University presidents weigh in on Arizona business

The presidents of Arizona’s public universities discussed the relationship between the business community and the university system at Valley Voices: The State of Higher Education last week.

The state university presidents, Dr. Rita Cheng of Northern Arizona University, Dr. Michael Crow of Arizona State University and Dr. Robert Robbins of University of Arizona participated in a forum moderated by Todd Sanders, Greater Phoenix Chamber president and CEO.

“It is important to recognize that Arizona’s public universities are important drivers of economic development in Arizona. Each university is supporting our business community in so many vitally important areas,” Sanders said.

“From developing talent to investing in research and providing space for entrepreneurs and small business owners to innovate, they are supporting our work to move Arizona forward.”

The panel discussed what the Arizona business community can do to support and help strengthen the universities.

Dr. Cheng said the business community’s “voice collectively is powerful” and to “use it to ensure the conversation stays as an investment in the education of the citizens of Arizona, not a cost.”

She added that NAU is thinking about the “long haul” and the state should consider its impact on the universities.

“Arizona has an opportunity to be among the very best places that humans have ever built. And to get there, I think the business community needs to do what it’s doing which is now focused heavily on education,” Dr. Crow said. “It’s focused heavily on next generation outcomes and educational outcomes.”  

He also noted that the business community struggles within an “archaic tax structure” that does not complement the modern economy.

Dr. Robbins urged collaboration. “Continue to work with us, continue to hire our students, continue to work with us around research and discovery and translating those fundamental discoveries into commercialized products and keeping those companies here in Arizona.”

He added, “I think that we’ve got an opportunity to be really the leader in the space of commercialization around healthcare. We’ve got great opportunities and I love the pioneering spirit of this state.”

The panel also discussed the proposed 50/50 funding model with the state in which the state would contribute 50 percent to the cost of educating an in-state university student. As of 2015, the state contributed 34 percent.

“So, what we said to the state- and they haven’t accepted this model yet- please invest in the kids from Arizona to go to these three universities about half the cost of their instruction and their attendance,” Dr. Crow said.

He said the 50/50 funding model will create a relationship between the state and the universities that invests in the students.

Sierra Ciaramella

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