The Center for the Future of Arizona sets its sights on the state’s long-term success.
The issues facing Arizona are primary topics of discussion and planning in the state legislature, the media, and in private and public arenas. the Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA), is looking ahead by creating a big-picture agenda that will tackle the critical problems in our state and aid Arizona in achieving long-term success.
Issues facing Arizona
Chairman and CEO Lattie Coor, Ph.D., president emeritus of Arizona State University, founded the CFA in 2002 along with executive director Sybil Francis, Ph.D., a public policy architect whose background includes advancing the national science and technology enterprise. The nonpartisan, nonprofit resource was formed to explore the questions that challenge Arizona, focus on the big ideas, and create impartial analyses and collaborative leadership that is willing and able to identify long-term solutions to the most challenging issues of our time.
“We are a ‘do’ tank,” explains Francis of CFA’s mission. “We identify and take the results of our research and others and use that information to guide us in solving the issues Arizona faces.”
To get from point A to point B, it’s important to help Arizonans know who they are and how they stack up, according to Francis. Here are the facts: Almost two-thirds of Arizonans were born elsewhere, and are growing younger, older and more diverse. In addition, Arizona’s productivity and prosperity are declining compared to U.S. averages and those of many neighboring states; one in five Arizonans live in poverty and over the past two decades, our per capita income has slipped to just over 80 percent of the national average. Plus, civic participation rates are in the bottom quartile on most indicators tracked by the Civic Health Index, the nation’s leading gauge of how well Americans connect to one another and their communities.
While Arizona is not unique in dealing with tough state issues, Francis points out that those states that are successful in achieving objectives are ones that know exactly what they want to be.
“There is no panacea anywhere. Every state struggles, but what divides the successful from those who continue to struggle is they are able to look at where they are and see where they want to be, and then make a plan. We need to be better at describing what it is that we want Arizona to be,” she says. “No one knows what success looks like because it hasn’t been articulated.”
Matters that matter most
In fact, to deeply understand and express what matters most to Arizonans, the CFA, in partnership with Gallup, conducted the Gallup Arizona Poll between 2008 and 2009. The most comprehensive research of its kind, the poll described eight “Citizen Goals” firmly grounded in the beliefs and opinions of Arizonans that are the building blocks of prosperity and quality of life: education, job creation, infrastructure, healthcare, water and land management, community involvement, citizen engagement and young talent.
The issues that have plagued Arizona for years continue to be at the forefront of concern. Education, in particular, is a primary focus of CFA due to its link to all citizen goals.
“Education correlates to everything measured by an ability to be prosperous and earn a decent income, have an improved quality of life, and health and well-being,” says Francis. “If you look at the statistics, high levels of educational attainment are always connected to higher levels of prosperity. Any goals we set and the ability to meet objectives are tied to education.”
Through an over-arching initiative called The Arizona We Want, CFA is leading a charge to shape a state that Arizonans envision. The broad-based, statewide effort aims to connect Arizona citizens, leaders and organizations, and provide a shared framework for working toward an agenda that is based on the eight citizen goals.
“We want to galvanize attention on important issues to our state and cause collaborations and work toward common goals,” adds Francis.
Coming of age
To put a fine point on exactly how to shape a future that is representative of what Arizonans imagine, CFA just released its most comprehensive report, “Vision 2025: Arizona Comes of Age.” Vision 2025 is a roadmap for a decade of action for individuals and organizations to create a vital Arizona and achieve opportunities for all citizens.
“It’s the first time we’ve made the focus on education more clear and raised it up with a matter of emphasis,” explains Francis. “We haven’t brought it all together before, but Vision 2025 is a blending and linking of the Arizona we want.”
Rather than address immediate answers to problems in Arizona, the 10-year blueprint identifies the prevalent issues and sets a specific path of accomplishment for the long haul, according to Francis.
“We tend to get myriad ideas in everyday debate, but it’s important to backtrack on those goals and see where we need to go and figure out how to get there. It lays down a marker for that.”
While the report indicates Arizonans love their state, a lack of community connection, poor voter turnout, and failing grades in the percentage of students who don’t meet basic math and English proficiency standards in school are some of the major obstacles that prevent Arizona from building a lasting, vibrant future.
Yet Vision 2025 affirms that Arizonans have a clear view of how to achieve the goals that define success. And CFA’s role is to work for a collective, increased responsiveness to attain those goals through the availability of young talent, and engaging citizens, partnerships, government and leadership statewide, according to Francis.
“We’re here to create a drumbeat. We’re a soup-to-nuts organization. We help do everything from initiate public policy to put feet on the ground—and everything in between.”
That includes encouraging innovative approaches to education that improve graduation rates, help close the achievement gap and prepare a highly skilled workforce; Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation for the state’s four-year high school graduation rate of 75.1 percent. Furthermore, 225 of Arizona’s 448 public high schools send 10 or fewer students to any postsecondary education institution after graduation.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in education in Arizona, but we need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach that is based on the old, industrial model where one teacher is in front of 30 kids and move toward a more personalized one,” says Francis.
As part of its collaborative mindset, the CFA also recently launched The Arizona We Want Exchange to empower individual efforts and create a collective voice for all citizen goals. Through the online platform, members can identify and reach collaborators, find local data, give or get advice, and promote or find events.
“Based on the results of our Gallup Poll, citizens feel there is great hope in Arizona,” says Francis. “Now we have to translate that positive viewpoint into reality.”
Story by Sally J. Clasen
Photo by Mark Lipczynski