Arkansas 180: Teaching & Research

"Hi. Last September my office released a short video about the importance of putting students first. In this installment of Arkansas 180, I would like to talk about how teaching and research fit into the equation.

In my opinion, teaching and research go together like soup and sandwich. We cannot become a top 50 public university without synergy between them.

Why?

Right now, the state of Arkansas ranks 50th in the country in the percentage of adults with a college degree.  No state with a low proportion of degrees has a high per capita income. This doesn't bode well for a state that must adapt to a more knowledge-based economy.

One way we can influence this number is by graduating students at a higher rate. The state graduation rate is currently about 46%, with the University of Arkansas leading the way at 59%. There's plenty of room to improve.

So some of the impetus behind the students first initiative is simply trying to improve the students' experience - to see if we can find ways to keep them on the course to success, with all the administrative, financial, and academic support that we can provide.

A crucial point of contact is in the classroom, where the university's true work is done, especially on the undergraduate level. That's why I think integrated scholars are so important-faculty who pride themselves on both their teaching as well as their research or scholarship.

So yes, we must put students first. In the classroom. Outside the classroom. In every way we can.

There is a part of me that worries if we cannot find a way to put students first, Arkansas will remain last-or near it. The problem, unfortunately, is more complicated that just graduating more students. In fact, between 1989 and 2006, Arkansas produced 166,000 college graduates - nowhere near last place nationally.

So how did we end up at the bottom of the rankings?

During the same period, the state experienced a loss of 42,000 of those graduates. More than four of our state's entire college graduating classes left the state. This represents an enormous economic loss, in terms of a skilled and educated workforce contributing to the economy. It also represents a cultural loss, too, in terms of building a core of educated people promoting education as a societal value. 

Why is this happening?

Well, lots of reasons. But the main beneficiaries of these college graduates are states with human capital economies. These are economies that require people with the skills college provides. A high concentration of advanced level workers is essential to attracting high-tech businesses, which have a higher impact on the economy.

But if graduates are leaving to go where these businesses already are, how do you reverse the process and attract these businesses to your region?

The answer is research. A solid foundation for economic development is built on research. Establishing research centers and leveraging that research to create businesses and jobs is a way to keep our graduates in this area, and attract others.

This is exactly what is being done at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.  We just need to do more of it.  We need to identify what we are good at and how we can get better, and then find ways to support and grow it.

In the near future, I will tell you about some exciting research initiatives underway that are attempting to do just that, such as the Arkansas Research Alliance. In the mean time, I hope I have addressed the importance of achieving excellence in both teaching and research.

Thank you for watching.  I hope you have a great semester.