April 11, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Matt Salmon, Michael Crow, John Haeger and Ann Weaver Hart
Salmon, university presidents: Arizona is delivering cutting-edge, high-quality education
Today's students and families are concerned not only with the cost of education, but also with career prospects post-graduation. Across the nation, the cost of higher education continues to grow while news articles point to examples of college graduates working in the fast-food industry.
To confront these issues head-on, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee recently convened a hearing in Arizona. We had the opportunity to discuss these important issues between members of Congress and local Arizona experts.
It was a great opportunity to share that, although there is still much to be done, Arizona universities and community colleges are on the cutting edge of creative initiatives to deliver high-quality education while working to resolve the financial challenges of the contemporary world.
Quality of education is as important, if not more so than the cost. In order for Arizona to be globally competitive, we need to ensure that our students are graduating with the skills necessary to forge a great career and to adapt to the ever-changing, global workforce.
Nearly 30,000 students will graduate from Arizona's four-year public universities this year. If we are to maintain a competitive edge in education and the global economy, all schools should be held to a high standard of excellence. Transparency and accountability for institutions of higher education allow prospective students a clearer choice.
All higher-education institutions, whether public or private universities, career colleges or community colleges, should be held to an equal standard of accountability, including gainful employment measures if they move forward. We look forward to the process of developing the details behind this proposal.
Arizona's Constitution states that university instruction "shall be as nearly free as possible." The average national cost of education has experienced inflation twice as high as general inflation over the past several years, averaging about 8 percent annually.
To give our next generation of graduates a fighting chance, we must continue to work together on the challenge of affordability while ensuring that they have the skills needed by top employers. Students need an education that will not leave them still making payments on student loans when they send their own children off to college.
Arizona universities and community colleges have partnered to provide seamless credit transfer and even joint- admissions processes. These innovative, low-cost models provide options for earning a world-class degree at lower total cost. A low-cost education would mean nothing if students were unable to find good work post-graduation.
To maintain strong workforce relevance, our Arizona universities actively partner with local and international industry to shape curricula that prepare students for in-demand jobs. Expansion of programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and health fields are two examples of responsiveness from our Arizona universities to meet the high demands of businesses.
This will have a positive impact on Arizona's economy and serve our graduates in well-paying, recession-proof careers that advance the state's competitiveness in the global innovation marketplace.
We look forward to the discussions surrounding the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act because it is the key federal policy affecting our schools and, consequently, our future workforce. We are encouraged that the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has held several hearings on this legislation.
The recent hearing in Mesa with committee members, including Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., demonstrated the important role Arizonans have in shaping the discussion. It is necessary to create an environment where institutions of higher education can implement innovative strategies to best prepare graduates for careers in an ever-changing economic landscape.
Our Arizona schools, leaders and businesses are taking the lead on this initiative, and the field hearing provided the venue to showcase the great work done here in the Grand Canyon State.
Matt Salmon represents Arizona's Congressional District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Michael Crow is president of Arizona State University. John Haeger is president of Northern Arizona University. Ann Weaver Hart is president of the University of Arizona.