The state has long struggled to produce a steady stream of qualified religious science graduates, a problem that has made it harder for state leaders to attract top scientists from outside the state.
A new report from the Arizona State University’s Center for Religious Science Policy estimates that in fiscal year 2019, the state ranked 27th in the nation for the number of religious science PhDs, and that in 2021, the number will drop to 34th.
That’s a steep drop from what it was in 2019, when the state was first ranked as the top destination for qualified religious scientists.
The state was in the top five among all 50 states for the last five years.
But in 2021 there will be only 24 religious science graduate slots available, according to the report.
And the report says the number is likely to fall further as more state schools increase their religious science offerings.
“We have a significant shortage of qualified, highly trained, highly qualified people who are able to come here and work in the state,” says Bill J. Anderson, a former Arizona state senator and current executive director of the Arizona Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank that tracks the state’s religious science program.
Anderson says he’s hopeful that the new report will help Arizona leaders address the shortage of religious scientists and recruit more from outside of the state, including from around the country.
“The fact that there are no more qualified, talented, religious scientists to come in, is going to be a concern for the state and for the public,” he says.
The report says Arizona has one of the most diverse religious science curricula in the country, but that it’s also the least diverse. “
We’ve got to get the top people.”
The report says Arizona has one of the most diverse religious science curricula in the country, but that it’s also the least diverse.
According to the study, only 11.5 percent of the religious science students enrolled at public, Catholic, and Christian universities in Arizona were from outside their state of birth.
Meanwhile, the percentage of students from outside those religious backgrounds is more than 50 percent, and more than 90 percent are from outside New Mexico.
That’s compared to just under 20 percent for the U.S. population overall.
The report also says that the state is lagging in many other ways, including in its efforts to recruit and retain the top talent from outside Arizona.
“In addition to our limited religious science workforce, Arizona has had a relatively high number of students leave the state over the last several years, including a large number of recent graduates,” it said.
For example, Arizona is home to more than 1,000 state-licensed and state-certified medical doctors, but only two medical doctors with at least a bachelor’s degree. “
The loss of qualified candidates in religious science is especially concerning given the need for a robust recruitment strategy to meet Arizona’s national and international needs for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
For example, Arizona is home to more than 1,000 state-licensed and state-certified medical doctors, but only two medical doctors with at least a bachelor’s degree.
And about 20 percent of Arizona’s top science graduates went to private schools, which could be a major problem for the future of Arizona, Anderson says.
“Arizona’s religious scientists have a strong academic pedigree, and they have the credentials to move into science jobs,” Anderson says, but “in many ways, they’re not doing that because the state doesn’t want them to.”