Hard facts about Arizona high school graduates completing college


By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

Government, media and families voice much concern over public school performance and accountability. We grade schools with letter grades based on standardized test scores, student growth in test scores, attendance, graduation rate, college and career readiness and English learner proficiency. Schools receive grades for their measured performance.

But what about our institutions of higher education? What grade do they earn as we prepare students for education beyond high school?

A report released last fall from the Arizona Board of Regents, representing Arizona’s public universities, paints a stark picture of student educational completion beyond high school. Nearly half – 47 percent – of Arizona high schoolers graduate without enrolling in a two-year or four-year college. The average college completion rate for Arizona high school graduates is only 27 percent – and that statistic is six years after graduation.

The statistics are even gloomier for students to complete their certificate or degree program within the standard two- or four-year timeframe. If trends stay on their current path, only 17 percent of today’s ninth graders (class of 2022) will graduate from a four-year college by 2028.

What do we need to do to improve this outlook?

Education. First, we need to stop making students feel like they only have value, purpose or worth if they pursue a four-year college degree. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 21 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy required a bachelor’s degree to gain an entry position. Surprisingly, 36 percent of entry-level jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent. An additional 28 percent of jobs require no formal educational credential at all.

What we need to do is continue to shift the conversation in homes and schools away from “you’re only successful if you go to college” and help students recognize careers and career pathways that match the student’s work values, lifestyle goals and financial requirements.

We need to recognize that only 26 percent of careers in today’s workforce require a bachelor’s degree or beyond. We need every student to realize their career potential, to know they can accomplish any goal with commitment and hard work. But we must do a better job of painting a fair picture for young scholars and their families, helping students identify careers and career pathways of potential interest, and learning about the range of options they have.

Bernadette Russoniello is the College and Career counselor at Maricopa High School.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.