Challenges are nothing new to Arizona.
No matter the challenge — drought, disease, economic prosperity and many others— transforming problems into opportunities has been our state’s hallmark. At every step, Arizona’s public universities have helped lead the way.
Today is no different.
Consider perhaps the greatest challenge of our time: water scarcity. Led by ASU’s Global Futures Laboratory, researchers from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona are partnering with the Arizona Department of Water Resources and local communities to determine how best to recharge critical groundwater supplies. UofA and NAU are working with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to identify and remove cancer-causing “forever chemicals” from the water supply. And each of our institutions is deeply engaged in research to make Arizona forests more resilient against threats like drought, wildfire and insects – which safeguards our water supply by protecting streams, rivers and reservoirs.
There is so much more. University-led initiatives are advancing the fight against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, bolstering cybersecurity, identifying abandoned mines that pollute groundwater and working to reduce ground-level ozone. What ties these efforts together is their tangible impact to improve the lives of Arizonans every day.
Much of this work is made possible thanks to Arizona voters and their approval of the Technology and Research Initiative Fund. Since the program’s inception in 2001, it has provided crucial support for ASU, NAU and UofA to advance knowledge through research and expand opportunities that directly benefit Arizonans. The fund has financed breakthrough research in public health, water, and national security, and it has propelled Arizona’s economic competitiveness through vital workforce development programs.
Of course, we know research and development is only part of the mission for our public universities. These institutions are also charged with molding students into well-rounded graduates, equipped with the knowledge to invigorate our creativity and innovation, participate in our representative democracy and leverage their skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive economy.
University access and affordability are at the heart of this mission. While we are proud that approximately one in two students at ASU, NAU and UofA earns their bachelor’s degrees with no tuition debt, our work is not done. In particular, financial disparities continue to hold back Hispanic and Latino students. On average, low-income students – who are more likely to be students of color – must finance an amount equal to roughly three-quarters of their family’s annual income in order to attend a public university.
Innovative programs like the Arizona Promise Scholarship are helping to reduce financial obstacles by covering 100% of tuition and fees for every qualifying, low-income Arizona resident student. Additionally, we’re proud ASU, NAU and UofA have each been named Hispanic-Serving Institutions by the U.S. Department of Education. This designation is only given to universities where undergraduate enrollment is at least one-quarter Hispanic, and recognizes our efforts to support and improve college access for this fastest-growing, vital demographic. Being named a Hispanic-Serving Institution also makes our universities eligible for special federal grants to further expand educational opportunities in underserved communities.
Arizona enters 2023 once again transitioning to new political leadership but a common challenge: to ensure our state is a place of opportunity where, with hard work and determination, every Arizonan can build a better life. Higher education remains a key part of this equation. To that end, we stand ready to work with our public and private partners and policymakers throughout the state to strengthen our public universities on behalf of the students and families they serve — and for the benefit of all Arizonans.
We cannot know what challenges lay ahead for our great state. But, history tells us that our public universities stand ready to find solutions.
Michael M. Crow is president of Arizona State University; José Luis Cruz Rivera is president of Northern Arizona University; and Robert C. Robbins is president of the University of Arizona.