Coalition Touts Impact of Higher Education on Economy

From: Public Affairs

June 22, 2009

Business and community leaders call for sustained funding and 70,000 more degrees by 2020

Grow By Degrees, a campaign initiated by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council to promote economic growth through high-impact investment and innovation in Virginia’s colleges, universities and community colleges was formally launched today in a series of press events throughout Virginia.

Grow By Degrees advocates a sustained, long-term program of higher education investment and reform, embodied in state law, to ensure affordable access for Virginia students and to generate strong economic activity and growth revenues for the commonwealth.

Prominent business leaders including Medical Facilities of America CEO W. Heywood Fralin, Dominion Resources President Thomas F. Farrell II and Landmark Communications former President John O. “Dubby” Wynne joined other members of the Grow By Degrees coalition to announce the statewide effort. The business leaders were joined by top officials of the state’s public institutions of higher education for media activities in Roanoke, Norfolk, Richmond and Northern Virginia.

“It is a startling reality that 75 percent of voters we polled in Virginia say a college degree is needed to succeed in today’s economy, but only 35 percent of college-age Virginians enroll in college and only 42 percent of Virginians have college degrees,” said VBHEC Chairman Heywood Fralin. “There is a broad gap between Virginians’ expectations and reality, and to turn those numbers around we need to take action now.”

Fralin released key findings from two public opinion surveys conducted jointly in December 2008 and March 2009 by respected Republican and Democratic polling firms. The findings show broad public support for promoting economic recovery and long-term growth through targeted investments in higher education initiatives.

Grow By Degrees supports a comprehensive funding and strategic plan for higher education based on the following seven policy priorities:

  • Awarding a cumulative 70,000 additional associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees by 2020

  • Concentrating new degrees in high-income, high-demand sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics and other areas where there is a shortage of skilled workers

  • Creating innovative and cost-efficient new ways to access college degrees

  • Expanding job-specific training at Virginia’s broadly popular and affordable community colleges

  • Increasing public-private collaboration on university-based research

  • Enhancing economic development and work force training in each region of the state with colleges, universities and community colleges playing prominent roles

  • Making college more affordable for low- and middle-income students and families.

The Grow By Degrees campaign is the broadest public initiative undertaken by VBHEC and is intended to promote broad-based support and dialogue concerning strategies for success in the knowledge-based economy. Members of the coalition will work with Virginia lawmakers and key decision makers to turn the seven priorities into substantive policy proposals that can help get Virginia back on the path to economic recovery and sustained growth. The organization’s Web site – www.growbydegrees.org – provides an interactive platform for Virginia residents to participate in the dialogue and help shape the future of economic development and educational attainment in the commonwealth.

About the Grow by Degrees coalition: The coalition is comprised of business, community, education and economic development leaders and organizations from throughout Virginia. Though they reflect a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, coalition members share a conviction that Virginians, regardless of income, should have access to the broader economic horizons opened by a college education. They also share a belief that only a sustained program of investment and innovation in higher education – embodied in state law and in the business plans of our educational institutions – will make Virginia a national and international leader in attracting new business investment, research grants and excellent job opportunities in the new economy.

About the Virginia Business Higher Education Council: VBHEC was founded in 1994 by Virginia business leaders on the principle that the prosperity of Virginia and the well-being of its citizens is fundamentally tied to access to a strong system of public colleges and universities. A nonprofit, nonpartisan partnership between Virginia’s business community and higher education leadership, VBHEC’s mission is to enhance the performance of Virginia’s public colleges, universities and community colleges and their funding by state government so they can produce the greatest possible positive impact on Virginia’s economy. VBHEC is committed to educating the public about higher education’s crucial role in Virginia’s economy, and it strives to secure the support needed for the commonwealth’s colleges, universities and community colleges to rank among the nation’s best.

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