ARIZONA STUDY DETAILS ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF
HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION, CONTINUING EDUCATION
Study Shows a Little Extra Schooling Goes a Long Way
PHOENIX (September 12, 2007) – A research report released Tuesday by the Center for the Future of Arizona finds that even modest amounts of continuing education following high school can make a significant difference in the quality of life for Arizonans.
“Bridging the Grad Gap: Measuring the Economic Benefits of Educational Attainment in Arizona” finds that while high school graduates enjoy economic advantages over high school dropouts, the more meaningful economic benefits occur when high school graduates take advantage of continuing education opportunities.
The findings show that graduates who took some college courses, but fewer than required for a two-year associate degree or occupational certificate, saw a $12,983 gain in per capita income over the income of employed high school dropouts. This compares to a $7,831 advantage for a high school graduate with no continuing education over an employed high school dropout.
“From a public policy perspective we need to focus on increasing Arizona high school graduation rates and prepare students to leverage their diplomas to the next level of education,” said Dr. Sybil Francis, executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona. “Focusing on high school graduation as an end unto itself—rather than as a jumping off point—is not sufficient to support a dynamic economy, or to provide a desirable quality of life for our citizens.”
The Economic Costs of Dropping Out of High School
The “Grad Gap” study analyzes recent Census Bureau data to determine the differences (the gaps) in per capita income, poverty levels and employment rates among various Arizona resident groups. These include:
High school dropouts
High school graduates with no additional postsecondary education
High school graduates with some college
High school graduates with an associate degree or occupational certificate
High school graduates with a bachelor’s degree
Not surprisingly, those with bachelor’s degrees had the highest income, and the least chance of being unemployed or living below the federal poverty line among those studied.
The largest economic gap exists between high school dropouts and graduates who earn a bachelor’s degree. Arizona high school graduates with bachelor’s degrees earn nearly three times (2.7 times) the wages of employed dropouts. The economic gain in per capita income for high school graduates with bachelor’s degrees over the income of employed high school dropouts is $31,504.
Earning an associate degree or occupational certificate can nearly double earnings relative to those of employed dropouts. The economic gain in per capita income for high school graduates with an associate degree or an occupational certificate over the income of employed high school dropouts is $16,597.
The study also noted that the increase in earnings between a high school graduate and one that goes on to earn an associate degree or occupational certificate is greater than the difference between the increase in earnings of a high school dropout and a high school graduate with no postsecondary education.
Annual per capita income for Arizona high school graduates with a two-year associate degree or occupational certificate is $8,766 more than that for employed high school graduates. The economic advantage of a high school diploma (with no continuing education studies) is $7,831 when compared with the annual per capita income for an employed Arizona dropout.
Public Policy Implications
Dr. Francis said the findings also indicate the importance of better aligning Arizona’s high school graduation requirements with admission requirements at institutions of higher learning so that graduates who want to continue their education can do so more easily.
Currently, the minimum requirements for graduating from high school don’t qualify Arizona students for admission to its state universities. According to the most recent Arizona High School Student Eligibility Study issued by the Arizona Board of Regents, less than half of Arizona high school graduates are eligible for direct admission from high school into the state universities. Ineligible students fail to take all of the required courses for admission and/or they do not develop sufficient academic proficiency in the subject matter.
In addition, each year thousands of Arizona community college freshmen take remedial (below college level) math and English courses because they graduated high school unprepared for postsecondary studies. The October 2006 Arizona Community College Association study “A Report on Academic Performance of High School Graduates” states that during the 2005-06 academic year more than 27 percent of first-time college freshmen were enrolled in remedial (below college level) math courses and more than 18 percent were enrolled in pre-freshman English.
“The Arizona State Board of Education’s recent proposal to increase high school graduation requirements, including phasing in a requirement for four years of math and three years of science, is a major step in the right direction,” commented Dr. Francis.
“The center's report proves the value of increasing high school graduation requirements and is aligned with the Arizona Academic Scholars Initiative currently underway in nine school districts throughout the state,” commented Susan Carlson, executive director of the Arizona Business & Education Coalition.
“The Scholars course of study requires more rigorous course taking to better prepare students for postsecondary education and a better quality of life in their 21st century jobs,” she added. “The Arizona Business & Education Coalition, in partnership with the State Board of Education, advocates that all students take four years of math and three years of science before they graduate."
The Center for the Future of Arizona is a Phoenix-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Arizonans. Through its research and education initiatives, it seeks to improve the state’s high school graduation rate, and the quality and value of the Arizona high school diploma. The “Grad Gap” report is available online at www.arizonafuture.org.