Putting Arizona on the Map (of College Success)

March 3rd, 2015

*“He who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support…As he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon.”* — Robert Louis Stevenson

We look to our neighbor states not merely to assess our competitiveness in a 21st century economy but also to draw lessons from shared challenges and experiences. Our website shows the relationship between Arizona and our regional neighbors in the area of college degree attainment.

The Regional CSA Regional MapPicture map is a first pass at showing how Arizona stacks up in comparison to nearby states (selecting the graphic on the left will take you to the interactive maps on our website).

The map is overlaid with four different but related datasets. The first is degree attainment for all adults; the goal of College Success Arizona is to boost this number. The second and third datasets show degree attainment for white and Hispanic subgroups; we can see that these numbers don’t always directly correspond to the rates for the overall population. Finally, we can view poverty rates in order to get a sense for the economic situation of each state.

Arizona ranks behind California, Colorado and Utah in in degree attainment, but is ahead of New Mexico and Nevada. In comparing Arizona and our neighbors to the east, New Mexico, we can observe an oddity in the data. Arizona is ahead in overall degree attainment. However, if we view the respective rates for white and Hispanic subgroups, we observe that New Mexico has higher college completion for both groups. How can this be?

The answer is known as Simpson’s paradox. Despite both white and Hispanic adults in New Mexico being more likely to have a college degree, a larger proportion of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic, and its overall rate is lower as a result. As demographics shift here in Arizona, we will need to close gaps in college completion in order to avoid losing ground relative to our neighbor states. Check out the blog post on our Graduation Gaps calculator to learn more about this issue.

What patterns appear when you study this map? What additional information would enhance our regional picture? Please tell us your thoughts.

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