See business leaders asked to help fix Florida's complex educational problems.
Run, executives. Run away.
Instead, ask businesses this: If Tampa Bay saw an extra $3.1 billion in higher pay added to the economy every year by raising the number of people with four-year degrees by 1 percentage point — from 25.3 percent to 26.3 percent — would they help?
See businesses say yes.
To do that means encouraging 28,000 additional area adults to attain four-year college degrees. That can come from pushing more high school graduates into college. Or, more likely, from convincing some of nearly 798,000 area adults who attended college but never graduated, to complete a bachelor's degree.
There's a certain genius behind this "1 percent" idea now on a national tour by CEOs for Cities. The Chicago group is a national network of urban leaders trying to raise the education and economic bar of the nation's major metro areas.
On Wednesday, about 50 business and education leaders met at the Collaborative Lab of St. Petersburg College to explore this concept. The consensus: "This is doable."
CEO for Cities chief Carol Coletta led the discussion. Among major metros, Tampa Bay ranks low for college degrees, with only places like Las Vegas and Louisville ranking lower. Highly educated cities include Washington, D.C., San Jose and Boston — areas closely associated with think tanks, technology innovation and high wages.
That makes it all the more critical for Tampa Bay to get on board. The beauty is, of course, if Tampa Bay can accomplish this once, why not try for another percentage point gain? And another?
Dan Mahurin, SunTrust Bank's regional chief and chairman of One Bay, the Tampa Bay Partnership affiliate working on a long-term vision for the Tampa Bay area, is among a core group here trying to get the "1 percent" mission off the ground.
Carl Kuttler — retiring head of St. Petersburg College and a self-described "disruptive innovator" — criticized tuition hikes as hurdles to higher graduation rates and out of touch with low-cost trends in online learning.
Afterward, Mahurin and others talked among themselves about how they could recruit the outspoken, charismatic Kuttler to lead the "1 percent" campaign.
Nobody underestimated the tough task at hand. University of South Florida trustee Gene Engle of Gene Engle Realtor said the lack of reliable education funding out of the state Legislature was a hurdle. Another attendee, Pasco County school superintendent Heather Fiorentino, urged better communications.
"How can we prepare a work force without your telling us what you need?" asked Fiorentino. Legislators don't listen to schools about funding because "we always ask for money," she said.
"When business says it believes in education," Fiorentino said, "that's when the Legislature will listen."
What's next? The wheels of organization turn slowly. But everyone's keen on a $3.1 billion goal so close to our grasp.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.