State Still Below Average For Residents With Degrees While Universities Award Record Number Of Them

By Terri Jo Neff

Arizona’s three public universities produced more degrees in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020 than in any previous year, but the state continues to lag the national average for the number of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a report issued by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR).

The ABOR’s recent College Completion Report shows graduates at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona earned a combined 47,531 degrees for FY2020. That represents a 29 percent increase over the last five years and includes 33,973 bachelor’s degrees, of which 21,425 were earned by Arizona resident students.

The report also shows all three universities significantly increased bachelor’s degrees in key STEM fields in FY2020, producing a combined 9,295 bachelor’s degrees, a 61.7 percent increase over the last five years. The universities also awarded substantially more bachelor’s degrees in health fields in 2020 – conferring 2,879 degrees, a 46.6 percent increase over the last five years.

At the same time, students earned 6,086 bachelor’s degrees in Business, far exceeding any other field of study. However, the ABOR report shows there was a decline in bachelor’s degrees awarded in Education by Arizona’s three public universities at only 1,586. There were also declines in the Agriculture & Agriculture Operations degree program as well as Foreign Languages & Linguistics program.

However, Architecture & Related Sciences saw an unexpectedly strong increase at a time when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting the job market for the industry is expected to grow only one percent from 2019 to 2029.

Despite the upbeat focus of the ABOR report, U.S. Census records show only 29 percent of Arizonans hold a bachelor’s degree or more, far short of the national average of 35 percent.

In response, the regents are kicking off the “New Economy Initiative” which seeks to raise Arizona’s competitiveness by increasing educational attainment, “leading to increased prosperity for individuals and Arizona.”

The business plan of the ABOR’s $120 million New Economy Initiative is designed, according to the regents’ website, “to enhance Arizona’s competitiveness with strategic investments in areas of strength at our three public universities. This targeted approach to workforce development in high-value industries will yield a positive return on state investment.”

The website shows the funding includes $46 million for ASU to be used in part to design and launch “the largest center for engineering education and research in the United States” and to grow enrollments to more than 25,000. It also seeks to make metro Phoenix “the leading center for engineer talent production in America.”

NAU has been allocated $22 million to “provide talent in high demand fields with an emphasis on health care programs in regional locations, including mental and behavioral health, to address the state’s needs as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, UofA would receive $32 million through the New Economy Initiative to enhance medical professional and researcher training, to enhance capacity for students’ careers in national security, space technology, and planetary defense; and to develop Arizona’s only School of Mining into “a world-class leader in mining for the 21st century.”

Other highlights from the ABOR’s FY2020 College Completion Report include the fact a combined 13,558 graduate degrees were conferred in the same period, which represented a record number of master’s (11,387) and doctoral (2,171) degrees.

The most master’s degrees were in the fields of business management, education, engineering, health professions, and public administration, while the greatest numbers of doctoral degrees were in the fields of education, engineering, health, legal professions, and physical sciences.