Graduation hat with certificate

"While 41 percent of eighth-graders pass math, the group wants to hit 69 percent. It also wants to boost high school graduation rates from a current 78 percent to 90 percent."

Mesa plans to join a statewide effort to boost post-graduate educational attainment after a report found the city lags behind the statewide average for residents with either a college degree, a certificate or a license.

The report found about 35 percent of Mesa’s population has such a credential, compared to the statewide average of 45 percent – which still falls well short of Achieve60AZ’s lofty goal of 60 percent attainment by 2030.

“We are not re-starting the, ‘you have to go to college’ conversation,’’ said Amy Trethaway of Mesa Achieves Higher Education, noting welders, diesel mechanics and cosmetologists are all considered credentialed under the Achieve 60AZ program.

“This is a workforce-development program related to education,’’ she said.

She noted Mesa and other Arizona cities needing a trained workforce to attract major industries and good jobs.

In Mesa, an email authored by Trethaway found 45,000 residents have no education beyond high school and 75,000 started a post-secondary education program, such as taking a class or two at a community college, but never finished.

“As the second largest city in the State, Mesa has 21,599 adults who need to obtain a GED, 45,000 adults who need to enroll into a post-secondary education (they have graduated high school but no college) and 75,000 adults who have SOME college but no degree or certification,’’ Trethaway wrote

“Mesa must intentionally engage in workforce development right now for the future of Mesa’s economy because the lack of a skilled workforce will impact the City and its services heavily.  Right now, on average, Mesa’s workforce will see a reduction in qualified workers as early as 2025.’’

The recommendations include establishing a Mesa Achieve 60AZ steering committee with representatives from the public, educational institutions and the business community, along with a Mesa education dashboard and a Mesa Promise campaign.

Trethaway said the cost of such a campaign is estimated at about $200,000 a year, or $1 million for five years.

The goal is to encourage students to fill out federal applications for financial aid and to take other steps toward either enrolling in post-secondary education or continuing a program. 

Mayor John Giles backed the program immediately, along with council members Jen Duff, Francisco Heredia and David Luna.

Councilman Kevin Thompson said he supports the goal and the concept, but questions whether the city should stray from its core mission of providing public safety and other services.

“The point is to get the kids falling through the cracks, not the kids on the right path,’’ Giles said. “I don’t want to pretend for a minute this is not going to cost money. There is absolutely city skin in the game. It’s used to leverage philanthropy.’’

He said Mesa could commit to spending $100,000 and he could easily raise at least as much, if not more, from the business community.

“This is going to be the easiest fundraising job I’ve ever been part of,’’ Giles said. “It’s appropriate to spend a little money on poverty prevention.’’

He said it may be best to form a non-profit organization to lead the effort, rather than having the city handle donations. Mesa would join about 40 municipalities statewide in participating in the effort.

Heredia said he wants to inspire students, while Duff said she wants to reduce homelessness and prop up the city’s economy.

“You can see how education and having a better wage can impact our city in numerous ways,’’ Duff said. “I think it’s a dire time to take action and commit to this Achieve 60AZ.’’

Statewide, about half of all high school graduates enroll in a two-year or four-year program, but only 27 percent. 

Rachel Yanoff, Achieve60AZ’s executive director, wrote by time today’s preschoolers graduate from high school, an estimated 70 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree.

Mesa’s educational profile does not appear unique, with an estimated 1 million Arizona residents among those who started a post-secondary program, but never completed it.

Achieve60AZ has a number of goals that also point some alarming statistics about today’s students in Arizona.

For example, only 44 percent of third-graders read at grade level; Achieve60AZ’s goal is 72 percent.

While 41 percent of eighth-graders pass math, the group wants to hit 69 percent.

It also wants to boost high school graduation rates from a current 78 percent to 90 percent.

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