of Americans with degrees, certificates, and other high-quality credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

“Our nation will only thrive to the extent that we provide opportunities to the millions of Americans who need them,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation.

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As of 2014, the post-secondary attainment rate nationwide was 45.3 percent. The rate includes 25- to 64-year-olds with certificates that the Lumina Foundation determined to be   “high quality.” This is the first year the group includes data on the number of Americans who hold such credentials.

In Arizona, the overall post-secondary attainment rate — which includes those with high-quality certificates — was 48.8 percent in 2014. In 2008, the rate was 34.4 percent, but it didn’t include residents with high-quality certificates.

The Lumina Foundation estimates 10.9 million more Americans must complete post-secondary credentials to reach the 2025 goal. But the report notes, the United States “is not yet on track” to reach that goal and may fall short of reaching it if current rates of degree and certificate completion continue.

The report also points out that more Americans with a post-secondary education are needed to meet workforce demands. Currently, two-thirds of all jobs created require post-secondary education or training. Already, 2 million jobs are unfilled in the United States because there aren’t enough qualified people, according to the report.

“The recipe for 21st-century success is far more complex than it used to be, and the need for talent — all kinds of talent — is greater than ever,” Merisotis stated. 
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