Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Az teens’ unmet expectations

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

As the Arizona Legislature struggles to meet critical state needs with dwindling dollars, young people are among the hardest hit.

Education at all levels, already underfunded compared with other states, has been forced to absorb heavy cuts – with more cuts looming.

Budget cuts have led the presidents of the three state universities to propose higher fees, elimination of some majors and other moves to cut spending – moves that would make it more difficult to earn a college degree in a reasonable time at a reasonable cost.

It may be defensible, but it is regrettable. For the sake of short-term savings, we are undercutting the future of the next generation.

And they do care. That is clear from “Great Expectations: Arizona Teens Speak Up,” a survey conducted by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

There are more than 600,000 teenagers in Arizona – 9 percent of the state’s population. It is they who will lead this state in the years to come.

Much of the survey findings portend an optimistic future.

When asked what constitutes “a good life,” teens put enjoyable work and a happy family far ahead of wealth and fame.

Arizona teens overwhelmingly enjoy being with people who are different from themselves. And a majority believe police officers are fair and operate legally.

But on the education front, the immediate outlook for Arizona teens is not good – and it isn’t their fault. If national trends continue, today’s teens will become the first generation in U.S. history to be less educated than the one before.

Students want a good education and are willing to work for it. A majority – 58 percent – said passing the AIMS test should be a graduation requirement. Arizona adults probably don’t feel that strongly.

Teens also have strong opinions about Arizona’s high dropout rate. More than 6 in 10 say teens drop out because their parents don’t encourage or require them to stay in school.

They also want a stronger education, saying a better selection of classes and smaller class size would improve their school experience.

Given that, we – and especially legislators and other state decision-makers – must ask ourselves if we are willing to match teens’ aspirations with the opportunity to achieve them.

Teenagers are not in charge of setting policy – yet. But they are willing and preparing to take over. We do them a great disservice if we provide them with an inadequate education. If they are unprepared, we all ultimately will pay the price.

Today’s teens may become the first generation in American history to be less educated than the generation before.

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