I wouldn’t trade growing up in Bullhead City for anything. Some of my favorite memories bring me back to the Colorado River on 120-degree days. If you are from Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City or surrounding areas, you probably share similar memories. Of the many traits rural Arizonans share, less fulfilling are our experiences with education.
Arizona is falling behind in major educational milestones with many of our students enrolling and completing college at significantly lower rates than the national average. This is troubling as it is projected that in the near future 70 percent of all Arizona jobs will require a postsecondary education.
In Lake Havasu and Bullhead City’s Legislative District Five, only 8.2 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree compared with 18.8 percent in Arizona and 20.3 percent in the U.S. Wages earned range from $42,263 for individuals with a bachelor’s degree to $26,799 for residents with a high school diploma. Unemployment rates are similarly tied to education, from 4 percent for bachelor’s degree holders to 13.1 percent for residents who didn’t graduate from high school.
Education is the answer. And just as our state has been making sizable investments in K-12 schools, we must not forget our public universities. Economic trends are shifting fast, and research tells us the foundation of the new economy will be the education, training and adaptability of our workers. We’re going to increasingly need to rely on our public universities – Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona – but they can’t do it alone.
The New Economy Initiative will help ensure these institutions have the resources they need to meet the demand for educated workers – enrolling and graduating more students, while strengthening as economic drivers for our state.
The New Economy Initiative will enhance Arizona’s economy and positively affect our residents as college graduates on average earn roughly twice as much over their career as high school graduates. That translates into more money for local shops, restaurants and other aspects of our local economy.
According to a new economic impact analysis by Rounds Consulting Group, 1,000 Arizona residents completing their bachelor’s degrees would result in $22.5 million in annual income, $98.5 million in yearly economic output, $5.6 million in new tax revenues per year and approximately 340 jobs.
The New Economy Initiative outlines a plan of action, facilitating stronger completion at the universities, distributed learning centers focused on more educational resources in rural areas and workforce training.
An equally essential initiative - the Arizona Promise Program – is currently under consideration in the Arizona Legislature. The program would make postsecondary education a reality for students who never thought college was an option for them.
The program would cover tuition and fees for Arizona students who earn a 2.5 GPA in high school, complete the FAFSA application and qualify for free and reduced lunch. This initiative also supports students who are not particularly interested in college but would like to become certified in other lucrative fields offered by community colleges such as HVAC, dental hygienist, nursing, radiology technicians and more.
This scholarship program would ensure that students will never have to feel as though their background or socioeconomic conditions determine their life trajectory.
Considering the relatively low average earning wage in much of rural Arizona, this scholarship will help eliminate one of the largest barriers to higher education for students - cost. Other states that have implemented promise programs have enjoyed increases in: K-12 achievement; high school enrollment, retention and completion; college enrollment and completion; and bachelor’s degrees statewide. When we support the education of our youth, we by extension support the wellbeing of us all.
Anyone who has encountered the youth of rural areas knows of their tenacity, grit, creativity and intelligence, and these initiatives are ways to support them to succeed and match their unbelievable potential. These investments are a sum gain for us all. As our youth develop into their full potential, we as a community and as a state reap the benefits.
For students - regardless of their zip code - we can make their dreams a reality; we have the ability to force open doors that previously seemed shut. We have the opportunity now to invest in the future, in our competitiveness and we can do it through increasing opportunities for education.
I respectfully ask Sen. Sonny Borelli, Rep. Regina E. Cobb and Rep. Leo Biasiucci to support the New Economy Initiative and Arizona Promise Program. Both are investments in Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and Mohave County.
Anthony Rusk is a student at University of Arizona and a student regent on the Arizona Board of Regents. He grew up in Bullhead City.