Tag Archives: education

A flight plan for high-tech economic development

Training southern Arizona’s workforce for high-technology jobs that our region and state will require to compete economically is a priority for Pima Community College. Some 26 million U.S. jobs require high-level knowledge in a STEM field – science, technology, engineering or mathematics — and U.S. community colleges award more than one-half of all postsecondary STEM degrees.

Last week I had the honor of testifying before the Arizona Legislature’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Dial. [Video of my testimony is available here.] Arizona’s lawmakers have a duty to ensure that the state appropriates money in ways that offer the greatest return on investment. To make the case that allotting STEM funding to PCC will invigorate pathways to student success and economic development, I told the legislators about our Aviation Technology program. It is a model employer-educator partnership that pays tangible benefits to our students and the industry.

One of the trainings PCC first offered in 1969, our program is rigorous, and holds students to the industry’s highest standards. We offer an Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Technology degree and certificates for direct employment in Structural Repair, Avionics, and Airframe and Powerplant. I conveyed to the legislators that our program is designed to have the industry’s look, feel and function. Our students take 20 to 26 credit hours of coursework during a semester. They attend school eight hours a day, five days a week, with completion of programs taking between 19 and 27 months, under the direction of top-quality faculty and dedicated administrative support staff.

Our industry partners provide phenomenal support for our programs, including funding for scholarships. Plus, we are one of only two U.S. educational institutions receiving two aircraft donations from FedEx. Both are Boeing 727s, making us one of the few U.S. programs providing hands-on training on commercial and regional jets. We listen to our partners so that we can quickly and precisely align with industry needs, standards and trends. The program’s advisory committee includes leaders of more than one dozen companies.

With industry and educators working together, the outcomes for the students are excellent. We awarded 110 certificates and degrees in 2012, with 89 percent receiving grades of A, B or C. Moreover, in our March 2013 cohort of 25 graduates, 21 received job offers with an entry-level wage ranging between $16 and $18.75 an hour, with ample opportunities for advancement.

Steve Pagnucco, the general manager of Universal Avionics, also appeared before the committee last week, and acknowledged the role that PCC plays in supplying his firm with qualified workers. The aviation sector’s need for talent will continue to grow nationally and in the state. Pilot and Technician Outlook estimates 98,000 additional aviation technicians will be needed across North America over the next 20 years. In Arizona, 25 percent of the state’s 17,500 civil aviation workers will reach retirement age in the next two years.

In a December 2013 report, the Manufacturing Institute notes that “talent management shortfalls’’ are one of the biggest threats to the country’s continued leadership in the aircraft industry. PCC’s Aviation Technology program has proven it can meet the challenge by sending qualified employees into the industry. Our goal is to expand the program’s instructional capacity by an additional 25 students to meet entry-level employment needs of area businesses, and add equipment to keep our training on the leading edge of the industry. With the support of the state, we can do more to provide the high-skill jobs that will be the engine of economic vitality in our community.

Remembering Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Among the many wise insights of Nelson Mandela, that quote about the transformative power of education holds special meaning for me. It points to the noble goal to which I have dedicated most of my professional life.

The passing of the former South African president has prompted at outpouring of affection and reminiscences. It’s not hard to figure out why. Mandela fought for what he believed in, paid an extraordinary price for it and still managed to retain not only his humanity and dignity, but the kind of grace and good will that most political leaders find illusive. Despite spending nearly three decades behind bars, he never lost his sense of compassion for his fellow human beings, even his jailers. Mandela rose above his own hurt and went on to serve the greater good. That he was able to do without bitterness is truly remarkable.

One of my favorite stories involves the British interviewer David Frost, who asked Mandela how he could come out of 28 years of wrongful incarceration without feeling bitter. “There is no time to be bitter,” Mandela said. “There is work to do.”

As someone who references Mandela frequently, I believe his legacy to the world rests at least partly in the way he looked at the world. There is a timelessness to the lessons he derived from his experiences, a moral sensibility that all of us can benefit from. His views on education are particularly relevant. Take this quote, for example:

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

From my perspective as the chancellor of a community college, those words speak directly to our mission. At Pima we provide our students with the skills they need to either enter the workplace or continue their education at a four-year institution.

Or consider this quote:

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

Considering that Tucson’s poverty rate in 2011 was nearly 16 percent, making it the sixth-poorest of the nation’s large metropolitan areas, Mandela here is reminding us that we can improve our community if we make it a priority. And because of the direct correlation between poverty and educational attainment, this too is something that speaks to Pima’s mission.

Included among the many lofty tributes to Mandela over the past few days were comparisons to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Historians and journalists can have that debate. For me and probably many others, it’s clear that Mandela simply was a good man who accomplished great things. The lessons he can teach us will be around a very long time.

From plan to action

In decisively approving Plan Tucson last week, voters recognized the importance of education in the life of our city over the next decade, and beyond.

Plan Tucson, though it has no binding effect on law or policy, is nonetheless an important document. Mandated by state law, it was prepared through extensive public participation. Representatives of neighborhoods, businesses, government agencies and community groups played a major role in the crafting of Plan Tucson’s guidelines concerning economic development and other important topics. Its passage by nearly a 2-to-1 margin indicates the people of Tucson are directing city leaders to take its goals as a framework for substantive decision-making.

I was heartened to see education cited throughout Plan Tucson. The plan acknowledges, as Pima Community College does, that our city needs “a well-educated, well-qualified workforce that is able to meet the dynamic needs of businesses and employers.” PCC knows that improving educational achievement, partnering with business and industry, and leveraging technology aren’t options in our competitive 21st century economy. They are imperatives.

I was also glad that Plan Tucson acknowledges the role PCC must play in economic development. The plan recommends that the City of Tucson collaborate with PCC, The University of Arizona and other organizations to give workers “skills matched to local job opportunities and employer needs.” It should be noted that PCC already has launched several initiatives to improve our occupational programs, such as Machine Tool Technology. We are partnering with Pima County OneStop and more than two dozen education and industry groups, including the Tucson Unified School District and Raytheon Missile Systems, to redesign course curriculum to meet employer needs, and to engage and recruit high school students into the manufacturing industry.

The plan should be commended for identifying a lack of education as one of the key factors that contributes to the city’s unacceptably high rate of poverty. Plan Tucson highlighted U.S. Census data showing that individuals with less than a high school diploma have the highest rate of poverty, 30 percent, and that high school graduates have the second-highest, 18.3 percent. In the past, some have argued that asserting a correlation between poverty and educational attainment is merely an attempt to excuse substandard schools. But its impact cannot be dismissed, not when, five years after the Great Recession, 1 in 6 Americans is classified as poor, according to new statistics. As former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and respected educator Diane Ravitch noted last month, “The single biggest source of low academic achievement is poverty.” It is crucial for leaders in government, business and civic life to understand the interrelationships between education, economic development and poverty, and the price we all pay when our citizens fall behind academically.

Given the data and the fact that the people have spoken, the challenge for leaders throughout our region is to meet common goals that result in tangible, measurable improvements in our community. What will Pima Community College do? We will strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones. In formulating our own strategic plan, we will closely examine Plan Tucson for opportunities to match like-minded efforts. PCC will enact and follow through on strategies to provide those in need with the opportunities for leading more prosperous lives. No one entity, public or private, can implement magic remedies to the challenges facing Tucson and Southern Arizona. But be assured that PCC will do its part.