With a History of Low Graduation Rates, Arizona Strives to Do Better

 

Despite a steady increase in graduation rates over the past five years, educators in Arizona strive to do better.

In 2009, 76 percent of high school seniors graduated in four years, opposed to 70 percent in 2006, according to the Arizona Department of Education’s website.

There has been an increase in graduation rates, but “that’s nowhere near where we want to be …,” said Ryan Ducharme, executive director of Office of Communications and Innovation at the Arizona Department of Education.

Arizona High School Graduation Rates 2002-2009

“The more students that graduate, the more opportunities there are available to them to succeed,” Ducharme said.

Ducharme said it is important to earn an education, especially in such a technology driven economy.

“They need to thrive … to be tech savvy, and develop critical thinking skills,” Ducharme said.

“Ultimately we want every child to graduate …,” Ducharme said.  “We strive for 100 percent …”

Based on national data from 2008-2009, only nine states, and the District of Columbia, ranked worse than Arizona in terms of graduation rates in high school students.

Arizona had a graduation rate of 73 percent, while Wisconsin had the highest rate, 91 percent, and Nevada had the lowest, with 56 percent, according to the Department of Education’s website.

 

In order to help students succeed and graduate, some high schools have created programs that promote higher education.

Officials at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, established their own writing center where students are able to receive help from fellow students on different assignments and projects.  This program allows for both students to further their knowledge and better their writing style.

Marcus Garcia, a senior at Santa Rita High School, plans on using his experience from auto shop to help him fulfill his dream of becoming an automotive technician.

“I like to work on cars,” Garcia said.  “I get to do it everyday in auto class.”

However, when it comes to students who plan to attend college after high school, in 2008, Arizona fell to the bottom of the list, according to the Department of Education’s website.

Vanessa Daniel, 18, is not part of this statistic.

Daniel, a senior at Catalina Magnet High School, said she does not think a high school diploma is enough to make it in life.

“I’m going to Western New Mexico University,” Daniel said.

Daniel said she thinks people should expand their education after high school because “people are settling with GEDs and it’s getting them nowhere.”

Daniel said she plans on earning a bachelors degree in sociology and eventually attending law school.

To help prepare future and current students for college, Pima Community College recently started a new program, the PCC Prep Academy.

Brenda Keane, Pima Community College Prep Academy advance program manager, said that despite the program being “brand spanking new,” students are already commenting that they enjoy the software the course offers.

The Prep Academy is a non-credit, low-cost course that offers aid in reading, writing and math, as well as teaching students how to take notes successfully and deal with test anxiety.

Arizona High School Graduation Rates by Ethnicity in 2009
Arizona high school graduation rates from 2009 separated by ethnicity.

“It’s self-paced and very individualized,” Keane said.  “People learn in different ways, so you can get it in the way you need it.”

“I don’t think you will find this kind of a deal anywhere else right now,” Keane said.

However, with a less than thriving economy, students wonder where to turn to in terms of a job or earning a degree.  If students decide to pursue a college education after high school, there are some suggestions for an area of study.

“There will be a lot of opportunities in technology,” said Derek Lemoine, assistant professor of economics at the University of Arizona.

Although Lemoine said he believes one individual is not exactly “qualified” to make career predictions based on the economy, he does have a few ideas.

“Over the next couple of decades there will be an increase in the need to use resources smartly,” Lemoine said.  “There will always be a need for energy smart solutions.”

Lemoine acknowledges the fact that the economy is not currently in the greatest shape, but has high hopes that it will pull itself back up; the question then is, “what do we have to go through between then and now?”

Until then, “in general, the most important things students can learn is how to think critically, pick up good writing skills … and (learn) basic math,” Lemoine said.

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