Vol. 4 No. 44 | Nov. 14, 2007

Community leaders step up
to support higher education

Dire predictions about faltering education that threatens America's global economic standing grabbed the attention of community leaders who gathered in Flagstaff on Wednesday to kick off an awareness campaign underscoring a "quiet crisis."

The message: To remain a world leader, America must significantly improve its competitiveness, and higher education is the solution.

"Our children are not learning and achieving in the volume and quality to compete in the new economy," said Fred DuVal of the Arizona Board of Regents. "This race for knowledge has taken off, and we have not taken off with it. We won't know we've lost this race until we have."

DuVal called it a quiet crisis because "the casualties occur quietly, silently and sadly every day" when students drop out of school and do not complete a higher education.

DuVal challenged the 75-member coalition of educators, legislators and business and community leaders to give the quiet crisis a loud voice.

Northern Arizona University President John Haeger told the audience that higher education needs to be accountable for higher graduation rates.

Graduation rates of 50 percent were acceptable 20 years ago, Haeger said, but in today's science-based economy, "the public must hold higher education accountable for higher graduation rates to meet shortages in critical areas such a health care." A graduation rate of 80 percent should be the goal, he noted.

"It is going to take a massive public investment and extraordinarily vigorous curriculum to turn things around," Haeger said.

America's college completion rates are 15th in the world out of 24 countries. Arizona college completion rates are 46th in the nation. In Arizona, out of every 100 children who graduate from ninth grade, only 64 graduate from high school, only 18 enter a four-year program and only nine complete a bachelor's degree.

DuVal said one of the first steps is to begin letting people know a crisis exists so when they vote they can consider its effect on the future of education.

"To win this race we must prevail on two dimensions—education quality and quantity," he said. "It's time for educators to focus on producing the smartest scientists and generating the best discoveries and cutting-edge innovation."

State Sen. Tom O'Halleran, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, noted that increasing awareness of this quiet crisis is the first step in changing it.

"An investment in the future is just as important as a tax cut today, "O'Halleran said.

He said the Legislature acted quickly in recent years to fund $500 million in road improvements and to approve a $500 million tax cut, but "the intelligence infrastructure of this state has continued to deteriorate."

DuVal added, "To put it plainly, we are facing an education crisis that is putting us at a long-term economic risk. We have a choice to make. Will we be the first of 26 generations of Americans to give the next generation less opportunity than we had? Or will we be number one in the race for knowledge?"

Meetings about the "quiet crisis" also are being held in Phoenix and Tucson.

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