Arizona State University President Michael Crow has the vision to take Arizona higher and it means investing more in homegrown students – particularly Hispanics.

The state’s economy relies on it, Crow told a dining hall packed with 320 real estate and other professionals and civic leaders at the sold-out Valley Partnership breakfast Friday at the Phoenix Country Club.

“We’re taking on this notion of looking at every person as a universal learner,” said Crow, who detailed a “massive” effort to create opportunities to bring more students into state universities.

“The new economy is an economy in which we must get everyone through high school and we’re making some progress but we need to accelerate that,” said Crow, who was invited to speak about the future of Arizona’s universities.

Over the past decade, Crow’s vision has transformed Arizona’s largest school from a “starter” university into a powerhouse of entrepreneurship and research.

Today, it brings in 91 percent of its annual $3.4 billion budget from non-government funding. Much of it comes from technology partners and corporations investing in research.

Crow spoke repeatedly of Arizona being a state where open-mindedness, innovation and flexibility made it possible.

“We find other ways to move forward than running a simple-minded, simple government-funded government bureaucracy university. We have abandoned that. That is gone.”

Many of its programs are ranked among the best in the world, attracting out of state students.

Vision for Arizona’s “fragile” economy 

Now, Crow’s taking on the state’s economy, which remains “fragile” because not enough students from in state are graduating from high school and earning postsecondary degrees.

“We’re now producing three times the number of graduates, we’re doing 5 times the level of research, we have 15 times the number of learners, we’ve lowered the cost to the state to produce a degree by 75 percent…,” he said. “We’re taking every asset that we have and making fundamental change, things you couldn’t do in other states. We’re altering everything. For all that we’re doing, it’s not enough because as it turns out everything is shifting. The new economy is that we must get everyone through high school.”

Three types of economies 

Crow described three types of economies: “Anti-fragile” economies like Seattle are virtually invulnerable to financial ups and downs. “Resilient” economies like Pittsburgh adjust and adapt well to change.

Most economies are like Arizona that is “fragile” and vulnerable to financial shocks. Fragile economies in large part are a result of their demographics, he said.

“Fragility is a function of adaptation to change. We went through a recession and made a slow comeback and we do not yet have a highly adaptive, self-created, regional economy,” he said.

Hispanic, young students needed 

Yes, Arizona’s top schools are outperforming the rest of the nation when it comes to college graduation rates, he said. But students in lower-income brackets and younger students, particularly Hispanics, are not there yet. Latinos make up the fastest-growing demographic group in the state but they only have a 9 percent college attainment rate.

“We don’t have enough kids graduating from high school. We don’t have enough going on to college, and we don’t have enough people with college degrees who are staying.”

Workforce for tomorrow needs college credits today 

The university has been taking steps to meet every student’s needs, whether they are 17 or 60, he said.

“We’re now involved in a massive project using every tool that we can find…. using the flexibility that Arizona has given us, using the ability to be different through our governing board, our technology partners,” he said.

ASU has created a digital high school, charter schools that have 100 percent graduation rates, micro degrees, and online fully accredited college degrees for majors like biology, electrical engineering and biochemistry.

It’s paying off. A few decades ago, the student class was 98 percent white and 97 percent middle class or above. This year, it’s celebrated its largest, most diverse first-year cohort to date.

“Now we have to figure out how we’ll build an economy that is more than just attractive to those on the outside, one that is creatively generative from the inside.”

Following his remarks at the event, a panel of ASU leaders and developers discussed how the school’s Real Estate Office is acquiring and managing property assets to benefit university coffers and programs.

Panelists were John Arnold, Executive Director, Arizona Board of Regents; John Creer, Associate Vice President, Real Estate Department, ASU; Alan Maguire, President, Maguire Company and Rick Shangraw, CEO, ASU Enterprise Partners.

“For more than a decade and a half, Dr. Michael Crow has provided a critical spark to our state’s education system and blazed a new path for how institutions like Arizona State University impact our communities,” said Cheryl Lombard, President & CEO of Valley Partnership. “Real estate now plays a critical role in providing opportunities for college students and preparing them for the workforce.”

The nonprofit Valley Partnership represents the real estate industry and advocates for responsible development. For more information, visit


This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.