By Reina Ravago, A for Arizona

Growing up, I always knew education was the key that would open doors for me. In conversations with my grandfather, I often asked what he desired most for his family. “La oportunidad,” he would say: opportunity. My grandfather instilled in me that pursuing a higher education would give me the tools to not only help myself, but my community.

The Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce kicked off their Hispanic Market Outlook Luncheon today and our A for Arizona team got a sneak peek on the education statistics, which signal the importance of education for a growing number of Hispanic students enrolling in college. The steady growth among Hispanic college students in the U.S. is noteworthy – since 1993, enrollment at two and four-year colleges is up 201 percent among ages 18-24. Supporting these upward trends in college enrollment are schools’ successful efforts to lower high school dropout rates and to help students gain the skills they need to excel in trade, the military, or the postsecondary classroom.

Southern Arizona, in particular, has proven to be full of opportunity for youth pursuing their goals of higher education. In the fall of 2014, we saw the number of Hispanic students on Southern Arizona campuses increase dramatically. For example, 25 percent of the 32,987 students at the University of Arizona are Hispanic. Similarly, 41 percent of the 28,070 Pima Community College student body are Hispanic students.

Nearly all Hispanics aged 18 and up in the Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise counties have attended college at some point, with many planning to go back to school in the next 12 months. This means that 43,129 Hispanics in the Tucson area plan to return to school. Increasing the number of Arizonans who build their skills and knowledge beyond high school will lead to a more diverse, knowledgeable, and innovative workforce that can compete nationally and globally – a key necessity in Southern Arizona.

Not only are we seeing an increase in Hispanic student enrollment on Southern Arizona college campuses, we have also seen a decrease in the high school dropout rate in the past year. Santa Cruz County has shown the region’s biggest decline in Hispanic high school dropouts, with a rate of 1.6 percent in the 2014-2015 school year, compared to the statewide average of 3.5 percent. Students and communities in Santa Cruz County are prioritizing their education and following through on personal educational goals.

Clearly, Arizona’s success in closing the Achievement Gap is paying dividends for our Hispanic population. The rise in college-going Hispanic students in Southern Arizona demonstrates the value these students and their families place on a quality education as well as the opportunities that become open to them after high school graduation.