Arizona State University President Michael Crow presented a clear vision for the future of the state’s economy to a gathering of West Valley business leaders Friday morning, arguing that a focus on education is the key to success.
Crow framed his argument by comparing Arizona to Colorado, which he said is similar to Arizona in a lot of ways and yet the per capita income is 25 percent higher.
“What is it about Colorado? What’s different,” he said. “Their political configuration is similar to ours. They are very Western in logic and outlook, like us — cautious and careful in their views. And yet there is one glaring, unmistakable difference.”
Colorado’s level of educational attainment, Crow said, is 40 percent higher than in Arizona.
“They are one of the leading states in the country for college attainment and we are below the national average,” Crow said. “They are one of the leading states for high school graduation and test scores. We’re only doing OK.”
If Arizona wants to continue to grow its economy, Crow said, more emphasis needs to be placed on the education of its future workforce.
“The only mechanism we have to compete at a higher level is education,” he said. “And for us to be successful economically we have to be highly adaptable.”
Crow said it is impossible to say what will be needed of the workforce in 20 years so it is important to educate people who are capable of learning and adapting new skills.
“It’s not about certification,” he said. “It’s not about putting some piece of paper on your wall. It’s about what ‘can’ you learn, not what ‘have’ you learned?”
Continuing the comparison, Crow said Colorado is better prepared to adapt to changes than Arizona.
He pointed to a decrease in exports and average wages as symptoms of Arizona’s problems.
“That doesn’t mean this is a bad place,” he said. “It’s not. It’s a fantastic place. I truly believe Arizona has more potential than any other state. All the pieces are there. What Arizona does not have is a deep understanding of the importance of education.”
Crow said West Valley business leaders can give themselves an advantage over other regions by embracing the types of education reform ASU is working to achieve. He said the university is looking to form partnerships with businesses and municipalities who wish to do so.
“We are prepared to work with any economic development retention project, any recruitment effort going forward,” he said. “And you should count on us as your allies — not only the West campus, but the entire university. Whatever is needed to get the kind of business growth you want here.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.