Education, work force key hurdles to new economy:

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Having recently returned to Indiana after a 15-year absence, I see a region filled with both challenges and opportunities. The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, the organization I’ve returned to serve as president and CEO, is focused on long-term economic prosperity for our region. To this end, our people are our most valuable

Unfortunately, central Indiana faces a significant challenge in making our human capital match our goal of a knowledgebased, 21st-century economy.

Indiana ranks 46th in the educational
attainment of our adult work force; just over 20 percent of our workers have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The prospects for boosting these numbers are uncertain at best. Nearly 50 percent of students in Indiana’s public universities don’t graduate within six years, and many who do are lured out of state by more attractive opportunities, part of our ongoing “brain drain.” Indiana has higher-thanaverage high school dropout rates; it’s been estimated that as many as two-thirds of IPS students don’t graduate on time.

These statistics can’t be reconciled with our region’s economic ambitions. We are working to become a life sciences powerhouse, to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector with new opportunities like power electronics and fuel cells, and continuing to build our information technolo
gy industry. All of these industries rely on a skilled work force.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, told a convention of state elected officials a few years ago, “Keep your tax breaks and highway interchanges-we’ll go where the highly-skilled people are.” While Fiorina has left HP, her admonition continues to ring true. In the knowledgebased economy, human capital is the most precious natural resource a region can offer, trumping tax incentives or other inducements.

It’s also important to note that Indiana’s dismal rankings only pit us against other states. In actuality, our competition is global and includes countries like China and India, which are investing heavily in intellectual capital. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States, while China graduates twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees, including significantly more students in science and engineering.

During a recent trip to China, this point was brought home to me by an article in the Shanghai Daily titled “Mayor vows more funds for learning.” The piece reported on Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng’s plan to spend more than 20 percent of Shanghai’s 420 billion yuan ($52 billion) annual budget on local universities. Doing some quick math, that represents well more than double Indiana’s total appropriations on higher education on a per capita basis.

New ideas and talented people attract jobs in today’s global, innovation-based economy, and central Indiana is on the verge of falling dangerously behind.

In the midst of all this, however, signs
of progress belie the dismal statistics. The BioCrossroads life-sciences initiative and the University of Indianapolis’ Center for Excellence for Leadership in Learning recently completed a study of best practices in K-12 science education and recommended the creation of a statewide science, math and technology education resource center. A request for proposals is being developed to identify a service provider for this teacher, parent and student resource.

The National Governors’ Association also recently awarded Indiana a grant through the Gates Foundation to focus on science, technology, engineering and math as part of its high school redesign initiative. Other efforts include pilots for a new high school life-sciences curriculum and early college high schools, as well as Purdue’s Science Bound program, which allows IPS students to explore science and engineering fields with a variety of outside-the-classroom activities and the promise of a Purdue scholarship after graduation.

Two recent grants by the Lumina Foundation for Education also will support efforts to strengthen our system of higher education. One grant allows the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership to work with the Governor’s Office on a research initiative that will yield a strategic plan for Indiana higher education aligned with the state’s changing economy. The other grant will allow Ivy Tech Community College to update its technology infrastructure and expand programs that match employer needs.

We’ve also proven that the private sector and higher education can work togeth
er to train Hoosiers for the jobs of tomorrow. Within the last two years, Eli Lilly, Roche Diagnostics, Dow AgroSciences and Baxter Pharmaceuticals all came together to share concerns about finding employees to fill certain entry-level positions. Workers needed to have the right mix of general science knowledge and specialized hands-on skills. The companies decided to work with IUPUI and Ivy Tech, creating biotechnology programs at both schools that meet hiring needs. This is hopefully a model for future partnerships between industry and academia.

These and many other activities show that we recognize the problem and are beginning to take action. We face a dual challenge going forward-maintaining our sense of urgency and fostering a sense of collaboration among these efforts, forming an overall strategy so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That last point bears more discussion. While I’ve chosen the issue of education and work force as a key challenge facing central Indiana (and the state as a whole), it’s a mistake to consider any one issue apart from the overall economic health of our region.

Education, as I’ve described, is inextricably linked to economic development, which is also related to quality of life, the arts and the social needs of our community. Perhaps our most daunting task is to address all of these areas in an integrated way. I look forward to helping the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership play a key role in this undertaking.

Miles is the new president and CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Miles

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