Published September 26, 2019
Arizona has made advances in past years in postsecondary attainment, but gaps persist in the Native American community
PHOENIX — Only 17 percent of Native American Arizonans hold at least an associate degree. While this number does not include those with a postsecondary certificate, it still displays a staggering gap between attainment for Native Americans and the general Arizona population. Achieve60AZ is working to find solutions and create action plans to close attainment gaps. The alliance, in partnership with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and Lumina Foundation, recently organized three working groups each focused on increasing attainment for their respective communities: Native American, Latinx, and African American.
“The data show this gap exists when it comes to Native Americans and the general population,” said Karen Francis Begay, Assistant Vice President of Tribal Relations for The University of Arizona. “It is morally imperative to our state to reach more Native American adults and students.”
Some 45 percent of Arizonans currently hold a postsecondary degree or certificate, and Achieve60AZ is working to ensure 60 percent of Arizonans hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030. Four-year high school graduation rates for Native American students also lag when compared with the general population (67 vs. 78 percent), as does enrollment in postsecondary education programs the semester after high school (39 vs. 53 percent). Additionally, 29 percent of Native Americans ages 16 to 24 are considered to be “opportunity youth,” meaning that they are not going to school or working.
“We realize that this is not perfect science, and attainment will not simply become a reality because we set a goal,” said Rachel Yanof, Executive Director of Achieve60AZ. “But, as other states have done this work, they are realizing that without a laser focus on equity and attainment within individual communities, actions that can seem logical to achieve the larger attainment goal can actually exacerbate the gaps.”
Last year, Achieve60AZ began working on the issue of equity and attainment within Arizona’s minority populations after being awarded a national grant from WICHE and Lumina Foundation. The organization held roundtable discussions where community leaders discussed the struggles their communities face when it comes to educational attainment and ways to address them.
As a result of these discussions, Achieve60AZ created three working groups: the Achieve60AZ Native American Attainment Equity Working Group, Achieve60AZ Latinx Attainment Equity Working Group, and Achieve60AZ African American Attainment Equity Working Group. Each group is comprised of community leaders from across the state to ensure the groups represent the voice of all of Arizona. Throughout the coming months, each working group will work to establish community priorities to reach the statewide attainment goal. This will serve as a critical step in ensuring that the path to reaching the attainment goal considers equity.
“In many ways, much of this work has already been started in these respective communities. We will be building on existing local efforts. We recognize that while this is an important step to meeting the statewide attainment goal, it is not the final solution. We plan to use these groups as a stepping stone on the path to attainment,” Yanof said.