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Educational opportunities benefit the economy,
Austin tells businesses

The multiplicity of roles played by the state's public and private colleges and universities is the key to building a stronger Connecticut, President Philip E. Austin and four of his presidential colleagues in higher education agreed Monday night.

Speaking to a crowd of about 800 businessmen and women attending the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's (CBIA) annual meeting, Austin said there is a close link between the health and vitality of UConn and collaboration with the state's businesses and other universities. "We are in an exercise where our mutual benefit is inextricably tied to our cooperation" with all these interests, he said.

He said the "array of opportunities" offered by Connecticut's wide range of colleges "accommodate different careers, different economies, with their flexibility."

That flexibility, he and the other presidents said, runs the gamut from community-technical colleges that educate anyone who walks through their doors to state universities with their emphasis on teaching, private universities dedicated to the liberal arts, and major research universities like UConn, with its tripartite mission of teaching, research, and public service. This variety offers a range of choices to students and the state.

"A research university is not an economic development arm of the state," Austin said. "It is a place that brings the creation of knowledge and the transmission of that knowledge to the marketplace. And that is how we help create jobs, help with the economic development, of the state of Connecticut."

Austin was joined on the panel by Richard C. Levin, president of Yale University, Evan S. Dobelle, president of Trinity College, Bruce H. Leslie, chancellor of the state's community-technical colleges, and James R. Roach, president of Western Connecticut State University. The group discussed a range of questions regarding the role of higher education in shaping Connecticut's economy.

That role has been shaped and reshaped, the group agreed. And, said Austin and Levin, it must continue to develop and shape its message if the schools are to remain competitive.

"If anyone here thinks the marketplace is solely the province of the five people here, in this semi-circle, they are sadly mistaken. The competition is also Disney. It's Capital Cities, it's Microsoft. These people know how to disseminate information and they have the wherewithal to do it," Austin said, noting that technology will continue to redefine education in the future.

Also shaping that future is the principle of continuous learning, and the reality of limited resources, one of a number of reasons that universities and businesses must continue to explore ways to work cooperatively.

"There is a genuine interest in collaboration. Yes, there are differences in style, differences in substance, between the business world and education," Yale's Levin said. "But one-third of a Yale education is paid for through alumni, and many of them are businessmen. They know and value higher education, and we value their role."

Austin praised the business community's involvement in the Connecticut Information Technology Institute (CITI) being developed at UConn's new Stamford campus. The program is designed to provide training to Connecticut's information technology professionals, keeping their skills current, while also working through undergraduate and graduate programs to produce new information technology managers, helping Connecticut companies offset the shortage of such workers they now face. He said the business community helped UConn officials design the program and has donated more than $4 million for scholarships and endowed professorships in support of the program.

Richard Veilleux