CASA GRANDE — The state of Arizona does not have enough people with post-secondary education to meet the needs of the 2020 workforce, according to recent findings by two nonprofits.
To address the issue, Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona are pushing for statewide adoption of a set of measurable education goals that double as a tracking tool called the Arizona Education Progress Meter. The progress meter was rolled out in August and is designed to get people at all levels of the community working together to address the state’s higher education problem.
The ultimate goal is to move post-secondary education attainment from the current 42 percent to 60 percent by the year 2030, a goal advocates say is critical to the future economy of the state.
Expect More Arizona cites a report by the University of Georgetown that concluded that by 2020, 68 percent of jobs in Arizona will require post-secondary education or training. Pinal County, with a post-secondary attainment rate of just 25 percent, is even further behind the state average.
In order to provide a road map to 60 percent and get the entire state moving forward, they set goals defined by seven carefully studied metrics that have been identified as key contributing factors to post-secondary attainment. These goals were not set based on an arbitrary process. They are the result of collaboration and data pooling by almost 200 organizations.
Pinal County is behind the state average not only in post-secondary attainment but in all seven metrics in the progress meter: enrollment in quality early learning programs for 3- and 4-year-old children, third-graders reading at grade level, eighth-graders who are prepared to be successful in high school math, high school graduation rate, immediate post-high school enrollment in post-secondary education and number of 16- to 24-year-olds not working or enrolled in school.
The one goal not directly related to students is raising teacher pay to the national median. Arizona is currently the lowest in the nation for elementary salaries and the second lowest for secondary school teachers.
Pinal County Associate School Superintendent Joel Villegas said that the progress meter is a great way to align and focus on the individual efforts that are already in place. For example, schools are already working on improving the levels of third-grade reading and eighth-grade math.
“The school’s whole purpose is to increase student achievement,” Villegas said. “That is what they do, but they do it in a silo, by themselves, and I think what the progress meter does is take it out to communities. What other things are out there? How can we get things aligned so that we are all working on it? Not just the schools.”
There are limitations to what schools can accomplish on their own. Teacher pay is one of the measures that needs to be impacted through advocacy and legislation.
To this end, Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona have been reaching out across Pinal County and the state to secure formal commitments to support the progress meter. Many organizations and local governments have already endorsed the progress meter.
Although endorsing the progress meter does not involve a commitment to a specific action, government officials have been formalizing their commitment to meeting the progress meter goals in the form of proclamations. Pinal County was the second county to formally endorse the measures with a proclamation.
“We are trying to get all sectors of the community to buy in,” said Evelyn Casuga, a consultant for the Center for the Future of Arizona who has been working closely with Expect More Arizona to reach out to cities and towns in Pinal County. “It’s like that saying, it takes a village. We need everybody to say, ‘yes, this is our vision for education.’”
The municipalities of Casa Grande, Eloy and Superior have already issued proclamations in support of the progress meter. Casuga said that she had a very supportive reaction from those places and expects to receive a similar reaction from others in Pinal County as they are asked to support the progress meter.
Just getting educators and government involved is not enough. Villegas stressed the importance of fostering business and industry connections so that students are prepared for the future needs of the workforce. To this end, the progress meter is already starting conversations.
Villegas is a member of the Pinal Business and Education Committee. It already had its own goals and programs focused on connecting business and industry with teachers to help offer learning experiences. In a recent meeting, Villegas said they went over the progress meter and decided to pick the metric of at-risk youth to work on.
“That’s the benefit of the progress meter,” Villegas said. “It really gets them focused so we all as a community are working on the same goals.”