By Gordon Stone
May 9, 2023
When considering the vast number of public debates that are on-going concerning the State of Alabama's educational investments, many needs can be identified. From Pre-K to Ph.D., the opportunities to address challenges and to capitalize on possibilities are enormous. After listening to the on-going discussions, the Higher Education Partnership has developed a deeper appreciation of the challenges and opportunities from Pre-K to Ph. D. These issues and opportunities pinpoint the reason for a renewed emphasis on public university investments. Alabama’s 14 public universities are leading the State forward to prepare our citizens for the economy of tomorrow. Further, public universities train the problem solvers that will lead all of education forward.
Using resources in the Education Trust Fund to encourage more educational opportunities at public universities is a good thing. Certainly, the State has strengthened its investment in public Pre-K, Secondary and Two-Year over the past decade. Now is the time to further strengthen funding for the State's public universities!
When discussing the need to fund the public universities, the reasoning is evident. Currently, Alabama is falling further behind our national peers. The state ranks in the top tier in tuition cost and near the bottom in student aid. Tuition costs are accelerated when state revenue does not keep up with the costs of operation and, therefore, the result is that a heavier burden is placed on students and their families.
Only 26 percent of the working population of the state has obtained four-year degrees. While this sounds okay, the reality is that the national average per state for four-year degrees in the workforce is 36 percent. Having fewer four-year degrees in the workforce impacts the types of jobs that the state's economic developers will seek. Data shows that the per capita income level of a state is much greater when the state has more four-year degree holders in its population. Improving the percentage of degree holders in the workforce will allow the state to attract industries from the economy of tomorrow, commonly referred to as the Knowledge Economy. Public universities are the most effective and efficient model for achieving this goal.
Alabama must strengthen its opportunities in the Knowledge Economy and improve access to the jobs of tomorrow. To make this happen effectively and ensure quality, the State must increase access to public universities. Through public university support, Alabama has an efficient means for addressing the needs for current and future students. The public universities in Alabama are highly acclaimed, well dispersed geographically and good stewards of their resources.
The Higher Education Partnership represents over 180,000 students, nearly 75,000 employees, and thousands of alumni. These folks recognize that Alabama's economic future is best served by a robust system of public universities that are growing a workforce designed for the jobs of today and the economy of tomorrow.
Gordon Stone is the executive director of the Higher Education Partnership