The #futureofwork, GenZ and academia are all intertwined. Thanks Mary Papazian for amplifying President Dr. Jason Wingard ‘s clarion call for higher education to change course. The need is critical and it’s now especially understanding how laborious it is to turn a huge shop like US higher education around. And with the controversy surrounding the Administration’s College Loan Forgiveness program the spotlight is once again on how a college education can reap the greatest benefit for students and society in general.
Higher Education’s Future?
- Published on August 29, 2022
Accomplished former University President and C-Suite Executive / Sought after speaker on the Future of Work and Learning / Certified Board Candidate / Committed to creating a diverse and skilled talent pipeline
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Higher Education’s Approaching Storm
Do you hear the thunder rumbling in the distance? Can you sense its growing momentum? Some people run for cover to hide from the incoming downpour while others continue walking around in denial about the approaching storm. I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment of anticipation between the rattling thunder and a subsequent lightning bolt. We’ve all anticipated a threat coming our way, even as we wish it wasn’t.
That’s what I felt as I read Temple University President Jason Wingard’s clarion call for higher education to transform itself. He called on academia to examine and change its traditional approach compared to the costly gaps business sees in the preparation of new graduates. I hope my former colleagues hear, believe and act on his warning.
A Sobering and Urgent Plea
Jason’s was a sobering and urgent plea to refocus and narrow the gap in how students are prepared and the practical requirements needed for the newly employed to be valuable and function in the workplace. Marketplace leaders are shouting from the rooftops that they have vital needs to fill their talent pipeline. Those of us who have served in higher education leadership—I’ve served as president of two public universities, one in the northeast and one in California—have long experienced a nationwide decline in student applicants. Covid-19 accelerated the trends, and reductions kept coming post-Covid. But no one really expected over 1 million fewer students in America’s higher education institutions over the past two years alone. Can higher education survive such a decline without feeling an urgency to change?
Innovative Pathways for Learning
But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t mistake the decline in college students for declining interest in learning. Nothing could be further from the truth. And, in my view, this is what traditional higher education needs to realize and precisely where it needs to change. My academic background is as a humanist scholar, and many of my academic colleagues recoil at phrases like “workforce development” and “customer service.” But who are our customers but the learners we serve? And why wouldn’t we want to prepare them to enter the workforce at all levels and in all fields, particularly emerging ones? Academia needs to provide the foundational skills and disciplinary knowledge they need to thrive and fill the talent pipeline in business, industry, civic and non-profit spaces. Clear partnerships with business and community organizations along with ongoing alignment of curriculum in all fields—both pre-professional programs and liberal arts majors—are a must to meet the talent needs of businesses and communities. They’re also a must if we are to fulfill higher education’s mission to educate a diverse population for future personal and professional success.
Levers for Change, Not Excuses
Affordability is obviously an issue and gaining traction prompted by the Biden Administration’s student-loan forgiveness program. And yes, demographic shifts are happening throughout the country. But they aren’t legitimate excuses. They need to be levers for change. What does the emerging digital economy need? How do we ensure that the cradle-to-career ecosystem is robust, varied, and meets the learners where they are? Is it of high quality and rigor, while recognizing the workforce and workplace of tomorrow? What about the different needs of Gen Z and Gen A to follow? They already are as distinct as hot from cold, or morning and night. Just look at the dramatic differences of opinion on remote work between management and younger employees. It’s as if they are in different worlds, speaking different languages. The sooner higher education leaders and classroom teachers recognize this, the more effective they’ll be in making strategic changes for the near and distant future. And the more secure higher education’s future, however different it might look, will be.
Perhaps we can’t avoid the coming storm. But we can come up with solutions for change. What do you think? Dr. Jason Wingard Brandon Busteed Michael Crow Paul J. LeBlanc American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) American Council on Education Business-Higher Education Forum