Arizona State University President Michael Crow warned Chandler community leaders they need to hold themselves accountable for how unprepared the state’s workforce is for the future.
“We have big issues in Arizona,” Crow said at a talk sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce last Thursday at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. “We grow and we think that’s economic growth – that’s not a sustainable economy.”
Crow, who has been leading ASU for the last 17 years, ticked off many achievements the university reached during his tenure; more students, more programs, more degrees.
The number of undergraduates annually earning engineering degrees has grown by about 15,000 over the last decade.
But these successes won’t matter much, Crow advised, in a rapidly-changing economy.
“We’re doing fantastically well for the past economy and not well for the future economy,” the president said, “because we do not have a workforce which is adaptable enough.”
Technological automation will replace low-skill workers, he warned, and these displaced individuals will need access to post-secondary education.
Better graduation rates, more investment in education and greater accountability from policymakers were all goals Crow set out before the large crowd of Chandler business leaders.
“There’s nobody thinking through what the economy needs to be because they believe the economy solves itself,” Crow said. “Which it does – assuming you have an educated workforce.”
Sporting his signature crimson-colored tie, the 64-year-old president made his appearance in Chandler shortly before jumping on a plane to Texas to solicit donations.
He’s earned a national reputation as a crafty innovator, someone who shifted the university’s status from party school to research hub.
ASU now regularly makes lists of the most innovative universities in the country.
But the university is essentially alone, Crow said, because the rest of Arizona does not yet have the same innovative mindset.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2008, state funding for Arizona’s three public universities shrunk and tuition more than doubled. The state now ranks near the bottom for how many residents between 25 and 34 hold a bachelor’s degree.
The Arizona Board of Regents predicts the state will soon experience a decline in college graduates, estimating only 17 percent of today’s ninth-graders will earn a bachelor’s degree by 2028.
Terri Kimble, president of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, said her organization partners with local school districts and strives to attract highly-educated residents to the community.
“We do value education,” she said, “We use it as an economic development tool.”
But the rest of Arizona may not be like Chandler, President Crow said.
Forty-two percent of Chandler residents have a bachelor’s degree – well above the statewide rate of 28 percent.
Crow, who called himself a “blue-blood capitalist,” said he doesn’t believe throwing more money at the problem will automatically fix it.
“It can’t just be ‘we need more money,’” he said. “It has to be ‘we need more money and we will deliver more.’”
He doesn’t believe everyone should get a bachelor’s degree. But Crow does think everyone should attain some sort of post-secondary education like community college or certificate programs.
As the world continues to develop and change, he said, it will be necessary for individuals to have access to these resources for their entire lives so they can continue learning new skills.
And perhaps more importantly, Arizona needs to prevent residents from leaving once they’ve earned their education.
“We’re producing them,” Crow added. “We need to do everything we can to keep as many of them here.”