Thursday, October 19th, 2017
(This is the first of a two-part series. This week, I reflect on progress, and next week I'll share more about the board's direction this coming year.)
Transformation and progress. Accomplishing both takes hard work, but that's exactly what the Arizona Board of Regents and our three public universities delivered in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The performance of the universities against the board's aggressive and actionable goals is impressive. Arizonans can be proud of the achievements and progress of our public higher education system (and can keep tabs on our outcomes as well through our metric and research dashboards).
The board's appointment of Dr. Robert Robbins as the 22nd president of the University of Arizona, the state's original and fabled public university, also will be transformational for the state as President Robbins leads the UA from its strong existing foundation to continued success in the areas of interdisciplinary scholarship and student success.
The progress during this past year is even more meaningful given the higher education landscape nationally, particularly with the ongoing public debate over the costs and value of a public university education. Over the past several months, we have faced some additional serious challenges like the recent lawsuit from our state attorney general and the federal probe into college basketball.
While an enterprise of this size and with such a significant charge will inevitably face challenges both grand and granular, we would be remiss in our fundamental responsibilities to students and taxpayers if we were to let any friction slow us down. The previous year marks numerous milestones for the board and for Arizona's public universities. In case you missed it, here are a few of the highlights:
Gov. Doug Ducey made possible a landmark $1 billion investment in the state's universities - the most significant investment in higher education in a generation - that will be used for the development of new research and education facilities to meet the needs of future generations of Arizonans. This investment also addresses the critical backlog of university repairs, renovations and upgrades to existing facilities.
Arizona's public university enterprise is one of the state's most critical drivers of economic growth - and 2016 was no exception. In terms of economic impact, our universities brought in $1.1 billion in expenditures through research alone. They were also responsible for 569 invention disclosures and 179 licenses and options - new innovations that spur advances in critical areas such as healthcare. For every square foot of research space on Arizona's public university campuses, our universities bring in $382 on average in research money for Arizona.
Access to Arizona's public universities is a priority for the Arizona Board of Regents. Arizona supports approximately 1,200 pathways programs that help lower the costs of a four-year degree, while ensuring students a seamless transition from two-year colleges to four-year universities. Further, recognizing that cost is a primary factor affecting access, the board has worked in recent years to slow tuition increases. Average base tuition and fee increases at Arizona universities continue to trend downward, from 2.9 percent last year to 1.8 percent this year. According to Student Debt and the Class of 2016, Arizona ranks fourth in the nation for low-debt states.
Achieve60AZ took another huge step forward by earning national recognition and philanthropic support. In the quest to increase the number of working adults with educational credentials beyond high school, Achieve60AZ secured $200,000 in funding support from Lumina and Helios Education foundations. It has received local recognition, too, as communities statewide step up to endorse the effort to equip 60 percent of Arizonans with a college degree or certificate by 2030.
As part of Gov. Ducey's larger strategy to improve education in Arizona, our universities launched the Arizona Teachers Academy to train, recruit and retain more highly qualified teachers in Arizona classrooms. Graduates of the Teachers Academy who agree to teach in Arizona will receive a year-for-year scholarship covering their program's tuition and fees in exchange for their commitment to teach in an Arizona public school. The academy emphasizes graduates teach in Title 1 schools or rural and high-need schools.
New quality markers embedded in our strategic plan are being further defined by the board and university presidents to measure how quality is delivered. This is a crucial element for our students who expect the best quality for their investment.
Our research report showcases the significant outcomes of the research enterprise at Arizona's public universities. Through research, millions of dollars are reinvested annually into the community, and technology transfer operations at each of Arizona's public universities bring research from the lab to the marketplace. In this report, you will find fascinating stories about cutting-edge research as well as data on the growth of research expenditures, inventions, start-up companies and more.
Perhaps the most telling benefit of an Arizona public university education is reflected in our graduates' wages. It's clear that our degrees pay off: Arizonans with an undergraduate degree earn a median wage that is approximately $22,800 (82 percent) more each year than their peers with a high-school diploma.
Finally, we have augmented the public's ability to review our work for themselves. The board's FY 2017 Annual Report highlights many notable accomplishments to advance student success and build a brighter future for the state's workforce and economy. Included in the report: a snapshot of the board's strategic plan and a wealth of information on other important outcomes for Arizona, including improved college readiness, rising graduation rates, and college-going and completion rates. A key difference between our system and many others is that we do not just report on what we have done or the results that we have achieved - we also mark where we are heading.
In short, it's been a tough but remarkable year. My thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.
Next week: where we're headed.