Connecticut competes on the productivity of its people.

In today’s global economy, productivity is innovation-driven.  Innovation, of course, rests on creativity, versatility, imagination, restlessness, energy, ambition and problem-solving prowess.

That is the hypothesis of Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch, who say emphatically that technical skills alone will not provide the edge Americans need to stay “competitive on a shrinking, globalizing planet.”

We agree.

It is imperative that all students who graduate from high school are college- and career-ready.  Today, that is virtually a distinction without a difference.  Our knowledge-based economy demands know-how, critical thinking skills, and technological awareness for an increasing array of jobs.  Today’s assembly lines differ from those of past generations. They require a level of education that was unnecessary years ago; today it is a prerequisite.

Business is a team sport, and if business is to thrive and prosper, the quality of the players cannot be compromised.  A wealth of outstanding colleges and universities, both public and private, in Fairfield County and across our state, are essential foundations for successful business activity.   The Connecticut State University System (CSUS) is fond of saying “Connecticut’s future is in our classrooms today.”  With nearly nine in ten of its graduates staying in the state after graduation, the numbers support the oratory.

At a time when concerns are often voiced about Connecticut’s college age youth leaving the state and never coming back, harming our long-term economic prospects, CSUS is seeing unprecedented numbers of Connecticut residents who have been attending college out-of-state deciding to come home by transferring to the four CSUS institutions: Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities.

At the same time, more students than ever before who are receiving associate’s degrees from the 12 Connecticut Community Colleges are continuing their education at the CSUS universities, a 46 percent increase since just 2001.  A year ago, six of the state’s 12 community colleges set all-time records in the number of students transferring to CSUS, and a new dual admission program will help more students and increase those numbers.

Overall, enrollment of full-time students -both graduate and undergraduate – is at an historic high.  More than 36,000 students – 95 percent from Connecticut – attend the four universities that make up the state’s largest university system.

Cornell University President David J. Skorton recently observed that “if there was ever a time for higher education to be front and center in solving societal problems – including those related to economic diversification and development – that time is now.”

There is no question that higher education is a force for economic development in Connecticut.  In fact, a recent review of relevant data concluded that CSUS alone provides an annual economic impact of $1.84 billion. Robust collaborations between higher education and the business community are potent forces for economic growth.

Shortchanging Connecticut students is selling our own prospects short, as local businesses go toe-to-toe with competitors world-wide, and seek to locate, grow and prosper where they can easily obtain the workers they’ll need to succeed. We must be fully prepared when the national and regional economies rebound.

Education is what has always nourished Connecticut and cultivated our businesses.  In fact, business and education have never been more in synch, each seeing the silver lining in today’s storm clouds as coming from the education we provide now, which will help tomorrow’s workforce prosper.

As our state responds to tough choices in resource allocation, we must not shy away from investments in our best asset.  Connecticut’s greatest strength has always been its people.  Our state motto, “he who is transplanted still sustains” is a reflection that ours has always been a story of individual determination, and a fundamental optimism in our capacity to flourish.

Education is a critical economic engine. That is as true in the 21st century as it has ever been.  If Connecticut – and to a large extent, our nation – is to thrive, it will do so because of the education we provide to our all of our citizens.

Christopher P. Bruhl is President & CEO of The Business Council of Fairfield County.  David G. Carter is Chancellor of the Connecticut State University System.

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