University officials today pressed the business community and the state for more engagement in creating a robust college education system, even as they acknowledged that schools are adapting to technology-driven changes in higher education.
Speaking at a forum organized by the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix this morning, university officials asked the state to consider investing more, arguing that making college education accessible to more students ultimately helps grow the state’s economy.
They also called for a closer collaboration between businesses and schools, particularly in conveying what skills graduates must develop to successfully enter the workforce.
“For the business community, the real matrix that we need to look at is: Are we providing what it is you need in your places of work?” said Bill Pepicello, president of the University of Phoenix.
Pepicello noted that millions of jobs are unfilled in the U.S and yet the unemployment rate still hovers above 7 percent.
“There is a gap there, and higher education alone cannot fill that gap,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arizona Board of Regents president Eileen Klein suggested creating a state-based financial aid system to broaden students’ ability to get a college education.
Klein suggested setting aside $300 million to $500 million each year in new student aid, acknowledging it would be a huge investment.
“[But] if you look our neighbor state of Colorado, if we had just the same level of education attainment as them… we’d add something like $60 billion to our economy,” she said. “So there’s a terrific payoff to the state by having more college-educated workers available.”
In fact, Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, pushed legislation this year for the Board of Regents to study the feasibility of a state-based student aid. The House approved the bill, but it stalled in the Senate.
The other panelists were Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, Northern Arizona University President John Haeger and Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.
The panelists also discussed rising tuition fees and the cost of a college education, keeping foreign graduates of US colleges and universities here, and the nexus between higher education and the economy.i