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Online Degrees in Arizona (AZ)

According to a report published by the Lumina Foundation, the amount of adults in Arizona who have obtained a college degree is on the rise, albeit slowly. Data obtained during the 2013 U.S. Census indicates that 36.9 percent of working adults, ranging in age from 25 to 64 years old, hold a two- or four-year degree, up from 35.1 percent in 2010. Although this rate is slightly lower than the national average -- statistics show that around the country, 40 percent of working-age adults possess a degree -- the numbers still indicate that the amount of Arizonans with college degrees is increasing.

When it comes to the degree level of Arizona college graduates, the majority of adults in the state who have earned a degree completed a four-year program. Statistics show that in 2013, 593,122 residents, or 17.83 percent, held a bachelor's degree. In addition, 310,129, or 9.32 percent, of Arizona residents in that age group had earned an associate's degree, and 323,586 residents, or 9.73 percent, possessed a graduate-level degree.

The Lumina Foundation report, entitled A Stronger Nation Through Education, notes that although the amount of Arizonans taking advantage of a college education has increased in recent years, there are still some pitfalls that can be addressed. Specifically, the organization notes that 837,076, or 25.17 percent, of Arizona's working-age residents have attended some college but never completed a degree. In order to remedy this, the Foundation suggests that schools develop strategies to help students graduate with a postsecondary credential -- which will have an overall positive effect on the state's workforce, as it is projected that by 2018, 61 percent of jobs in the state will require a college degree.

  1. Why Should I Earn a Degree in Arizona?
  2. What Makes Arizona Ideal for Online Education?
  3. Top Careers in Arizona
  4. Scholarships and Financial Aid
  5. Discover Degree Opportunities

Why Should I Earn a Degree in Arizona?

U.S. Census data shows that, as of 2013, there were 6,626,624 people living in Arizona. And with a 65.5 percent home ownership rate and a state household median income of $50,256 per year, it's no surprise Arizona has become an attractive place to live and work. In fact, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index reports that as of August 2014, several locations in Arizona -- including Tucson, Phoenix, Mesa, Prescott, and Glendale -- were among the most affordable for home ownership in the country.

In addition, the job forecast for the state looks bright. Like the rest of the country, Arizona saw a significant decrease in unemployment claims in August 2014. During this time, the state also experienced a 2.4 percent increase in the amount of non-farming jobs, slightly higher than the nation's average of 1.9 percent. In the last year, there have been 59,400 new jobs added to the state's economy, with 56,400 of those being in the private sector. There were also many jobs added in the government, health services, and education sectors during that time.

Housing is not the only affordable commodity in the state: Statistics show that the cost of higher education in Arizona has become increasingly reasonable. And with a state constitution that declares college tuition should be "nearly free as possible," it's no wonder. In fact, in 2014, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee, which is in search of solutions to address the ever increasing cost of higher education around the country, met with Arizona education experts to discuss how the state has implemented creative ways to deliver high-quality education to students at an affordable price. Some of these initiatives include a partnership with industry leaders in order to provide a curriculum that best prepares students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), as well as health, related jobs and adopting a liberal credit transfer and joint admissions model to help keep tuition down.

As a result, the work that Arizona educators are doing is reflected in the cost of education around the state. According to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center's Trends in Higher Education Series, as of 2012, the average tuition and fees at public two-year colleges in the state was $2,124, while the cost of a public four-year school was $9,428. The average tuition and fees for a private nonprofit four-year college was $26,712.

Another factor that makes Arizona an attractive choice for earning a degree is the number of college and university choices available to students. There are dozens of institutions around the state, including schools in the Arizona State University system and the Northern Arizona University system, as well as the University of Arizona and numerous state community colleges and regional private institutions.

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What Makes Arizona Ideal for Online Education?

Online education has been flourishing in Arizona in recent years, and the state legislature is considering bills that would keep that trend going. With the number of state-approved K-12 online schools up to 66 -- from just 14 in 2009 -- lawmakers are working on legislation that will increase both access to online education for Arizona students and the ability of these institutions to hold their students to high standards.

In terms of higher education, the Arizona Board of Regents reports that colleges around the state are working on expanding online degree options, as well as creating more hybrid degree programs that will reduce the achievement gap and the cost of a degree -- two issues that the Board has been actively working to remedy.

Individual schools are also implementing programs to increase access to higher education through e-learning. For example, it was recently reported that Arizona State University has partnered with Starbucks to create the Starbucks College Achievement Plan -- a program that will allow employees of the company to affordably take online courses at the school through scholarships and tuition reimbursement plans. According to Howard Schultz, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Starbucks, Arizona State University was the perfect choice to deliver educational content to the company's workforce because it is a "like-minded university."

Similarly, Arizona State University has also partnered with the education and media company Pearson to provide courses on its LearningStudio platform. This partnership will allow the school to improve its online educational content by using tools the program provides, as well as the support services delivered by Pearson.

It's not surprising that Arizona educators are working to expand the reach of online schools, considering the numerous benefits students can reap from obtaining their degrees online. Phillips explains it this way:

"When you attend an online school, you get expanded access to your coursework, you're able to work independent of time, and you're not tied to a seat or tied to a brick and mortar campus," she says. "You get the experience of interacting with students from all over the country, not just those in your classroom, so you expand your reach to people in different places. You also have the benefit of enhancing your communication skills through technology."

Similarly, Phillips says that online education is particularly attractive to Arizona residents because of the commute generally associated with traveling back and forth to a brick-and-mortar institution.

"The ability to get from one place to another in Arizona isn't always easy since you're working through traffic and you're working through one of the most populated cities in the country," she adds. "Taking advantage of distance education and being able to save money and work is a pretty great option in the state of Arizona."

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Top Careers in Arizona

There are several career options where Arizona residents can thrive. Some of the top industries in the state, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority, include bioscience, advanced business services, and aerospace and defense.

Bioscience

The bioscience field has grown significantly in Arizona in recent years, largely due to the research and development efforts of companies like AstraZeneca, Medtronic, and Ventana Medical Systems, as well as the presence of prestigious healthcare facilities like the Mayo Clinic, the University of Arizona Cancer Center, and the Barrow Neurological Institute. In fact, statistics show that jobs for workers in this industry increased by 45 percent between 2002 and 2011, and there has been an influx of funding for research and development in the state.

Arizona also houses some of the top bioscience schools in the country, including the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. According to U.S. News and World Report, the University of Arizona ranks 38th in the country for biological science programs, while Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University rank 55th and 139th, respectively.

There are a number of possible career paths for those who earn bioscience degrees in Arizona. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that these graduates can pursue careers as biochemists and biophysicists, biological scientists, or biological technicians. The BLS projects rising demand in these fields over the next decade, with employment of biochemist and biophysicists expected to increase 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, and employment of biological technicians expected to increase 10 percent.

Advanced business services

A number of business sectors call Arizona home, in part because of the climate that state residents know and love. Thanks to the lack of unstable weather conditions like hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, and tornadoes that many states grapple with, many businesses feel comfortable maintaining their business operations in Arizona. Companies such as GoDaddy, EBay/Paypal, and American Express house their data centers in the state. In addition, Arizona is home to financial institutions like Wells Fargo, Silicon Valley Bank, and State Farm -- and all of these organizations have undergone significant expansion in recent years.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those who want to pursue business careers in Arizona have a number of different avenues available to them -- including careers as top executives, logisticians, or securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents. And in order to prepare for these jobs, Arizona students can earn a business degree from some of the top schools in the field. According to U.S. News and World Report, Arizona State University Carey's business program ranks 27th in the country, University of Arizona (Eller) is 48th, and Thunderbird School of Global Management is the 85th top school.

Students who earn these degrees may have a very good chance of landing a job in the field after graduation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growing demand in business sector over the coming decade. Employment opportunities for top executives are expected to increase 11 percent between 2012 and 2022, while logisticians could see job growth of 22 percent. Demand for securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents is expected to rise 11 percent over the same time period.

Aerospace and defense

Arizona has become a prime destination for the aerospace and defense industries, with over 1,200 companies in those fields basing their operations around the state. Among the organizations located in Arizona are Raytheon, Bombardier, L3 Communications, The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, and General Dynamics C4 Systems. One of the main reasons these companies flock to Arizona is because of the top-notch schools located in the state that offer programs in this sector. Arizona State University, which ranks 43rd in the country for engineering schools, has been a center for cutting-edge research in aerospace engineering, national defense, the environment, and transportation.

Similarly, the College of Optical Sciences and the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona have been an integral part of NASA research, including the NASA Mission to Mars. In addition, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is ranked third in the country for its undergraduate aerospace engineering program, has become the premier institution for teaching numerous subjects related to aviation, such as engineering, research, manufacturing, and marketing.

Students who earn degrees in aerospace might pursue careers as aerospace engineering and operations technicians or aerospace engineers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. And there will be a growing need for these workers in the coming decade, as demand for aerospace engineers is projected to rise seven percent between 2012 and 2022.

Mitsu Phillips, the Associate Provost of the mentoring department at Western Governors University, an online school with an office located in Phoenix, says that online schools can be a great choice for students who want to pursue these, and many other, careers in the state. And although there was skepticism about the legitimacy of online degrees in years passed, she says that employers are increasingly coming to appreciate the skills and knowledge that online school graduates bring to the table.

"Employers should be particularly excited about someone who has been able to navigate through their education using current technology to complete their degree," she says. "Companies want to hire someone with that technological aptitude, and, in my opinion, students don't necessarily get that at a traditional institution."

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

Making college affordable is something that families around the country are always concerned about, and Arizona students are no exception. However, students enrolled in Arizona schools can find some relief, thanks to the scholarships and financial aid opportunities available to those attending colleges in the state.

  • Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (AZLEAP): This needs-based grant is available to students who come from low-income households. In order to receive it, students must be able to demonstrate a financial need for tuition assistance, and be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at a participating institution.
  • Horatio Alger Arizona Scholarship Program: This scholarship, which is needs based, is awarded to Arizona residents who have earned at least a 2.0 grade point average in high school.
  • Math, Science, Special Education Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program (MSSE): In order to encourage Arizona students to enter the teaching profession, this needs-based, forgivable loan allows students to receive $7,000 per academic year for up to three years. In return, students agree to teach in an Arizona public school after finishing their degree, or repaying the loan with interest if they fail to meet this obligation.
  • Adelaide Ryerson Smith Memorial Award: Arizona students interested in pursuing a career in occupational therapy should look into this award, which provides $1,000 each year. In order to be considered, students must join the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Arizona Occupational Therapy Association.
  • Italian Catholic Federation Scholarships: Students who are of Italian descent and Roman Catholic can receive scholarships ranging from $500 to $1,000. In order to be eligible, students must maintain a minimum of a 3.2 grade point average and live within the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Arizona.
  • AQHF Arizona Quarter Horse Youth Scholarship Program: Members of the Arizona Quarter Horse Youth Association can receive this award, which is based on academic merit, financial need, and participation in the organization.
  • Arizona Nurses Foundation Scholarship: In order to help Arizona nursing students, the Arizona Nurses Foundation provides scholarships to students pursuing associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral nursing degrees. Students can receive between $500 and $1,000 for each semester they are enrolled in nursing school.
  • College Access Challenge Last Stretch Scholarship: Students who have completed at least 60 credits toward their bachelor's degree can receive up to $2,000 per year through this needs-based scholarship. Some of these scholarships are awarded to Arizona students pursuing any major, while some of the funds are earmarked for students enrolled in an eligible STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- degree program.
  • William C. Ray, CIH, CSP Arizona Scholarship: Although this scholarship, which is designed for students studying occupational safety and health, can be granted to students around the country, those attending Arizona schools are given preference for the award. Granted by the American Society of Safety Engineers, this award is provided to students who have at least a 3.0 grade point average.
  • Arizona CPA Foundation High School Scholarship: Arizona accounting majors can receive $500 through this scholarship. Eligibility requirements include Arizona residency and full-time enrollment in an accounting program at an Arizona university or community college.
  • PMI Phoenix Chapter Scholarship: This award is available to students who want to pursue a career in project management. In order to receive the scholarship, students must be an Arizona resident enrolled in an accredited project management bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program.
  • Postsecondary Education Grant Program: Through this needs-based grant program, Arizona students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program can receive up to $2,000 per year for four years. This grant can be applied to students' tuition, books, and fees, and must be repaid if they do not earn a degree within five years.

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Sources:
"A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#arizona
Arizona QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau, United States Census Bureau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/04000.html
"Housing Affordability for Most AZ Metros Better than Nation," Arizona's Economy, http://azeconomy.org/2014/08/economy/phoenix-home-price-rise-by-8-2-yy-in-may-2/
"Excellent education, reasonable cost: Arizona has it," The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2014/04/11/arizona-higher-education-leadership/7595185/
"Analysis Brief - Trends in Higher Education," College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/analysis-brief-trends-by-state-july-2012.pdf
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Mitsu Phillips, personal communication, August 29, 2014.