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Higher Education Paying Off for Arizona Students

Last month, Northern Arizona University hosted the Arizona Board of Regents for in-depth discussions about Arizona’s educational attainment and NAU’s important role in shaping our state’s workforce. I want to share a recent column that ABOR Chairman Ron Shoopman published during his time in Flagstaff. His message reflects NAU’s conviction that higher education transforms our state and our economy.   

I am grateful for Regent Shoopman’s vision for Arizona and his commitment to NAU. Our university is proud to play a unique and important role in advancing educational attainment across Arizona.  


By Ron Shoopman, Arizona Board of Regents Chairman:  


Higher education is one of the most important investments an individual – or our state – can make. 

Study after study confirms this, whether you look at economic measures (higher wages and rates of employment) or quality of life (longer life expectancy and better health). 

This isn’t opinion; it’s fact. While we’re always looking for ways to improve the value of a public university education – something I and the rest of the Arizona Board of Regents will be doing this week when we meet in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University – there’s little question an investment in higher education pays off for students and the state of Arizona. 

Graduates of Arizona Public Universities Earn More 

A 2017 report finds that graduates of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona have median annual earnings of $50,500, nearly double those of individuals with a high school diploma alone ($27,700). 

Graduates of Arizona public universities are also more likely to be employed and have stronger earning power five years after graduation – even when factoring in the impact of student-loan debt. Over the course of a career, university graduates earn an estimated $1 million more than those with a high school degree alone. 

Arizona Needs More Graduates 

Unfortunately, Arizona high school students go to college at a rate far less than the national average. Arizona’s economy is transitioning to a skills-based economy in which the majority of jobs demand some kind of education beyond high school. Without a higher rate of educational attainment, we know Arizona’s economy will underperform. 

Lack of educational attainment is a primary limiting factor, not only on individual prosperity, but also the economy of entire communities where college enrollment and completion rates remain low. Identifying ways to improve attainment within these communities and socioeconomic groups is a board priority. 

The bottom line: To be successful, every student needs to plan for additional training beyond high school. Those who attain a college diploma will simply have more choices and career opportunities. Arizona’s economy depends on it. To be certain, NAU is an essential part of the equation to advance and transform Arizona’s economy. 

Arizona is Home to Three Cost-Effective Universities 

The rising cost of higher education is a national concern. Ensuring access to an affordable, quality education is board priority, and the board and our public universities are making progress when it comes to cutting costs and improving tuition predictability. For two decades, NAU has been providing students and families with greater tuition predictability and savings through its NAU Pledge guaranteed tuition program. Mindful of the costs for students and families and focused on continuing to provide high-quality education for all Arizonans, NAU remains committed to this important program as well as the accessible, affordable and quality options for earning a degree throughout Arizona and online. 

At a time when colleges in other states are experiencing shrinking enrollment, Arizona universities are healthy and growing. This is something we can all celebrate. 

Good News for Arizona Graduates 

Arizona’s economy is growing and evolving. Our universities recognize this challenge and are working hard to ensure its students receive the skills and training they’ll need in the marketplace. We’re keenly focused on not just the cost of a university degree, but also its value. We’re working with the universities to provide greater tuition predictability to Arizona students and families, new degree options and alternative coursework settings – including online. FBN 

By Rita Cheng 

Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University. 

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