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Guest Column: Arizona university step up big in trying times

Guest Column: Arizona university step up big in trying times

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An invisible foe. And a pandemic-caused economic collapse even steeper and deeper than the Great Recession.

 For Arizona businesses and employers, the past year has been the most challenging of our lives.

You need allies during a time like this, and there have been none bigger than Arizona’s public universities. ASU, NAU and UArizona have been invaluable with their assistance manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE); developing rapid-result COVID-19 tests; researching the virus and potential therapeutics; assisting with public health in tribal and other underserved communities – even securing massive, ultra-cold freezers to store vaccines until they can be dispensed.

You could argue this has been our universities’ finest hour.

 Now, as vaccines are in distribution and an end to this pandemic appears on the horizon, these same institutions will be equally vital in leading our state out of the recession. That’s why it’s so important the state continue to bolster ASU, NAU and UArizona with smart, targeted and sustained investments that will help our state meet the challenges and demands of what has been called the New Economy.

Increasingly, ours is an economy based on the knowledge, agility and training of its workers. As business leaders, we know the availability of a ready workforce is often the #1 factor for employers when determining where to locate. Shortly, it is projected 70% of all jobs in Arizona will require a college degree or some kind of professional training after high school, though fewer than half of Arizona adults currently meet this standard.

If Arizona intends to meet its full economic potential, increased state investment will be essential as ASU, NAU and UArizona build capacity to enroll and graduate more students, expand research and development and strengthen as economic engines for our state.

The New Economy Initiative — developed by the Arizona Board of Regents — is designed to grow the modern workforce Arizona needs to compete on a global stage, with strategic investments in areas of strength at our three public universities, including engineering, healthcare, national security and more.

 On average, undergraduate degree-holders earn approximately twice as much over the course of a lifetime as their peers with a high school diploma alone. College graduates also have lower rates of unemployment, poverty and welfare dependency.

 But these are just words on paper if students don’t have access to higher education. That’s where the Arizona Promise Program comes in. The scholarship program proposes to cover all tuition and fees to attend any Arizona public university or community college for qualifying students, who must be an Arizona resident, meet academic requirements and be eligible for financial assistance.

With an investment from the state in the New Economy Initiative, including the Arizona Promise Program, our state can unlock a brighter future for our students and our state.

As we finally begin to emerge from this pandemic, it will take all of us working alongside our public universities to rebuild an economy stronger, more resilient and better able to lift the lives of millions of Arizona families.

That would be a worthy and lasting legacy from this most trying of times.

T. Paul Thomas is CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance; Chris Camacho is President & CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council; and Ted Maxwell is President & CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.


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