Confident, strong and rising

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

I listened to Gov. Ducey's first State of the State address with eager anticipation and commend his call for a "confident, strong and rising" Arizona.

The governor's commitment to keep Arizona's children a foremost priority is laudable, specifically in securing access to a quality K-12 education in our state, with a strong focus to eliminate disparities that prevent equitable opportunity for all students.

Increasing student success at the K-12 level will help our universities meet a key strategic goal of providing more students with a college education to foster the educated workforce Arizona needs, and better position the state to compete in the global economy.

A strong public higher education system is a vital part of a thriving economy and Arizona's public universities are foundational to the state's economic success.

With two-thirds of all job openings requiring post-secondary education by 2018, our current college-going and completion rates in Arizona are desperate for improvement. Today, only 50 percent of Arizona's high school graduates move on to postsecondary education, and half of these come from only 10 percent of Arizona's public high schools. Every school in our state should have the capacity to graduate students who are ready for college and career.

Gov. Ducey's imperative to reduce regulation so the economy can truly thrive is essential to our state's ongoing growth. The Arizona Board of Regents has recently engaged in a thorough review of unnecessary regulations that, once shed, would enable our universities to become more agile and entrepreneurial --- and importantly, help decrease the cost of operating our public universities and ultimately help defray costs for families. We will be pursuing these changes this legislative session and hope to see them included as part of any regulatory reforms passed.

During the Great Recession, state appropriations for per-student funding at our universities decreased by 50 percent. Today, approximately only one-quarter of our public universities' operating funds come from the state. Defunding our universities is not the answer to our economic challenges. Rather, we need to reform the model to fully transform state funding of our universities to encourage high performance entrepreneurial entities that can offer top-flight education at affordable prices as our state's constitution intended.

As Gov. Ducey remarked, "Conventional wisdom is not always wisdom." Along with the board and our universities, I look forward to engaging with the governor on innovative ways to continue to build a world-class university system that provides a world-class education and is a catalyst for economic growth.