Economist: Arizona college grads face bleak career prospects here - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Economist: Arizona college grads face bleak career prospects here

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Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 5:44 pm

More than half of college graduates eventually have to leave Arizona because they can’t advance their careers here, a university economist said Tuesday.

Dan Anderson, who works for the Arizona Board of Regents, said it appears there are plenty of “good, entry-level, starting positions’’ available for those who have a degree from one of the state’s three universities. He said 80 percent of Arizona graduates manage to land work within the state right out of school.

But Anderson said longer-term trends paint a different picture. He said that by the time 20 years has passed, fewer than half of Arizona residents who graduated from college here are working in the state.

“It appears that, for a lot of different reasons, people, to move up in their career ladder, have to move out of state, to other opportunities,’’ he said.

Put simply, Anderson said, the state doesn’t have the corporate headquarters and central offices where these upper-level workers are needed.

“People are able to be employed quickly,’’ he said. “But the issue of retention of jobs is an issue we need to fix.’’

Rep. Steve Court, R-Mesa, said he and his colleagues recognize the problem. He said that is why Republicans pushed through legislation to lower business taxes in hopes of luring companies to come to the state and bring their corporate headquarters with them.

But Court, who chairs the House Committee on Higher Education, Innovation and Reform, sees the problem in the reverse. He said the key is not to create more jobs for graduates but to create more graduates for jobs.

“Having the low amount of graduates that we do have doesn’t attract the type of businesses that they need to employ them,’’ he said.

The problem, Court said, is not within the university system

He cited other figures in Anderson’s report which shows that fewer than half of high school graduates go on to get a postsecondary education.

“A lot of it has to go back to just educating the students at the high school level just what the opportunities are,’’ Court said. He said some kids are from families where the parents don’t have a higher education so the children just do not consider it.

And he said some kids just don’t think they could get admitted, or would do well.

He is a fan of requiring all students to take either the SAT or ACT college admission tests.

“Some of these kids just don’t realize the potential they have,’’ Court said. “Just getting more people to take that exam would open up their eyes.’’

Whatever the cause, Anderson said the problem of Arizona graduates having to go elsewhere to pursue their careers is more than just a loss of talent.

“We are investing substantial amounts of money in those individuals,’’ he said.

“We want to get as much of that return as possible,’’ Anderson said. “And to the extent we have a broader base of opportunities we’ll be able to retain more.’’

He acknowledged that runs up against the governor’s budget proposal to cut $170 million in state aid for universities. While the regents have instructed the schools to absorb most of that in cuts, part will be made up with even higher tuition.

“There’s the fiscal reality of the state budget,’’ Court said. He said lawmakers have balanced the budget the past few years with borrowing and accounting gimmicks.

“We’re trying to get away from that,’’ he said.

Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, said he understands the need for economic development. But Vogt said he isn’t necessarily convinced that the numbers cited by Anderson show a problem.

He said we are now living in a more mobile society. And Vogt said it would be illogical to expect those raised and educated in Arizona to stay here all their lives.

Anderson said that is true, to a degree.

“I think a substantial part of it is natural migration,’’ he said.

“It’s not like I have any expectation that everyone who would graduate from an Arizona university would be employed here in this state forever,’’ Anderson said. And Anderson said people do seek a change of scenery, even from a place that might seem like an ideal destination for someone who went to college in the snowbelt of upstate New York.

But he said it still comes down to going where the jobs are.

“If I’m an accountant and I want to work up in my profession, then I have to go where the corporate office is,’’ Anderson said.

“And the corporate office or the regional office may be in Los Angeles or Chicago or Dallas,’’ he said. “So they have to move on to those opportunities.’’

Anderson said, though, he does not have figures from elsewhere to compare to the drop in the number of local graduates who continue to work in their home states.

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