Office of Education

Southwest Pathways Conference - May 3, 2016

Thanks, Glenn. Good morning, everyone – it’s great to be here.I enjoyed the opportunity to join you last year for the inaugural Southwest Pathways Conference, and I’m honored to have been invited back.

 I also want to recognize and welcome visiting friends from Alaska, California, Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. We’re glad to have you here. I am impressed and incredibly grateful that we have an organization like Global Pathways Institute based right here in Arizona – and specifically at ASU --which was recently named the most innovative university in the entire country.

 I want you to think about that.

Thanks to the visionary and outstanding leadership of Dr. Michael Crow — ASU is now the envy of the entire nation —and it’s right here in our state.

It’s actually very fitting. In Arizona, we are breaking out of the mold. Leading on significant reforms to shake up business as usual -- at the Capitol, in government -- and in how we look at everything from education to economic development.

 It goes without saying we have no shortage of issues to address, but there’s a lot of good news to be told. A lot of tremendous work being done by the people in this room – and specifically, in our K-12 system -- by teachers, principals and students all across our state.

And quite frankly, I don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve. Just last month, U.S. News and World Report released its 2016 rankings of the country’s best high schools.

 Arizona DOMINATED the list:

Three of the Top-10 public high schools in the nation. Two Arizona schools even ranked among the best STEM schools in the country for their focus on science and technology – and their dedication to preparing their students with a robust 21st-century education.

Student achievement is on the rise. Arizona students improved on the Nation’s Report Card between 2013 and 2015, while nationally scores fell.And Arizona is in the top-tier of states closing the achievement gap in reading and math. We have SUPERB career and technical education programs that graduate students at a rate of 98 percent. Over a dozen industries critical to Arizona’s economic growth have workforce programs embedded in CTE –-- and our commitment to seeing these programs thrive is stronger than ever.

 One of our first actions this year was passing a major $30 million investment in career and technical education-- and our budget commits to ongoing funding.

 In higher education, Arizona stands out. Our universities are over-performing and under appreciated. Two of the largest research universities in the world – Arizona State University – and a couple hours south of here, University of Arizona. In addition to being named the most innovative, ASU also produced more Fulbright Scholars than any other school...and Barrett Honors College was cited by the New York Times as the gold standard of honors institutions. Not to be outdone, our community college system is the largest in the country – and a national leader in graduation and transfer rates. And, given that our community colleges are Arizona’s largest workforce trainers, we have a stake in making sure they remain on the leading edge.

 So, there’s a lot of good news to tell in Arizona. I don’t think people in OR outside of our state hear enough of it.

 Of course, there are areas in education that are crying out for improvement – and we’re addressing them head-on. With new budget investments – and pending the crucial passage of Prop 123 two weeks from today – Arizona is poised to be among states putting the most new dollars in public education over the coming years. We’re also working on a plan that will make it easier and more affordable for our best public schools to expand and be accessible to more Arizona students and families. This will allow them to spend more dollars in the classroom – where it’s needed most ... And just as importantly, it will allow more students the opportunity at a quality education –in a school of their family’s choosing –in a setting that will best prepare them for the future. Whatever that future may be.

One of the biggest crises in education today –and the reason GPI’s work is so important – is because our country, and especially the southwest region, is battling a widening skills gap. A disconnect between what employers need and what schools are producing. Before I entered elective office in 2011, my experience was in business. I began my career at Procter & Gamble, got some invaluable experience, outstanding management, and a few years later, started an ice cream company called Cold Stone Creamery. You get a lot of undeserved popularity when you’re in the ice cream business. Let me assure you, you don’t have to worry about that when you’re in elected office.

 Cold Stone started out small – as most companies do -- just a few guys with a whole lot of work ethic, big ideas and, let’s face it – a GREAT product.  We took our small operation, and built it to 1440 stores operating in all 50 states, and in 31 countries around the world. Cold Stone wasn’t successful by chance. Cold Stone was successful because of the people we employed. It’s not rocket science: to run a great business, you need to have the best people. The same applies whether you’re CEO of a company or governor of a state. Employers know what they want and need to be successful – whether it’s the right business environment or the top talent available.

The problem for so many employers in today’s economy is that -- what they’re looking for – isn’t available. The skills gap in our country is not a new problem, but it is a growing problem. A national study shows 96 percent of higher academic institutions believe their students are prepared for life after school. 35 percent of students actually feel prepared. And only ELEVEN percent of businesses believe today’s graduates are equipped for the modern workforce. Employers are struggling to find qualified workers despite high unemployment rates...while prospective employees clearly are not aware of the skills they need -- to land the career they want.

Arizona employers have a huge stake in our education. They want and demand the best of the best for their workforce. And we have to make sure that’s what our schools are sending them. How do we do this? First, we have to recognize – as we all do – the important, interdependent relationship between education and business. If those two entities are out-of-step, our students lose. Employers lose. And the gap continues to widen. What we’re seeing is that employers are continuing to adapt and modernize at a 21st-century pace, and they are faced with – and frankly held back by – a 20th-century talent pool.

Business isn’t going to slow down and wait for our workforce to catch up. And they shouldn’t have to. We need to give employers a seat at the table – or better yet, put them in the drivers seat. They know better than anyone the needs of business. They know better than anybody how to innovate, operate, and adjust their workforce standards to keep up with an ever-changing economy. And ultimately, they have the greatest currency in the marketplace: JOBS. So in Arizona, we’re proving government can innovate, too – modernizing our laws to allow entrepreneurs and enterprise to thrive in today’s economy... and taking a fresh look at how we link our educational outcomes to our economic needs.

 We recently announced a plan for a new “Office of Economic Opportunity”  that will multiply Arizona’s economic development efforts. This office will house a “Geek Squad” of experts with access to real-time data that will allow us to respond easier and faster to the needs of job creators. Let’s say a business comes to Arizona, looking to set up shop – and says they’re looking for 100 qualified people who know how to write code, develop software, whatever the case may be. The Geek Squad will help find those people and make that connection. If they can’t find them IN Arizona, they will bring them TO Arizona. And now that we know what the demand is, we can go to the education community and say – this is the demand. This is what businesses are looking for. How can we tailor our workforce development strategy to make sure that’s what we’re producing?

 If there’s one good thing to come from the skills gap crisis, it’s that it has jolted us into the 21st century. It took a while – and with a big push by business -- but Arizona higher education is not waiting until students come to them. They are going to students, and asking them how they can help steer them in the right direction toward the postsecondary path that will best serve their future. This is key. But still, we will not successfully solve this problem until we realize – OUR pathway to success – is not EVERYONE’S pathway to success. I will be the first one to brag about our universities – as I’ve done this morning. And I could go on all day about the great education I received at ASU, and the doors that’ve opened because of it.

That’s what worked for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the “right” path. That doesn’t mean it’s “better” than someone else’s path. But we get so focused on high-school completion, and not what comes after. And it’s drilled into kids’ heads early on that they need a college diploma to be successful. When we do that, we’re closing the door on opportunities they didn’t even know existed. We need to expand our focus beyond the four-year degree.  ESPECIALLY here in Arizona, where most of our employment opportunities require trade skills and technical training.

I’ve spent a lot of time with students, parents and teachers in classrooms all across Arizona. When I visit with these kids, they may not know exactly what they want to do...but they know they want to DO SOMETHING – and they are looking for the adults in the room to help them figure it out. Rather than narrow their options for them, we need to counsel them early on about the different career options available. We need to eliminate the stigma that a vocational career is somehow “less than” or less lucrative than, a career requiring a four-year degree.To borrow a sentiment from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” If we recognize that there are MANY pathways to success – and that no single path is more or less virtuous than another – we can begin to address many of the problems facing education in Arizona and across the country.

We can ensure our students are properly-prepared to meet the needs of industry, while addressing unemployment and underemployment among our graduates. We can ensure more young people are prepared for the jobs they WANT and were trained for... And we can ensure that ALL children – regardless of zip code or circumstance – have a shot at an excellent education that leads to a fulfilling career.

We’re not talking overnight fixes here. We’re talking about breaking free from old workforce strategies and long-held perceptions ... and completely revitalizing our approach. It will take a lot of time and constant collaboration – but thanks to the Global Pathways Institute, Arizona’s a step ahead – and we’re rising to the challenge.

I feel extremely lucky to be governor of a state like Arizona – a state I get to call home. There are plenty of states that many people don’t feel that way about. People wanting out. Wanting more opportunity and a better quality of life. We must be doing something right. And despite our challenges, we have a lot to be proud of. I am. And I want to thank you for your efforts in making Arizona the greatest state in the country.

Keep up the great work and have a great rest of your conference.