I recently joined the Board of Directors of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. The group is comprised of leaders from small companies, large companies, not-for-profits, etc., who work with a dedicated staff to drive and support business and jobs growth in the region. Last week, I shared our Q4 2010 Vistage CEO Confidence Index data with the Board, comparing national results with breakouts for California and San Diego, citing that confidence among small-to-medium sized business CEOs is at its highest in more than five years.
Shortly after my remarks, I listened to an excellent presentation by San Diego State University (SDSU) President, Steve Weber, who was hosting the meeting. He made me think about how private companies and educational institutions can help and inspire each other.
Weber began by telling us that many of the new buildings on campus were funded from private money as opposed to taxpayer dollars, stating that today’s public university has to be entrepreneurial if it plans to meet the growing needs of a larger community. He also spoke of a relatively new Hospitality-education program designed specifically to meet the needs of the San Diego marketplace, which has been a resounding success in large part because of cooperation with the business community.
Weber also conceded that for area businesses and homeowners, having such a large campus as a neighbor can be a challenge. He quipped,” I know it’s not easy living next to 30,000 20-year olds, but because so many of them stay here in San Diego after graduation, think of them as your future employees.”
The key here, of course, is “after graduation.” Weber continued by sharing a statistic that dramatically separates SDSU from all other public research universities across the country. Over the past nine years, the university increased its graduation rate from 38% to 66%, while increasing its ethnic diversity. The percentage point increase is more than double that of any other comparable institution during the same period.
So what accounts for SDSU’s impressive improvement? Many things actually, but at its core, SDSU simply decided it was time to expect more from its applicants and its students. Raising admissions standards resulted in attracting more highly qualified applicants, which in turn translated to a higher performing student body, which now graduates at a rate that’s 11% higher than the four-year university national average. The higher graduation-rate also equates to a lower taxpayer cost per student and a graduate who will go on to earn an additional $1.5 million during his/her lifetime.
For those of us running small-to-medium sized companies, SDSU’s success offers valuable lessons. By establishing high standards of excellence, setting specific and aggressive goals, and believing in ourselves, we, too, can expect similarly outstanding results.
Beyond that, I was again reminded that business leaders working closely with local educational institutions by teaching there, employing their students and possibly funding students is good for the individual businesses and the local community’s economic growth.
As a nation trying to “win the future,” we must see and support our neighbors – those 30,000 twenty-year olds – as the keys to our championship team.