Billions to Gain

Explore the economic impact of increasing college enrollment and completion in Arizona

Arizonans who have gone to college and completed a certificate or degree program can expect to earn more, enjoy better health, and benefit from greater access to opportunities compared to people whose education stopped after high school. This individual prosperity translates to substantial economic returns for the state. Increasing the number of Arizonans with a college education can yield billions in economic gains. Just by increasing the postsecondary enrollment rate by 20 percent, Arizona stands to benefit from more than $5 billion per high school cohort in gains attributable to factors like higher lifetime earnings, better health, and increased workforce productivity.

A College Education Is Transformative
By one measure, an Arizonan with a bachelor’s degree contributes $982,680 more in economic gains for the state than someone whose education stopped after high school.

The billions in economic returns that come from expanding postsecondary enrollment and completion—and the thousands of individuals who would be empowered with greater economic opportunity and prosperity—would more than justify state efforts and funding that support increased attainment. 

A college education almost certainly causes higher earnings.

Such efforts and funding represent an investment in the present and future of our state. Arizona must make getting to and through college a reality for more students, especially Hispanic/Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds.

The insights and data visualizations on this page highlight key findings and takeaways from Billions to Gain: The Economic Benefits of Investing in a More Educated Arizona, a report produced by Helios Education Foundation and Education Forward Arizona about the benefits of postsecondary attainment for Arizona’s economy.

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About Billions to Gain

To demonstrate how much Arizona—and individual Arizonans—would economically benefit from increased rates of college-going, the analysis detailed in Billions to Gain uses state-specific and national data to model a range of statewide scenarios and their corresponding economic consequences.

The benefits of increased postsecondary enrollment and completion are both personal and public. Individuals benefit, in the form of higher earnings and more opportunity, from going to college and completing a certificate or degree. At the same time, the benefits to individuals add up to large-scale economic gains for the state, in the form of social and fiscal gains.

Three Ways Of Looking At The Economic Impact Of College Participation And Completion

INDIVIDUAL. At the individual or personal level, the benefits of postsecondary attainment are expressed primarily in terms of higher lifetime earnings, as well as impact benefits, such as increased labor force participation and job security.

SOCIAL. The social analysis shows how college enrollment and completion are good for communities and the state of Arizona as a whole. From this vantage, the analysis looks at increases in gross earnings and health status, as well as reductions in crime and other social consequences influenced by increased postsecondary attainment.

FISCAL. The fiscal perspective models the beneficial tax consequences at the federal and state/local levels—in terms of higher revenues and lower public expenditures, such as on health and crime—related to increased enrollment and completion.

About The Data

This analysis uses a single cohort of 68,690 high school graduates from Arizona’s public schools (the “class of 2022”) for its model. Each year, there is a new graduating cohort; the amounts reported are lump sums recurring for each cohort. The analysis is modeled over a lifetime (it includes census age bands up to age 64) and accounts for all the monetary flows attributable to each educational status—specifically, high school graduate, some college, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or advanced degree. It accounts for a comprehensive set of factors, including lifetime earnings; taxes; health; crime; and externalities, welfare, education, and deadweight loss. Note that the large number of Arizona students who attend private schools are not included in this model cohort, which derives from data on public schools.

Please refer to the full report, Billions To Gain, for more information about the data and methodology

These higher expected lifetimes earnings for individuals who have a postsecondary education, along with other social and fiscal factors, contribute to large aggregate gains for the state.


Social Value

  • Arizonans with bachelor’s degrees contribute $982,680 more in social gains per individual than high school graduates.
  • Increasing college completion rates by 10 percent would lead to social gains of $1.37 billion per cohort.
  • Increasing college enrollment rates by 20 percent would lead to social gains that exceed $5 billion per cohort.

Fiscal Value

  • The fiscal gains from increasing college enrollment and attainment are smaller than the social gains, but still substantial.
  • Increasing college completion rates by 10 percent would lead to fiscal gains of $520 million per cohort.
  • Increasing college enrollment rates by 20 percent would lead to gains of $1.82 billion per cohort.

College enrollment and completion rates are racially stratified across Arizona. White students are much more likely to enroll in college and complete a degree than their non-white peers. The gap is especially wide between white and Hispanic/Latino students, for whom degree completion rates are less than half of what they are for white students.

Arizona Can Realize Exceptional Gains from Increasing College-Going Among Underrepresented Groups

This type of disparity restrains advancement for individuals and communities in Arizona and restricts the growth of Arizona’s economy. If all students enrolled in college at equal rates, for example, the social gains would amount to approximately $574 million per cohort. If all students completed college at rates equivalent to those of white students, then the gains would be even greater. Completion parity would lead to $7.35 billion in lifetime earnings gains for individuals, with fiscal gains of $3.30 billion and social gains of $8.69 billion per cohort.

The regional gains from higher enrollment and completion rates are conditioned by factors such as community demographics, baseline educational attainment rates, and local economic circumstances. Accordingly, although there are strong economic benefits to increasing college enrollment and completion for all regions, the magnitude of those gains varies.

Regional differences are especially evident when comparing social gains for urban localities with suburban or rural localities. Labor market gains related to postsecondary education are conventionally higher in urban areas, where wages are higher overall, and wage inequality is more significant.

In Maricopa County, for example, the social impact of increasing the college completion rate by 10 percent would be $684.04 million per cohort.

Regional Variation in Economic Gains

Increasing college participation and completion rates—and ensuring that Arizona achieves its 60 percent college attainment goal by 2030—will require bold action by educators, policymakers, and business and community leaders.

Ensuring that all students in Arizona have access to the educational supports, services, and opportunities that make postsecondary education possible—as well as realistic and achievable—is vital to the success of any investments and efforts we undertake to increase access and attainment.

What Arizona Can Do

Bolstering college readiness efforts and strengthening the linkages between the K-12 and postsecondary education systems, such as through expanded access to dual enrollment and promotion of student-centered pathways.

Reducing non-academic barriers to college-going and college completion through, to name a few among many examples, expanding access to school counselors and guidance services and greater support for community-based organizations that help students navigate the college-going experience.

Making college more affordable for all students. Cost is the most significant barrier most students face, and state efforts to mitigate that barrier could include a state-sponsored need-based grant aid program and increased state subsidies for postsecondary institutions.

Facilitating development of programs and initiatives, including public-private partnerships, that incentivize more students to pursue college degrees in high-value sectors.