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Arizona's universities need freedom to be run like a business, presidents say

Arizona's 3 university presidents ask: 'Let us be entrepreneurial.'
January 30, 2018

Crow, Cheng, Robbins want support in modernizing state's higher-education model

The presidents of Arizona’s three public universities were blunt in their request for support from the business community on Tuesday, explaining the need for the freedom to be entrepreneurial.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, said his institution responded to cuts in state funding by finding other ways to generate money.

“We adjusted, we adapted and we adopted other revenue sources — in our case, in round numbers, $300 million from the state and $2.8 billion from other sources this year,” he said in a talk sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

But state legislators are looking to limit the ways the state universities can find funding, and the business community should step up and support higher education, Crow said.

“We think the business community is and should be our strongest ally. In many individual cases and in the Phoenix Chamber’s case, they are. But not uniformly,” he said.

The business community was asked for support by the presidents of the state's three public universities. From left: Robert Robbins of the University of Arizona, Michael Crow of Arizona State University and Rita Cheng of Northern Arizona University. The talk was moderated by Todd Sanders (right), president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The presidents would like the state Legislature to provide enough funding to pay for half of an in-state student’s instruction — about $7,500 per student at ASU. Currently, after cuts during the recession, state funding covers about $5,000 toward instruction per student at ASU, Crow said.

Rita Cheng, president of Northern Arizona University, said that the resident-student-based funding model is key, and that decreased revenue has resulted in higher tuition. But any additional money from the state should not come with more regulation, she said.

“What’s important for us is the flexibility and the ability to bring partners on campus to work side by side with students,” she said.

Cheng said funding for the universities should not come at the expense of the K–12 system.

“Not pitting one against the other,” she said. “Because it’s about the pipeline.”

She would like to see a more broad commitment from the business community.

“We need industry partnerships that support our interns not just for finding the right employee but for creating the opportunity for young people to get the experience that suggests to them that Arizona is the place to spend you career,” she said. “Too many of our students start their jobs in Arizona and leave when they think about their next opportunity.”

Robert Robbins, who took over as president of the University of Arizona in June, said that businesses have an interest in seeing the K–12 system improve, noting that there are some high schools in Arizona that have never sent a graduate to a university.

“It’s hard to recruit someone to the Phoenix office if there aren’t good education opportunities,” he said.

“We have to do our job and produce more engineers. But as the digital sciences and biological sciences converge in this rapidly changing world, companies need people with leadership skills, communication skills, critical thinking and creative skills.

“It’s our job to be able to produce that flexible, lifelong learner.”

Robbins said the University of Arizona is making gains in creating more technology transfer.

“Over the past few years, we’ve had good success in spinning out companies, but we have to have a partner at the other end,” he said.

“The idea that the state will cut funding and then put handcuffs on us — there’s something wrong with that. The business community has to support us on this.”

Crow said that the old model of a public university that’s heavily funded by taxpayers and run like a state agency is dying.

“We abandoned the public-agency model and advanced a public-enterprise model,” he said.

That means the university’s relationship with the state should evolve.

“All we need is one half of the cost of their instruction, and that’s about $7,500 per student per year. The rest of the institution can be financed by allowing us to act in entrepreneurial ways, basically in the way private universities do, by leveraging all of our assets — our property, our technology, our ability to attract international students, our ability to design new programs, our ability to do research,” Crow said.

The return on the investment to the state is higher now, he said.

“At ASU, it costs the state, per degree we produce, 75 percent less than it cost to produce a degree 15 years ago. That’s a significant achievement.

“And the quality of the degree is superior to what it was 15 years ago. And the demand is higher.”

Top photo: ASU President Michael Crow makes a point during a talk sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday along with Robert Robbins (left), president of the University of Arizona, and Rita Cheng, president of Northern Arizona University. The talk, titled "Educate and Innovate," was held at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Affordable, safe housing is key to building sustainable communities

Sustainable cities start with affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity CEO says.
January 30, 2018

Habitat for Humanity CEO says addressing housing crisis is urgent

There was a time when “green” housing was available only to the wealthy, but creating energy-efficient dwellings is key to improving the lives of low-income people, according to the CEO of Habitat for Humanity.

Jonathan Reckford, leader of the global nonprofit housing corporation, compared his organization’s goal to Arizona State University’s mission to widen access to higher education.

“It wasn’t that long ago that only rich people had ‘green’ houses. There was a sense that it was only available to people who had the resources to do it,” said Reckford, who spoke Tuesday at a talk sponsored by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

“But our view was low-income families actually needed highly energy-efficient and healthy homes the most,” he said. “If you think (of) the cost of housing, including rent plus utilities, plus your cost of getting to work, we were seeing energy poverty in very hot and very cold climates,” he said.

So the organization partnered with the Home Depot Foundation to pay the cost difference between a basic Habitat house and a more energy-efficient home.

“We built about 5,000 highly energy-efficient homes, making us the largest ‘green’ homebuilder for most of the last decade,” he said.

“Most importantly, we measured over that time and proved that as the cost curve came down, that families were better off paying slightly more for their mortgage because their monthly cost of ownership went down with a more efficient home.”

Reckford said the Central Arizona Habitat for Humanity builds only Energy Star-certified homes that are fitted with low-flow plumbing features.

But the concept of sustainability must be broader, he said.

“Sadly, I hear stories every day of families struggling because we have a full-out affordable housing crisis,” he said, adding that there is virtually nowhere in the United States that a person working 40 hours a week at a minimum-wage job can afford a one-bedroom apartment.

He said that since the recession, incomes have declined and housing prices have increased to the point that it’s not sustainable — with California in particular crisis.

“Phoenix is right on the edge of being designated ‘severely unaffordable,’" he said.

That affects not just low-income families but service workers, firefighters, teachers and entry-level government workers who can’t live near their jobs and face long commutes.

“Today, this model where low-income families have to drive an hour each way to get to work is bad for the families, and it’s also bad environmentally and bad for the community because the roads get clogged up and the quality of life goes down.”

Globally, low-income people are being driven out to the edges of cities, often in slums or informal settlements. “With that we get a myriad of social ills,” he said.

Reckford said the largest demographic trend in the world is rapid urbanization and that cities are lacking in infrastructure to handle it. One of the most promising ideas combines mixed-income housing with transit development, he said, because it’s important to be near jobs. However, he said, transit improvements can drive up land values, pricing out affordable housing, so it’s important for cities to allocate housing beforehand.

Solving the housing crisis will require cooperation among the public and private sectors, plus universities and nonprofits, Reckford said.

“It’s not too late to address these challenges, but it’s urgent, because if we don’t make some of those choices now, in 10, 20 or 30 years, we’re going to have completely unsustainable and fully segregated cities that won’t work for anyone.”

Top photo: Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, spoke at the Tempe Center for the Arts in a talk titled "Housing for Inclusive and Equitable Cities," sponsored by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News