Business Leaders Commit to Significantly Advance the Number of Arizonans Pursuing Higher Education & Training Opportunities

Business Leaders Commit to Significantly Advance the Number of Arizonans Pursuing Higher Education & Training Opportunities

On the heels of Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs naming September “Arizona Career Awareness Month,” Education Forward Arizona President and CEO Rich Nickel today joined Greater Phoenix Economic Council President and CEO Chris Camacho; Banner Health Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Julie Ann Alvarado-Dubek; South Mountain Community College President Dr. Richard Daniel; and McCarthy Building Companies Vice President Mike Gonzalez to commit to help significantly advance the number of Arizonans pursuing higher education and training opportunities in the state.


Their gathering was designed to focus on the urgent attainment problem facing Arizona while calling attention to the opportunity the state has to create a larger pipeline of home-grown, skilled workers to fuel long-term economic stability.


While Arizona is experiencing an increased number of high-wage jobs, the state is in the middle of a postsecondary education attainment crisis with its residents.


In 2021, only 47.3% of Arizona high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education programs (compared to 46.8% in 2020). The data is even more startling for students from racially and ethnically diverse populations: 41.3% for Hispanic/Latino students, 46.3% for African American students, and 31.8% for Native American students. More than half of White students (52.7%) enrolled in postsecondary programs.


Additionally, while the cost of living continues to rise rapidly in Phoenix and the dream of owning a home gets further out of reach, decades of data show a substantial increase in the lifelong earnings potential an individual gains simply by having a college degree or certification.


In order for 60 percent of Arizona adults to have a college degree or certificate by 2030, the state will need approximately 500,000 more adults with a postsecondary degree, certificate or license in the next seven years. Increasing the number of adults completing degrees/certifications brings huge financial benefits to the state, drives economic growth, builds strong communities, and creates recession resiliency. 


The path there starts with examples like the one being set bv South Mountain Community College, which is bucking the trends of declining community college enrollment by achieving double-digit enrollment increases this year. This is credited to dual enrollment expansion; partnerships with local employers to offer innovative, hands-on programming; and identifying breakthrough, affordable training opportunities for all students.

Education Forward Arizona President and CEO Rich Nickel said, “Today, the business community is stepping up to say that they agree that increasing both degrees and workforce certifications in Arizona is essential to our state – but more importantly, to say that the work of increasing education beyond high school doesn’t belong just to the education community. It’s also the work of the business community. What you see behind me is the first draft of the Business-Education Compact for Arizona. It’s an evolving, public agreement that commits to breaking down the walls between business and education – and rolling up our sleeves and working together.”

Greater Phoenix Economic Council President and CEO Chris Camacho said, “Our healthcare sector has surpassed 300,000 employees, and with the projected growth there’s going to be an overarching demand for healthcare positions and individuals. We are the semiconductor hub of the United States, and to continue bolstering that position we need to emphasize the growth of our construction sector, which is 150,000 employees strong today. There is no better time than now for the business and education community to come together, to dream big, and to meet that goal of 500,000 new credentials to ensure that we can meet our Achieve60 goals.”

Banner Health Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Julie Ann Alvarado-Dubek said, “As the human resources leader for Banner Health, with over 50,000 team members, I have a personal investment in ensuring we are able to attract and retain employees now and in the future. Arizona health systems have made great progress to rebuild staff since the height of the pandemic, but with the rapidly expanding population in Arizona, we must ensure we are preparing the healthcare workforce of the future. I want Banner’s future nurses, technicians, and doctors to come from my home state of Arizona  – where we can deliver exceptional health care to the members of our own communities. Banner Health hosts 83% of Arizona’s clinical nursing rotations. We have hosted 5,000 nursing students YTD and have expanded clinical capacity by being creative with our academic partners as they grow their programs to create more opportunities for degree and certification attainment.”

South Mountain Community College President Dr. Richard Daniel said, “The entire team at South Mountain is extremely pleased to share that we are seeing a significant resurgence in our enrollment for the first time since the pandemic. Our full-time enrollment has seen a 16.4% increase compared to last year; this enrollment growth leads the Maricopa Community College District. This isn’t happening by chance or by luck. It’s happening because we’re being intentional. We’re focused on broadening our postsecondary programs and our relationships with K-12 districts in South Phoenix. Our construction trades institute is helping. And so is South Mountain’s focus on dual enrollment programs, along with Gov. Hobbs’ leadership in expanding the state’s investment in dual enrollment. We’re also introducing new, innovative learning opportunities and business partnerships.” 

McCarthy Building Companies Vice President Mike Gonzalez said, “We need more partnerships between business and higher education to keep building Arizona. Our partnership with South Mountain Community College helps us to identify and train the highly skilled workers we need to fill our workforce pipeline. More than that, we’re helping to grow the construction trades workforce across the state – which is hiring all the time and is always seeking trained workers. Once these workers get into McCarthy’s associate’s program, they have an opportunity for long-term and rewarding career opportunities.”

LaHesuia Ferguson, a recent South Mountain Community College graduate, said, “Women deserve to be in the construction trades. South Mountain Community College’s Construction Trades Institute gave me the opportunity to put my dream into reality. I had not worked in construction, electrical or plumbing before coming to South Mountain Community College; I had worked with the airline and mortgage industries. Going through these three programs gave me the hands-on skills and confidence to not only work in these trades, but it also gave me the opportunity to pursue my ambitions. I was inspired to learn because I wanted a better life for my kids and my grandkids. I am proud to say that not only did I complete all three courses, but I achieved a 4.0 grade point average in all of them. My plan is to use what I learned here to write a business plan that will help me secure a grant with the state to build low-income housing for families in South Phoenix.”

Education stats

  • CNBC ranked Arizona No. 3 in workforce, but No. 42 in education.


Healthcare workforce stats

  • Healthcare employment in Arizona increased from 257,000 to 303,000 from 2017-22, and is projected to increase by another 16% from 2022-27.
  • Arizona had 9th-most healthcare-related completions in 2021, comparable to New York and Indiana.


Construction workforce stats

  • Construction jobs in Arizona increased from 115,000 in 2017 to 153,000 in 2022 and is projected to increase another 12.1% from 2022-27.
  • In 2021, Arizona ranked No. 27 in construction completions.

Education Forward Arizona is a statewide education advocacy organization dedicated to championing education as the key driver to improving Arizona’s economy and quality of life. Education Forward Arizona serves as the leading voice for promoting the state’s Achieve 60AZ education attainment goal and a shared action plan to move the goals of the Arizona Education Progress Meter forward. The organization’s work also includes mobilizing people and communities to advocate for policies and funding to improve educational outcomes across the Pre-K to postsecondary continuum, as well as providing scholarships and programs that improve postsecondary attainment for Arizona’s diverse student population. Learn more at

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