Americans are ready

Friday, November 18th, 2016

In his acceptance speech, President-elect Donald Trump asked Americans to join him in rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. Throughout the campaign, he has pledged a better deal for our country. 

Americans are ready.

Thousands of working adults have been left displaced, disillusioned and disenfranchised by the recession. Young people feel unable to climb traditional career ladders to the same rungs of success as previous generations. 

As the economy recovers, our political leaders are grappling with how to ensure Americans are prepared to work in the jobs now available to them, and with the best ways to expand greater economic opportunity for all.  

Opportunity is "the set of circumstances that make it possible to do something." More than ever in this job market, opportunity equates to educational attainment.

That message was reinforced this week as the Arizona Board of Regents released its Wages of Graduates report detailing the earnings of students who graduate from an Arizona public university. The results are compelling.  An undergraduate student working in Arizona has median earnings 78 percent higher than someone with a high school diploma alone. The earnings differential is even greater for students who complete graduate degrees; their median earnings are 22 percent higher yet than workers with baccalaureate degrees. 

When it comes to good deals, a university degree beats no degree any day. Simply put, more learning equals more earning.

The aggregate impact of more educated workers on the economy is profound. Arizona public university graduates earn billions in wages and pay taxes on those earnings to state and local governments.

Consequently, no conversation about infrastructure investment to spur economic development is complete without considering the critical role played by our public universities.

With the intensifying focus on career and technical skills education, more than ever we must demonstrate HOW Arizona's public universities are taking concrete steps to address the challenges facing our nation and public higher education. More specifically, these are our challenges:

  • Graduating more students capable of meeting workforce needs;
  • Delivering more affordable and cost-effective education;
  • Checking increases in tuition and debt that have eroded public trust and consumer confidence;
  • Demonstrating quality and a unique value that cannot be substituted in the private sector; and
  • Improving rates of academic success among students of all backgrounds, (i.e., not just admitting a diverse group of students but deploying innovative strategies to ensure they graduate at rates similar to their peers.

The federal transition presents an opportunity. It is incumbent upon all of us in public higher education to showcase our progress in addressing these challenges and to orient federal policy so that it recognizes innovation and is light on the kind of intrusive, costly regulations that do not directly contribute to student achievement and access to a quality, affordable education. We must reassert and redefine the role of the state to encourage reinvestment in the people we serve. 

Finally, and importantly, we need to respect the rule of law and work closely with our congressional delegation to provide students the certainty they need in their immigration and residency status. This includes reforms for our DACA students and our international students who wish to study and work as recognized Americans.

Public universities are still one of the best deals in America; we must augment, not marginalize, these institutions. This is particularly important for groups of people in our country who for generations have been fighting for - and are finally gaining - meaningful access to learn at the highest levels.

The incoming Trump administration has pledged its commitment to realizing America's great untapped potential. On behalf of Arizona's system of public universities, we look forward to working with the president-elect to reaffirm that a public university education remains one of the surest paths to success.