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Published: Sunday, 12/2/2012

Ohio’s economic growth depends on higher education

BY MARY ELLEN MAZEY

Ohio's public universities face a challenge: to educate more of our citizens.

Barely one-quarter of Ohioans have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to about 30 percent of all Americans. Ohio is 39th among states on this measure — a ranking that has a huge impact on the economies of our state and region.

Higher education in northwest Ohio must play a larger role in economic development. We can do this by fostering collaboration among our universities and the communities we serve.

As part of the northwest Ohio community for the past 16 months, I have watched the local public and private sectors work cooperatively to build the region’s future. I sit on the boards of the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Growth Partnership, and am impressed by the strategic direction they provide.

From the chamber’s branding initiative to the RGP’s efforts to build partnerships in China, these institutions have taken regional collaboration and cooperation to a high level of statewide, national, and international recognition.

Although we are fierce rivals in athletics, Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo have collaborated closely for many years. UT and BGSU are working together in particular on research on wind energy and turbines.

We partner with UT in our housing and public-health programs. We also work with UT’s Rocket Ventures as we pursue commercialization and technology transfer.

At BGSU, we have developed and supported centers of excellence in education, health, and wellness, business and organizations, sustainability and the environment, and the arts. These centers are improving the quality of life and economic development of northwest Ohio.

Our Center for Regional Development continues to monitor the area’s economic health. Its annual State of the Region report gives business and government leaders valuable information to help guide their decision-making.

At the same time, UT has been a leader in the region’s health-care industry. Also, Owens Community College has emphasized work-force development.

Gov. John Kasich has directed Ohio’s institutions of public higher education to increase their graduation rates and decrease the amount of time students take to complete their degrees. To achieve these goals, universities and colleges must support K-12 education and continue to work together to build the region’s labor force.

BGSU’s leadership in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education was recognized recently with a $7.28 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This grant allows BGSU to partner with two area school districts, Perkins Local Schools and Sandusky City Schools.

Another prime example of partnership in higher education is SETGO, a joint effort among BGSU, Owens, and local community groups to increase the number of graduates with degrees in STEM fields.

High school students can get a leg up on graduating sooner — and for less money — by taking advantage of the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program and other advanced-placement opportunities at BGSU and other schools. Such programs will increase the graduation rates at colleges and universities, and reduce student debt.

The arts are big business in Ohio, generating more than $25 billion a year in economic activity. From the BGSU School of Art’s partnerships with the Toledo Museum of Art, the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, and the Northwest Ohio Arts Exchange, to our College of Musical Arts’ work with the Toledo Symphony and the Toledo School for the Arts, BGSU is an important collaborator on the arts throughout northwest Ohio.

While area colleges and universities compete for students, it is in our best interest to work together to recruit and retain students in northwest Ohio. BGSU and other local colleges and universities work with The Blade’s Campus Connection to keep the community informed about what we do. But we also must prepare to recruit more international students to Ohio’s outstanding institutions of higher education.

We must continue to build on our region’s many strengths — its excellent transportation system, environmental initiatives, and educational institutions. We must work together to ensure that our area is attractive to new employers and to promote the growth of existing private-sector employment by providing a strong and educated work force.

And as always, we must seize every opportunity to build a bright future for every citizen in northwest Ohio.

Mary Ellen Mazey is president of Bowling Green State University.

 



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