Scottsdale Chamber: It’s time to focus on the future of education

Let’s face it when it comes to education, Arizona as a state does not have the best reputation. If companies are looking to bring their businesses here are we providing the workforce they need and would their employees want to educate their kids here?

Mark Hiegel

Mark Hiegel

If they are looking up the numbers compared to other competing states, our high school graduation rate in Arizona is one of the lowest in the nation, AZ ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of children going to preschool and the latest Board of Regents facts show that only 46.5 percent of Arizona’s high school graduates are eligible for admission to our state universities.

It’s more than the Arizona ranking of per pupil spending compared to the U.S. average. Governor Ducey has a campaign to improve the branding of Arizona as a state and our reputation on education is one of the items he wants to improve. Let’s take a hard look at the impact of funding education from the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund out of Governor Ducey’s office. Let’s start talking about the positives.

What we should be focusing on instead is the strength of our education here in Scottsdale. Scottsdale Unified School District has a 90 percent graduation rate compared to the high school graduation rate for the state is 75.1 percent and the U.S. average is 81.4 percent — 0f those SUSD graduates 93 percent go on to college.

Scottsdale Community College was recently awarded top 10 community colleges in the US in 2015 by Smart Asset Study and 37 percent in our community college are first generation college students. These students are from our area, are taking college courses to further their careers and almost half are going on to our state universities to earn four-year degrees. SUSD students outperformed the state in AIMS test across all grade levels and content areas. The best performing SUSD students will be attending an impressive list of universities throughout the country but are they able to return here to Arizona to get the high-paying jobs they are qualified for?

As the baby boomers retire and leave the workforce we need to ask ourselves if we are replacing the high paying jobs they are leaving. Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce predicted that 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require postsecondary education or training by 2020. Yet currently only 37 percent of Arizona adults ages 25-64 have an associates degree or higher and 23 percent of Arizona students do not graduate high school with their class.

We believe that the business community wants to be more involved to help improve their incoming workforce and we want to give them a way how. Under the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 501(c)3 there is an initiative called Business United for Scottsdale Schools.

This is a business-to-education partnership program where the strength of Scottsdale schools can be enhanced through collaborative relationships with the business community. The mission is to develop a program that embraces pre-kindergarten through higher education to create workforce development strategies that attract, develop and retain the very best students, teachers and workforce.

We need to strengthen our schools to create a better workforce and this will enhance economic development.  If we cultivate, develop and retain talent here in Scottsdale we will grow and attract more quality firms and jobs.

Business United for Scottsdale Schools is a unique collaboration of key stakeholders from the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, the Scottsdale Economic Development Department, the Charro Foundation, the Scottsdale Unified School District, the Scottsdale Community College and members of our business community.  Together we support education as a means of improving economic development in Scottsdale.

BUSS will create a win-win relationship between the business and education communities. Business will get more than an improved future workforce, but will develop the leadership skills of their current employees, receive positive recognition for their backing of this initiative and networking opportunities with other businesses in the community.

For students, they will have positive career role models to follow, a motivation to achieve and the ability to display real-world application of skills and attain better achievement.  For Scottsdale we can attract new companies that provide high paying jobs, retain the companies we have by providing the workforce they need here, bolster economic prosperity and ultimately create civic engagement and pride.

Business United for Scottsdale Schools listens to what business is looking for in developing their future workforce.  The guiding principles are to promote the strength of Scottsdale Schools as a pipeline and a magnet for economic prosperity, build community collaboration and partnerships, and to seek innovative, systemic and sustainable solutions. Because today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce we need to help them succeed.

BUSS worked with our economic developers and education leaders to be even more programmatically specific by creating five career pathways, showing the programs that can be strengthened that feed into those career pathways through the pre-kindergarten through higher education programs, certificates and degrees that are offered.

The BUSS five career pathways are 1-Bioscience and Healthcare, 2-Financial Services, 3-Technology Application Development and Internet Solutions, 4-Engineering and Innovations, 5-Hospitality, Tourism and International Business. We have identified the potential business partners for these pathways and described the desired future outcomes and needs to feed into these fields of study. There are many ways for business to become involved in these programs.

Be a mentor; provide internships, employment or job-shadowing opportunities. Provide time for employees to volunteer in the schools of choice. Provide financial contributions, offer scholarship opportunities, provide field trips to local businesses.

Donate equipment such as computers or materials for labs. The school district and the community college have so many amazing programs, certificates and degrees to support from world languages like Mandarin Chinese even starting in elementary school, award winning robotics programs in middle school, high school and higher education, skilled nursing, computer networking labs, an accounting and statistics learning center, and accredited culinary arts programs to name just a few.

How many students are we helping with BUSS? There are almost 25,000 students within the school district with 99 percent highly qualified and certified teachers and 11 of the 30 schools are title 1, which means that the students qualify for free or reduced lunch program. The average age is 26-years-old for the Scottsdale Community almost 9,500 students that attend Scottsdale Community College and 67 percent of the faculty have master’s degrees and 28 percent have doctorates.

A tax-deductible donation to Business United for Scottsdale Schools is an investment that will provide purpose and a career path for our students.  Together let’s support our youth by providing great business models whom to emulate and help motivate them to achieve.  Will you help?

To learn more about the BUSS initiative, contact Julie Brassell at jbrassell@scottsdalechamber.com.

Editor’s note: Mr. Hiegel is president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce

Editor's Note: Mr Hiegel is a resident of Scottsdale, a Charro and a longtime community advocate

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