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Rethinking higher ed – As a way to promote alignment May 25, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Education.
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Doug Rothwell of Detroit Renaissance placed a far-reaching op-ed in yesterday's Detroit Free Press called "Graduate to smarter university funding."  In it, he delivers the message that the way in which government approaches higher education is a reflection of its priorities toward growth, development and global competitiveness:

As Michigan's leaders contemplate how to jump-start our economy, they might consider looking at states with a long history of positioning higher education as a cornerstone of their economic development strategy.

North Carolina, for instance, heavily invests in its universities, especially its flagship research universities. In turn, the universities diversify the state's economy by increasing the number of college graduates, building research parks to incubate new companies and partnering with state and local development programs. The result is relatively low tuition, one of the nation's best business climates and a model of economic transformation.

In Michigan, the model is quite different. We treat higher education as an expense rather than as an investment. We view it as an annual appropriation competing for state resources rather than an integral part of a statewide economic growth strategy.There isn't a partnership between our universities and the state. There is competition.

He then wraps up with:

Michigan needs to take a new approach to higher education. Our mind-set should shift from an appropriation to an investment-based model. We should make higher education a key platform of our state's economic development strategy. In particular, we should nurture the growth and development of our research universities, especially in the innovation-based sciences that are critical to our future economic growth. In return, universities should fully embrace their role in leading community-based economic development.

The whole article is a very good read, one that workforce professionals, economic developers, educators and state officials should read carefully.  Rothwell shows how North Carolina leveraged its universities into some impressive prosperity in the last couple decades.  Other states, whose research capacity arguably is stronger than North Carolina's, could look at this as a best practice and unleash their higher education capacity toward the goal of community and economic development.  

And, to accomplish this goal, the schools will have to train (or retrain) the workforce.  Which brings us back to the alignment.

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