MORRILTON, Ark. – Education and economic development are dually joined at the hip, Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Maria Haley told state university presidents and chancellors last weekend.
“Your role as universities is absolutely essential to grow the state’s economy,” said Haley in her challenge to the group of 11 state higher education leaders assembled Friday at the third annual Arkansas Association of Public Universities (AAPU) presidents and chancellors meeting.
Haley was among several presenters at the Friday luncheon who were invited to discuss the role higher education plays in economic development.
Randy Zook, president/CEO of Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said Arkansas is fortunate that its economy has been driven by major companies such as Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Baldor Electric, but he is concerned about the challenges they face, how they will grow, and what new companies will surface over the next 10 years.
“We’re pleased with the product you’re providing, we wish you could provide more, we wish that you could be more strategic in your curriculum to make sure we have a good stream of students coming out of your schools to meet the workforce needs,” Zook told the group.
The number one problem with bringing new business and industry to Arkansas is workforce, Haley said. “Workforce, workforce, workforce. I cannot say enough about how important it is, and we need to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.”
Others involved in the discussion included Janet Roderick, state director of Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center based at UALR; Jim Youngquist, executive director, UALR Institute for Economic Advancement; Kelly Lyon, director, UCA Community Development Institute Center; and Dr. Mark Peterson, extension specialist-community development, UA Division of Agriculture.
Tim Wooldridge, AAPU executive director, said the meeting brought university leaders together at a critical time. “These are the folks who are on the ground figuring out how to manage state budget cuts, interpret lottery scholarship decisions, and improve retention and graduation rates,” he said. “At the same time, they must make decisions that determine the future of the state’s economic development.”
“That’s why it is important to bring these issues to the table for discussion through organizations such as AAPU. We are an advocate for the collective interest of each university that will better serve Arkansas,” he said.
The two-day meeting included a higher education budget review by Dr. Stanley Williams, deputy director, and Jackie Holloway, senior associate director of finance, of Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Wooldridge and the group also discussed 2010-2011 goals for the organization.
AAPU university presidents and chancellors in attendance were Dr. Joel Anderson, UALR; Dr. Charles Welch, Henderson State University; Dr. Jack Lassiter, UA- Monticello; Dr. Milo Shult, vice president for agriculture, UA Division of Agriculture;
Dr. David Rankin, Southern Arkansas University; Dr. Paul Beran, UA-Fort Smith; Dr. David Gearhart, UA-Fayetteville; Dr. Allen Meadors, UCA; and Dr. Alan Sugg, UA System.
Special guests were Dr. Les Wyatt, president, ASU System, and Dr. Robert Potts, ASU chancellor.
AAPU was created by the four-year Arkansas public universities; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Criminal Justice Institute; Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas; Clinton School of Public Service, and the Archeological Survey in 2006 as the Arkansas Association of Public Universities.
The Association is a nonprofit organization engaged in the improvement of higher education and in higher education policy advocacy, representing the collective interests of its member-institutions.
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