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Post-Secondary Attainment

By 2020, which is like tomorrow, nearly 7 out of 10 of all jobs in Arizona will require more education after high school.

Post-secondary education means training or education after high school that leads to a certification, license or a degree. There are plenty of paths to get there…a technical institute, an apprenticeship, community college, university, or even military service.

But today there aren’t nearly enough adults in Arizona with the training or education beyond high school needed to support the economy we want.

There’s no silver bullet to closing this gap, but the first step is to support the goal for postsecondary attainment that exceeds the needs of our economy. States like Tennessee, Texas and Indiana have set such goals and we ought to do the same if we want to have a competitive edge.

If we can increase attainment in Arizona to 60 percent, it would pump more than $3.5 billion in personal income and tax revenue into the state annually. That revenue could do great thing for our communities and our individual quality of life.


Post-Secondary Attainment

The percent of Arizona residents 25-64 years of age who have completed a 2- or 4-year degree or received a postsecondary certificate.


  • 2017 1-year Public Use Microdata Series person file for Arizona from U.S. Census Bureau
  • 2017 Current Population Survey

Included in this number

Arizona residents age 25-64 who have two-year, four-year, or advanced degrees from public or private institutions. Also included are those who have earned non-degree certificates.

Not included in this number

Those who have never had post high-school education or have attended but earned neither a degree or non-degree certificate are not included. Also excluded are people under age 25, many of whom are still working on their education. Those age 65 and over, many of whom are retired, are also excluded. Those living in group quarters are excluded from poverty measures because their income is not calculated for the poverty statistic.

In Brief

Morrison Institute for Public Policy has not directly reviewed the non-degree credential portion of this data.

The Attainment Goal contains two data elements – one for adults with at least an Associate’s degree, and another for adults with at least a post high school credential.

For the first element, census data for 2016 was filtered to include only persons aged 25 to 64. The Educational Attainment variable was collapsed from 24 categories down to two, those with at least an Associate’s degree and those without. The percentage of those with at-least an Associate’s degree was then calculated for the race/ethnicity categories, and status for English proficiency, poverty, and disability. Results that had excessive margins of error were removed from the final table.

There is no current local, state, or national data source that counts adults with credentials greater than a high school diploma but less than a college degree. Arizona Board of Regents staff used national data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to estimate that 5% of Arizona adults have some post high school credential. Because this estimate was generated to be representative of the state as a whole, it should not be used to estimate the percentage of credentials for subgroups of individuals or specific localities.

Detailed Methodology

Morrison Institute for Public Policy has not directly reviewed the non-degree credential portion of this data.

Data on educational attainment is encoded in the PUMS variable SCHL. (See the section on PUMS data for more.) This variable was recoded into the new variable AABetter, which takes the value of one for respondents who have an Associates, Bachelor’s or advanced degree. All other responses are coded zero.

For more on the processing of this data, please see the sections on PUMS Data and Survey Data.

National data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was used by Arizona Board of Regents staff to estimate that 5% of Arizona adults have some post high school credential. For more information, please contact


Two of the indicators, attainment and opportunity youth are drawn from Public-Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) data from the United States Census Bureau. PUMS data is a product of the Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted annually and collects a wide variety of data from households across the nation.

PUMS data allows researchers to compile several attributes into custom tables to present data in new ways. For instance, there is a standard ACS data table that lists the number of people age 16-19 that are neither in school nor working. However, the term ‘Opportunity Youth’ is defined as those age 16-24 who are not working or in school. Furthermore, the ACS table does not break down these Opportunity Youth by other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and disability status. PUMS data allows these breakdowns, within certain statistical limitations.

PUMS data is available in samples that have been collected over a five-year period or over a single year. The five-year sample is more accurate, but since the Progress Meter is looking for changes across time, the one-year sample is more appropriate for this use.

The one-year sample for 2016 for Arizona was downloaded from the Census website ( The data was then imported into SPSS, a statistical software package. Using SPSS, summary variables were created for race and ethnicity, age categories, limited English proficiency (LEP), poverty status, work status, school attendance, educational attainment, disability status, and county of residence. Note that several counties with smaller populations are combined in the PUMS data to protect the privacy of survey respondents. The PUMS data is so detailed that it would be possible to identify individual people or families if the data were focused on a smaller geography. Populous counties are big enough that individual records are effectively masked, but data from smaller counties such as Mohave and La Paz are combined to create a larger population pool and protect identities.

An automated script file was then developed to produce the tables used by the progress meter. The tables contain the variable of interest broken down by the ten county-comparable geographies reported by PUMS, race and ethnicity, limited English proficiency (LEP), poverty and disability status.

These tables were then transferred to Microsoft Excel for further formatting, calculation of percentages, analysis of standard errors, and computation of 90% confidence intervals. Standard errors for the estimates and the derived proportions were calculated according to the formulas suggested by the census bureau ( These calculations consider the size of the estimates, the size of the population from which the estimates were drawn, and the design factors used by census bureau.

Values in the final Excel output tables were suppressed in cases where the 90 percent confidence interval exceeded +/- 25 percent or when the confidence interval encompasses either 0% or 100%.

Survey Data

Three of the chosen indicators are derived from survey data. Attainment and opportunity youth are products of the American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. Median teacher pay is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of their Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program. Since this data is drawn by sampling a small percentage of the overall population, there is a degree of uncertainty to the numbers.

Sampling Error

Rather than seeing these numbers as point descriptors of exactly the percent of adults with college degrees, for example, it is more accurate to visualize them as the center of a 90% confidence interval. Were it possible to interview everyone in Arizona, there is a 90% chance that the ‘true’ percentage would fall within this confidence interval.

This uncertainty is known as sampling error. It is an unavoidable consequence of the survey process. The size of the confidence interval is expressed by the standard error of the estimate, which is used to monitor the quality of the estimate.

Non-sampling Error

Inevitably, other errors creep into the data. Random errors, such as a respondent accidentally checking the wrong box on a survey form, do not bias the data in one direction or another, but do affect the precision of the estimate by increasing the standard error.

Systematic errors unintentionally push the data in a specific direction, perhaps through a poorly worded question, can be a serious concern. Both the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics conduct rigorous, high-quality surveys that reduce systematic errors to a minimum.

What You Can Do

1. Support initiatives that provide students with academic and financial support

Support initiatives like College Success Arizona, which provides students with academic and financial supports critical to persistence, and works to increase the number of underserved students who will attain a postsecondary degree.

2. Become a Volunteer

Volunteer to mentor or advise college students (especially first-generation or low-income students), helping them navigate the ups and downs of studying, campus living/culture shock, scholarships and more. Talk to your local college or university to learn about opportunities to get involved.

3. Take advantage of available resources

Utilize resources like Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education ( to learn about financial aid and other supports offered in Arizona.

4. Become involved in your community

Create an effort in your community or school to set a goal for helping to increase educational attainment.