I recently completed a 35-year career in telecommunications that took me from the main streets of many Missouri communities to the canyons of Wall Street in search of good investment opportunities. Since I assumed the presidency of the University of Missouri System, I have discovered a particular investment opportunity that is unique in its breadth and potential for large returns. It is an opportunity that promises to make every citizen a winner.
Consider an investment that enables:
- Researchers to improve crop output and limit the impact of disease and drought,
- Researchers to find new sources of energy to make us less dependent on foreign oil and higher gas prices,
- Young people to become entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, lawyers, authors, engineers and even astronauts,
- Parents to see their children pursue careers and good job opportunities that were not available to them when they were preparing to enter the workforce,
- New jobs to be created as ideas become successful products and services that did not exist just a short time ago,
- Critical service needs and job shortages to be met by working together to prepare more nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physicians, math and science teachers, engineers, software technicians and large animal veterinarians in rural areas,
- Infusion into the Missouri economy of $572 million from outside sources including federal grants, private donations, and out-of-state tuition, creating $1.1 billion in economic activity and more than 13,000 jobs,
- Outreach and service programs to operate directly in 111 of our 115 counties; health care to serve more than 80,000 patients, including $49 million in uncompensated care; and $616 million for student financial aid in 2007.
The investment opportunities I have described refer of course to the investment “opportunity” found in education generally, and higher education and the University of Missouri System specifically. In my view, we have unlimited opportunities to shape the future. The foundation for that future has to be public support for education at all levels — whether it is in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade or our public colleges and universities. Our future success as a state and a society will be determined by how well we understand this fact.
In the business world, I often saw an important initiative or key program reduced to a mere line item in the budget, the impact not readily understood or appreciated. As our state and communities grapple with the impact of a changing economy on budgets, I urge all of us to not let our investment in education be reduced to just another “line item.” There is too much at stake, and the return on this investment is too compelling.
Gary Forsee is the 22nd president of the University of Missouri System. He has lived in Kansas City and St. Louis as well as St. Joseph, Hannibal, Joplin, Cape Girardeau, Moberly, Charleston and Springfield. He has family roots in Mexico and Fulton. Forsee most recently served as chairman and chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel Corporation.