Arizona's investment in higher education has been "basically nothing" over the past 20 years. ASU has come to a consensus with policymakers on what the University can do to advance the interests of the state through education, said ASU Chief Financial Officer Morgan Olsen.
The agreement has resulted in the New Economy Initiative: a multi-million dollar project for the Arizona Board of Regents and public universities to revitalize the state's economy via funding to support science, technology and engineering. The initiative has produced "the first significant ... influx of state investment during the 13-plus years I've been the CFO at Arizona State University," Olsen said in a meeting with The State Press in March.
The initiative, Olsen said, is the marriage of two ideas: creating a skilled workforce that will make Arizona's economy competitive and helping state and local governments diversify sources of revenue.
For the fiscal years of 2021 and 2022, ASU has received $16.1 million each year from the state for the initiative. In the next fiscal year, the University will receive an additional $21.2 million from the general fund. The funds, along with the additional millions allotted for NAU and UA, are designed to make Arizona a top competitor in workforce development by increasing the state's appeal to large technology companies and higher-paying careers.
"There has not been a lot of additional investment in public education," Olsen said about the state granting additional funds to ASU. "We believe that one way we can improve on that record is to make sure that people who make those decisions understand the value proposition that we present."
According to the University's website promoting the initiative, ASU plans to double the state's investment by 2032 and create 40,000 new high-wage jobs by 2041.
This "new economy," while eliciting a vision from science fiction, is simply a "phrase of art" for characterizing a market based on technology that requires higher-skilled, more educated employees and recognizes the realism of some anticipated automation for lower-skilled jobs said Lyndel Manson, chair of ABOR.
The state's investment, Manson said, will allow for a diversified, stronger economy with longer-term, high-paying jobs and better workforce development so students can stay in Arizona while attaining higher education and better jobs.
Olsen said diversification of Arizona's economy and creating a workforce that can meet the needs of employers — while marketing the perks of the state — will ensure it can compete at a global level to bring in businesses and keep them.
"What we're trying to do in the New Economy Initiative is make certain that Arizona is at the absolute leading edge," said ASU President Michael Crow during the Morning Scoop with the Arizona Capitol Times in January. "We've got to compete within the United States, (and) ... the United States has got to compete against other technologically evolving economies around the world. All those kinds of things mean all kind of new jobs."
The New Economy Initiative will switch the state's workforce from a "physically-driven economy" to a "knowledge-driven" economy, which will center new engineering and biotechnologies in optics, robotics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, Crow said.
For the University, there are three areas of focus: growing the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; setting up five ASU Science and Technology Centers, each with its own unique focus, Olsen said; and ensuring students have the support they need to succeed during their time at the University.
As things stand currently "there are a lot of graduates who stay in Arizona at the beginnings of their career, and as they get further along in their career, they leave the state," Manson said. "Some people call that the 'brain drain.'"
This trend is tied to Arizona being home to entry-level career opportunities but not larger companies where Arizonans can get mid-level or higher experience. This initiative seeks to make Arizona appealing to more companies for regional branches or headquarters, keeping people within the state for the duration of their careers.
Fulton Dean Kyle Squires said there is "a real opportunity where if you're giving somebody more skills, better skills, new skills, you know, they're going to get a better job. And I think that's a pretty important part. But then even more so at the rate at which technology is growing."
An important aspect, Squires said, is ensuring students have the ability to drive technology themselves and not be displaced in their careers and can pivot into new industries or start their own companies.
"We do believe that the New Economy Initiative is something that the state should invest more resources in at the universities," Olsen said. "But it's also responding to just the realities of today's world and today's economy."
Politics reporter Tori Gantz contributed to this story.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.