Yes, recent news portrayals of Connecticut’s standing in the business world have not been great. Despite recent strides, like the news that job search site Indeed is adding another 500 jobs in Stamford, the state’s rankings for job growth and innovation are lower than anyone would like. Speculation around the financial health of the state and decisions by GE and Aetna to relocate their headquarter offices have been fodder for bad press coverage.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Connecticut’s current reality is the fact that many positive initiatives happening on the ground across the state have been overshadowed by some of the unfavorable news. One of those extremely bright spots is our higher education system.
Connecticut’s higher education system, consisting of 44 institutions of higher learning, 164,000 students and 48,000 employees (including faculty and staff) is often considered to be among the strongest in the country. SmartAsset ranked Connecticut’s higher education system at number 13 in the nation – even more impressive considering the geographic size and population of the state. In July, CNBC’s published survey of “Top States for Business in 2017” saw Connecticut jump from #18 to #3 in the Education category. As a matter of fact, the strength of Connecticut’s school system helped the state earn a tie for greatest improvement across the categories in the survey.
So where is the disconnect? Why is a state with such a strong education system faltering in the areas of job growth and innovation?
It’s often been said that the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that one exists. It was this honest realization that led to the passing of Public Act 16-3 in 2016 and the subsequent creation of the Connecticut Higher Education Initiative. This program, managed by CTNext, has taken the first crucial steps to pool the state’s ample higher educational institutions and their respective resources with the goal of investing in areas where our human capital can produce positive results for our economy.
It began a little over six months ago with the formation of a working group, composed of presidents and high-ranking designees from 35 of the state’s 42 higher education institutions. The group was tasked with outlining recommendations and developing a master plan with the goal of fostering innovation and encouraging collaboration among Connecticut’s public and independent institutions of higher education.
This past June, the CTNext Board helped to advance the effort by approving the formation of an Advisory Committee that will be tasked with taking these recommendations forward and implementing the plan. The Advisory Committee, consisting of academics, entrepreneurship staff, students and state officials, is off and running to deliver against the goals set out by the working group, which, somewhat broadly, include:
- Establish partnerships and collaboration that empower a shared sense of purpose and create a stronger community of students, faculty, researchers and administrators
- Focus on growth-oriented industries where companies will need talent, including health/bioscience, insurance and financial services, advanced manufacturing, digital media and green technology
- Spur innovative thinking and entrepreneurial ambition by encouraging knowledge and resource sharing
- Promote an environment where knowledge sharing and technology transfer is second nature
The Connecticut innovation ecosystem has great potential, in part due to the support and buy-in from educational institutions across the spectrum. And, the collective power of Connecticut’s intellectual prowess is substantial. But at the end of the day, the program investments made through the Higher Education Initiative will be successful only if it can succeed in tearing down the invisible barriers preventing the state’s institutions from collaborating and creating an environment to strengthen students’ in-state career opportunities once they matriculate. Great work is under way to unify and coalesce our resources and transform Connecticut into a hub of growth and innovation.