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Higher Education and America's Economic Growth

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America's ability to educate our people for the jobs of the 21st Century is going to be the determining factor in our country's economic future. Everyone knows that is a fact -- from the President of the United States and academics to the business and educational communities around the country.

Higher education institutions are playing a critical role in preparing students for the jobs in today's global economy and it is important for these institutions to play a leadership role in tackling the economic challenges that America faces today. Not only do these institutions have the best understanding of what skills Americans need to compete for -- and win -- jobs today, but they also have a huge economic impact on the communities where they are located.

This is exactly why we are seeing a new trend of higher education institutions looking to expand their reach -- both online and through opening campuses in new markets -- and why cities are welcoming these campuses with open arms.

Over the last several years, we've seen schools expand throughout the country and even around the world. Pepperdine University has campuses in Southern California, Northern California and international locations. Drexel University, based in Pennsylvania, recently opened a campus in Sacramento, California. Duke University opened a campus in China. Emerson University in Boston now has campuses in Los Angeles and the Netherlands. And the list goes on.

The presence of an institution can potentially help transform a city's or region's economy. In California, studies show that for every $1 invested in the California State University system, the system returns $4.41 back. Universities bring jobs -- both direct and indirect -- as well as revenues from economic activity and events in local communities. On top of all that, universities provide the talent pool for local businesses, which also attracts new businesses to the area.

Universities are education's version of the "Southwest Effect." When Southwest Airlines launches a route involving a new city, that city gets excited about the economic development that comes with it. More jobs. More tourism. And more reason for businesses to relocate to that city. It is the same impact that higher education institutions are having in communities around the country.

We are seeing the relationship between higher education and economic development throughout the country.

In Boston, there has been a bio-tech boom connected directly to the Boston region's higher education institutes. Freshly minted graduates of MIT, Harvard and other Boston-area schools are serving as the brainpower to bio-tech companies in Cambridge and up and down the 128 corridor.

Silicon Valley has its origins in the science, engineering and math departments of schools such as Berkeley and Stanford. Countless books have been written documenting that the tech boom that has generated so many businesses representing the future economic strength of our country is directly related to the quality of the education being provided that sparked a generation of high tech entrepreneurs.

There is an entire urban renewal development project in San Francisco's Mission Bay related to the expansion of the University of California San Francisco's Medical School that is attracting bio-tech and medical-related businesses.

And at the Academy of Art University, also in San Francisco, our school has served as the feeder into the Bay Area's graphic arts, web design and animation-related businesses, which -- especially in comparison to other sectors of the economy -- are growing. More than 80% of our graduates are being hired upon graduation because of the symbiotic relationship between where our school is located and where the jobs of the future are based.

Given the relationship between higher education institutions, job creation and economic growth, both academics and public officials need to begin considering how best to locate higher education institutions and link them to a region's economy. It should come as no surprise that colleges and universities are giving this a great deal of thought, and this is a reason why you are seeing schools opening up branches across the country.

I know at the Academy of Art University, though no firm decisions have been made, we have been considering expanding beyond San Francisco to other cities and regions to meet the growing demands of students seeking our program. The Academy's innovative and robust online curriculum has already established a global student body. We know that our school's curriculum is producing students capable of competing and winning the jobs of the 21st Century. We also know that there are regions in the country poised for economic growth in the space our students work in -- if there was a sufficiently educated and trained workforce to support these businesses.

In a world where creative knowledge is more important than ever, higher education institutions, business and public officials need to think more and more about how higher education can be used to generate the brain power needed to fuel the jobs and businesses of the 21st Century. As other cities and regions foster similar regional economic growth and businesses, whether it be web-based, clean energy, bio tech or something else, the availability of highly skilled graduates will be critical to the economic success of those cities and our country.