The New American Workforce: Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education
Springboard Commission Background and Context Roberts T Jones Over the past century, the American higher education system has been highly regarded, globally envied, often replicated, and largely in control of its own destiny.However, of late, the system of post secondary education has been increasingly buffeted by the growing demands of external forces outside of its control. What are the external economic, social, institutional, and demographic forces that will shape the challenges and opportunities for post secondary institutions and policies in the coming years? Unlike anytime in America’s history, the future demand for post secondary education and lifelong adaptive learning will define the economic opportunity and security of both the individual and the nation. Our competitiveness, innovation, productivity, and standard of living will depend directly on our ability to increase the post secondary education of the current workforce as well as that of the minority and low income population that have traditionally been left behind.The days of an abundance of low skilled, high wage jobs are gone forever. The major challenges facing higher education are how to: - Significantly raise the basic skill competencies of those students entering and graduating from the system. - Increase the number of people achieving post secondary education/training credentials. - Align the new curriculum and outcomes with employer expectations. - Increase the variety of user friendly delivery options. - Create a seamless transparent ‘pathway’ from experience to education to the skill requirements of the new economy.
Over the next 20 years America will experience a growing demand for increasing the output and quality of its education and workforce preparation systems.Our country faces a future of slow population growth (0.98% PY) and even slower workforce growth (0.88% PY), an aging population, and fewer young entrants, resulting in a smaller percentage of its population available for the workforce.Future tight labor markets mean more employment and career options for the participants. However, the workforce will also be expected to meet the skill demands of a rapidly growing global economy. Further that smaller workforce share of the population will be made up of higher percentages of minorities, immigrants, and low income entrants with lower education and training preparation. (Appendix A, Table #1, #2, #3) Meanwhile, there is significant escalation in the expectations of the new jobs. Increasing global competition, new technologies, and ramped innovation are having significant impact on both the definition and the level of education/skill preparation needed for employment security.The rate of definitional change within industries, companies, jobs, skills, and applications is accelerating. As a result, independent of economic trends, the half life education and skill sets are shrinking dramatically. The economy continues to redefine what basic, academic, and technical education preparation will be required to adapt to the next wave of changes. Fewer workers, less well academically prepared, are faced with the demands of the workplace for new and higher and level education/skill preparations. Credentials, experience, and loyalty no longer guarantee career success. The market increasingly demands higher competencies, in broader skill areas, and a workforce committed to, and capable of, continuous improvement.Even more significant to the individual is the growing economic premium of higher education. The earnings gap between an individual with a high school diploma and bachelors degree (BA) has doubled in the past 30 years. The chance of being unemployed for those with a high school diploma or less has almost quadrupled over the same period. (Table #4 and #5) The definition of economic security, standard of living, and quality of life is increasingly dependent on the attainment of education and or technical credentials beyond high school. In the past, American social and economic policy has been based on a constant surplus of both skilled and unskilled labor. In the future our policies must focus on the significant ramifications of growing shortages of skilled labor. This profound shift will necessitate a commitment to increase the level of education achievement of the traditional workforce while, at the same time, reaching out to those in our population who have traditionally been left behind by our culture and political system. In the US, political leadership, government policies, education institutions, and the public have been operating under the presumptions and rules of the old economy.They are generally unaware of these profound demographic and workplace shifts and assume that the adverse economic impacts they are experiencing come from ‘unfair global competitors’, ‘low wage foreign competition’, ‘non responsive politicians’, ‘irresponsible business leaders’, and/or ‘all of the above.’ No president, congress, or law can make the changing world go away! America’s competitive advantage in the new global economy will depend entirely on the quality (not quantity) of its workforce. The global pool of highly educated and skilled workers is growing and will, forever, increase the forces of competition on America’s companies and its workers. Coming out of this recession, our economy will create more jobs than there are skilled workers available. The major growth will occur in high skill jobs, some growth in middle skill jobs still and, a decline in the percentage of lower skilled jobs. The vast majority (87%) of high growth and high wage jobs will require post secondary education credentials. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates we will experience a shortage of 7 million skilled workers by 2010 and as much as 21 million by 2020. We are facing dramatic shortages of skilled and educated workers in manufacturing, energy, health care, technology, education, and many other fields. These shortages will become more profound as the economy recovers and the education of the workforce continues to stagnate. (Appendix A, Table #6) The challenge is to inform our current workforce, the public, our policy makers, and educators of the significant changes and expectations of tomorrow’s workplace. And, as a result, create a national commitment to the both the systems and investments necessary for ensuring America has the premier quality workforce. Finally, every American worker must have continuous access to the education and training systems that will ensure their economic security in this new economy.
Every American worker, unskilled day-laborer to Ph.D. or professional, is subject to increasingly uncontrollable change in their work environment. External forces such as global competition, technology, increased pressure for productivity, shortened product life cycles, and evolving government policies are having increased impact on the day to day functions of both the workplace and workforce. The result is an escalating rate of change in everything from product, output, application, responsibilities, wages/benefits, and education/skill expectations.
Over the last century, the American worker could depend on a social contract with predictable job stability, tenure, and career paths for those who possessed essential (basic) skills, loyalty, and a good work ethic. The contract also provided employer supported benefits including a defined benefit retirement plan. In the new economy, the social contract has significantly changed. Employers are requiring higher basic, academic, and technical skills, measured competencies, adaptive learning, critical thinking, teamwork, etc. Meanwhile, the rate of job tenure is continuing to decrease (Table #7), the assurance of employment stability is gone, and the ultimate retirement benefit has become a defined contribution plan. About 50% of the American workforce has been with their employer less than 5 years while 25% have been with their current employer less than 1 year. The jobs may be more interesting, with greater responsibility and more opportunity, but the road to individual economic security is increasingly dependent on higher broader education skills essential for employment tenure and career growth. With these dramatic changes has come increased growth in high skilled jobs. Throughout the development of the modern industrial era, our economy could always depend on a significant surplus of skilled/unskilled labor. Employers were free to select those that best met their need and the rest were always able to find lower skill jobs that still provided a family living wage. The future is quite different. As we emerge from this recession our job growth (1.3% PY) will exceed the growth in our workforce (0.8%). Further, the percentage of jobs requiring increased education and training will increase dramatically (78% of all job openings by 2016 require post secondary education). Fully 87% of all high growth and high wage jobs in the next 7 years will require post secondary education. (Appendix A, Table #8) The education and skill levels of the American population simply do not measure up to the growing demands of the workplace. Of the people between the ages of 18-59 (1/3 of the population), 88 million have no post secondary credential. At best 52 million have a high school credential with absolutely no post secondary experience while another 36 million have some post secondary experience but no credential. There are another 16 million with an Associate degree who are within reach of a Bachelor degree. This suggests a major gap between the education experience of current population and the expectations of workplace by 2016. (Appendix A, Table #9)
These trends and their ramifications are evidenced in the growing concerns of the employer community. Recent studies suggest that 78% of employers are very concerned with the fact that over 40% of the workforce is scheduled to retire in the next 5 years. Another 68% are very concerned about the loss of skills with the changing demographics of the entering workforce and 58% feel that the quality of our entering workforce is well below the global competition. Finally, employers suggest that 87% of high school graduates are not prepared for the workplace, 40% say college graduates are not prepared for entry level work, and 60% say college graduates not prepared for advancement.
Simply put, those entering the workforce over the coming years and those currently in the workforce are not prepared for the jobs in the new economy. Even more challenging is the fact that the skill demand of new jobs will grow at a rate that far exceeds our current ability to raise the education/training level of the workforce required for those jobs. America’s future success in competing with an increasingly educated global workforce will depend on our willingness to commit substantial political and economic resources to this challenge.
The effects of the changing workplace have had even more dramatic impacts on the individual. The impact of the ‘education gap’ in both unemployment and wages continues to grow at an alarming rate. In 1970 the unemployment differential between those with less than a high school diploma and those with a Bachelor degree was 3.3% and by May of 2009 it had grown to 10.7%. Meanwhile the wage differential of high school vs a bachelor’s degree over 30 years has grown by almost 150%. The impact of the projected growth in high skill jobs over the next 10-20 years will exacerbate these gaps further. (Appendix A, Tables #4 and #5) As global pressure grows, America’s employers continue to raise the hiring standards of basic, technical, and academic preparation for new applicants. Further, employers are looking for more than credentials. They are increasingly focused on demonstrated competencies, real world application, related experience, and preparation for new workplace cultures. The employment standard of tomorrow’s workplace is the demonstrated ability to adapt to the constant change in skill and application demands of the evolving workplace.
The American public is growing increasingly aware of the personal premium resulting from higher education. As a result there has been a significant increase in the percent of high school graduates who enter post secondary education within 5 years of their graduation and a clear increase in number of adults entering community colleges, on-line universities, and technical proprietary institutions. With this growth has come the very positive addition of significant increases in the low income and minority students who are desperately needed in the new workforce. However, due largely to the failure of the K-12 system, higher education is experiencing vast increases in students who are less well prepared for the rigors of post secondary education. As a result over 40% students in four year colleges and 63% of students in community colleges are taking at least one remedial course. Of those required to take a remedial course, only a small percentage ultimately graduate. Further, higher education graduation rates have now fallen with just over 60% graduating in 6 years. The low income and minority students we need in our workforce fare even worse: 54% and 47% respectively. While the greatest growth has been in community colleges, those students have found it particularly difficult to complete an academic or technical credential and/or successfully transfer to a 4 year institution. Also, while increasing numbers of current workforce, low income, and minority students entering post secondary education, they are experiencing the challenge of overcoming non-credit bearing remedial courses, regressive increases in tuition, impatience with traditional time to completion, and a bewildering maze of course requirements not directly related to new economy, their occupational choices or the skill needs of a prospective employer. With growth in traditional and non-traditional students, growing demands for skilled workforce, and increasing financial burdens, higher education is under increasing pressure to provide new options of education delivery. There is growing demand for shorter time to degree, more contextual learning, and a clarion call for more aligned and relevant curriculum. The growing focus on retaining students through graduation has resulted in the blending of remedial, academic, and technical content, and proposals to integrate traditional, on-line, and contextual delivery systems. Higher education is increasingly being asked to participate in the demystification of participation in post secondary education. Traditional higher education has set itself up as a barrier to anyone not on the college track. The result has been only the top 1/3 of students were accepted, they attended the standard 2 or 4 year institution, and they were subjected to the same time worn teaching and learning models without regard to the client’s needs or the changing expectations of outcomes. The resulting outcome is a user unfriendly system that is also unwelcoming to those members of our population who were not on the college track when they were in K-12, have been away from education for some years, may have to work while attending higher education, and assume that higher education is financially out of their reach (67% of population). The society and the economy are increasingly demanding that this culture change. Recent proposals for ‘early college high school’ are designed to increase the number of low income and minority k-12 student’s participation in community college directly upon graduation. Increases in employer tuition tax credit programs, Pell grants, and education tax credits are all proposed to significantly increase the culture of participation. Across the country higher education institutions are experimenting with models for work and learning, technical education with blended academic credit, and changes in time to degree options. Finally, there is a growing commitment to ensuring that the current workforce understands that they can attend, will succeed, can afford, and will benefit from additional post secondary education. They must believe that the system is designed for their success. Perhaps the most important step in this respect is a system for providing academic credit for individuals past training, experience, and academic classes. Linking life experiences with continuing education creates a system a seamless system of lifelong access to new skills and credentials. Removing the daunting experience of having to walk in and apply with a system that ensures individuals that they are already qualified and are already part way through increases their willingness to subject themselves to once again to the education system. In sum, the population of the new world has met the education culture of the old world and the result is not meeting the needs of individuals, companies, educators, or policy makers. Without ever having made a conscious decision, we are deeply into a process of changing the organization and metrics of higher education from a system of fixed time, structure, and content to one of curriculum, competency, and outcomes continuously aligned with the rapidly changing world. The primary questions are: what is the most effective, efficient, user friendly method for significantly increasing student competency in the least amount of time?
The fundamental shifts identified in this paper are having significant impact on the traditional culture of higher education. Increasingly change is occurring faster in the world outside of higher education than it is inside higher education. The result is a failure of individual institutions, state systems, and public policies to adapt to the changing expectations of the public, employers, and government leaders. The current higher education policy debates are heavily influenced by the public’s growing uneasiness over the impact of the demographic and economic changes and its sense that institutions and policies are not keeping pace. Thus, it is increasingly important to study and appreciate these external forces and their impact on the academy to better understand, predict, or promote effective changes in State or Federal higher education policy.
At the Federal level the policy trends are directly reflective of the public’s growing awareness of the changing expectations of the labor market.
Accountability in K-12 (No Child Left Behind) is a direct response to growing awareness of the changing expectations of the workplace and workforce. The first is the rapid rise in basic academic and technical qualifications for the new jobs and, second, the demographic shift reflecting the growing demand for low income and minority student success in the labor market.
Higher education accountability for outcomes, curriculum, graduation rates, costs, accreditation, etc reflect the public’s awareness of the growing requirement for post secondary education vs the systems perceived inability to respond. The public is growing impatient with the rising public and private costs of a higher education system that is graduating fewer students who are less well prepared for careers in the new economy.
The growing demand for post secondary education is reflected in the move to make Pell Grants an entitlement as well as President Obama’s call for an additional year of post secondary education/training for everyone.
Displaced workersare becoming the focus of a number of new policy initiatives. In particular, there is increased attention on those workers who have lost their jobs and most likely will not be returning to the same industry or occupation. There are several new proposals such as targeted increased appropriations, tax credits, and loan forgiveness for these populations.
Community colleges are increasingly supported as the effective deliverer post secondary education and effective job training credentials. The Administration and the Congress are recommending increased support for, and increased expectations of, the community college system they perceive as the middle class access route to the new economy.
The expected outcomes of post secondary education, regardless of the institution or delivery system, are receiving increased attention. The current system of common measures is proving ill-suited to some programs. Proposals are pending to define success measures for academic achievement to associate degrees and technical training to industry recognized credentials. While there is some interest in ‘distance traveled’ measures, they are as yet undeveloped and untested.
The State level response is far more focused on the direct economic development implications of the changing demographics and labor markets.
Many states are now projecting their future needs for skilled workers. California, Georgia, Michigan, Maine, and Nevada are examples of many states that are building models of how many additional high school diplomas, Associate degrees, and Bachelor degrees will be needed in the next 10-30 years.
Tuition waiver options for dislocated workers are being offered by a growing number of states. Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are examples of states offering tuition waivers for unemployed displaced workers. Further, Michigan has the Kalamazoo Challenge which provides in state tuition waivers for those students who agree to attend instate 2 or 4 year schools and commit to remain in the State for 4 years. The state is now putting this in place in other hard hit communities.
Performance Based Funding proposals are being tested in the States of Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio. These systems base State funding formulas based on student performance.
Lifelong learning accts (LILAS) are being tested by several states in local or state wide demonstrations. Maine, Missouri, and Colorado have initiated programs designed to ensure that every worker has lifelong continuing access to post secondary education for upgrading their academic and technical skills.
Growing focus on aligning (tuning) higher education curriculum with the changing employer expectations. Indiana, Utah, and Minnesota are examples of formal tuning initiatives.
A system of National or State Career Readiness Certificates (CRC), supported by ACT, is being implemented by many States. To date 8 States have adopted the national CRC and 17 states have a state CRC. These certificates reflect the students level of basic skill preparedness aligned to specific occupational requirements. All vocational education students, job training participants, welfare to work participants, and certification candidates in these states take the WorkKeys assessments and receive certifications such as a gold, silver, or bronze relative to their chosen occupation.
Finally, a growing number of associations are advocating specific plans designed to increase the number of Americans holding post secondary credentials. Most notably, the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) have laid out a step by step proposal for increasing the percentage of Americans with post secondary credentials to 55% over the next 16 years. Their plan includes very specific annual goals for increasing the number who obtain a high school diploma, Associate degree, and Bachelor degree. These plans are supported by groups such as the Counsel for Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL), the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), the Lumina Foundation, the Conference Board, and the National Commission on Adult Literacy. This highlights policy makers growing concern with America’s stagnate growth in the outcomes of our education systems: only 39% of our population have post secondary credentials compared to the 55% of population in the leading nations. This issue will attract increased attention and leadership from business, education, and public policy groups in the coming months.
While these are only examples of trends in federal/state/association policy development, they are reflective of growing public impatience with an education and training system that is not keeping pace with the rapidly evolving labor market expectations of the new economy.
The dilemma of tomorrow’s economy:In the coming years the innovative American economy will experience significant growth in high skill and high wage jobs. The dilemma is: our workforce is growing so slowly it cannot meet the labor market demands for new employees and, the education and skill levels of those who are available are well below the levels required for the new jobs. For years our high school graduation rates have been stagnate and more recently our post secondary graduation rates have leveled off. Meanwhile, the global growth in highly educated and lower cost workforces is severely limiting our economic competitiveness.“The United States can still prosper in a world where its labor costs are higher than the competition’s, but it cannot do that if the workers abroad are better educated.” (NY Times, Sept 06)
Challenges andOpportunities The discussion in the previous pages has identified the enormous impact that external forces are having on our education systems and the resulting new challenges and opportunities they create within these systems. For the better part of the last century, public policy on education has been driven by social concerns focused on equity and opportunity: the well embedded ethos was education opportunity for everyone. In the next century, however, education policy will be driven by economic concerns that ensure the universal education, competency, and portability necessary for economic security and mobility.This fundamental shift results from the need to mobilize increased percentages of our population into the workforce, prepare them for significantly increased education/skill employment expectations, and ensure they have the academic/technical skills for constantly adapting to a changing workplace. The concept of ‘educational opportunity’ is being expanded to one of ‘educational assurance’: educational achievement that will assure individuals effective preparation for the new economy.
Following are some of the primary challenges resulting from this fundamental shift in our expectations of higher education.
# 1 The first challenge lies in developing specific strategies for reaching the target populations most in need of post secondary educational credentials.Employers, individuals, and policy makers are literally demanding that we significantly increase the participation and achievement of those without post secondary credentials. Indeed President Obama has called for everyone to obtain at least one additional year of post secondary education or training. The target populations are as follows:
16.0 million have an Associate degree and are ‘within reach of a Bachelors degree’
35.8 million have completed High School and have ‘some’ post secondary experience’ but no degree
52.2 million have completed High School but have ‘no post secondary experience’
16.2 million have no High School deg/GED (grade 9-12) but ‘need post secondary access and/or credential’
These are people 18- 59 years old in our population who are all needed in the workplace of tomorrow and who need the education/training to take advantage of the opportunity it provides. The challenge is to develop marketing campaigns and services that focus on each of these groups, their specific education/training needs, and their need for user friendly access, delivery, and support systems.
Further, there are significant shifts in the gender, ethnicity, and work experience within these populations. Studying these shifts identifies targeted opportunities for increased participation and support.
Young females are increasing targets for post secondary education. They graduate from high school and enter post secondary education at increasingly higher rates than males. Further, an AA degree rewards females with higher earnings than males. This trend is more pronounced for all ethnic groups. The growing female participation rate offers specific opportunities for designing and marketing alternative pathway systems.
Young males’ high school graduation rates are declining as are their entrance to post secondary education. While the demand for young male workers is growing and they are entering the job market, they simply do not possess the necessary post secondary credentials. This suggests a unique opportunity to target these populations who will benefit directly from post secondary credentials; in particular, Black and Hispanic males who will realize at least a 25% increase in earnings with an Associate degree.
Target outreach and services to displaced workers. Displaced workers are an increasing target of public policy and increased funding. Institutions have an opportunity to target those with good work histories but lack the post secondary credentials for the new jobs. Again, males will realize about a 10% earnings increase with an Associate degree and females up to a 13% increase. Post secondary systems can align it themselves with both State and Federal policy as well as public demand.
Increase focus ontechnical programs which result in higher earnings with Associate Degree/Industry Recognized Certificate (IRC). Institutions can focus on technical programs with growing employer demand which result in increased earnings for both male (14%) and females 29%).
#2 The second challenge is to focus on ‘demystifying’ access and participation in post secondary education for the 88 millionthat are intimidated by the thought of reentering education. For the majority of the 88 million in need of re-entering post secondary education, the primary barrier is their fear and anxiety. First the process itself is intimidating. Do I have to start from scratch? What is the employment/earnings value? What school? What program? How much will it cost? How do I pay for it? Complicated answers to all of the above and non-user friendly method for getting through the process stand in the way of taking the first step. In addition, there is the very dominant fear of higher education itself. They may not have liked school the last time they were there, they have been ‘lead to believe’ they are not college material, not smart enough, or fear they will be judged by administrators, teachers, and other students. Their perception of higher education is one of the old classroom models with little knowledge of the new education alternatives.Finally, they may harbor fears of their ability to succeed because of perceived weaknesses in basic education skills, lack of study habits, and weak testing histories.
The lack of clear, systemic, and complete information continues to be one of the major barriers to these populations access to post secondary credentials. Several recent studies suggest the lack of useful labor market information, lack of awareness of eligibility for Pell funding, and the failure to utilize employer tuition assistance funds all contribute to the lack of participation. Public polling tells us that 67% of the population recognizes that they need additional post secondary education. There is enormous opportunity for all post secondary institutions to aggressively reach out and provide the avenues for engaging these capable individuals. History and data confirm that once in the system, they can perform as well or better that the traditional higher education students. #3 The third challenge lies in designing and delivering a completely ‘integrated curricula’. Students returning to post secondary education want a seamless and uninterrupted path to the credentials that will ensure their successful attachment to the new economy. This requires embedding prerequisites, remedial, general education, academic, and technical content into the main line core curriculum. There is growing demand for programs that embed basic skill remediation within the curriculum as opposed to the current system that offers/requires ‘remedial’ English and math courses. Student enrollment, retention, and completion will be significantly enhanced by assuring entering students that, regardless of their preparation, they will immediately enter their technical/academic credential programs, that all credits count, and that they will obtain their basic skill competencies within the context of their credential programs. The recent report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy suggests that 93 million people 16 years and older “lack literacy at a level needed to enroll in post secondary education or job training”. This suggests that a significant percentage of the 88 million identified in Table #9 will require at least some basic skill remediation to succeed in both education and the workplace. Currently an extraordinarily high percentage of the 63% of students in community college required to take free standing remedial courses before entering credential programs dropout and never complete the program. Our post secondary education institutions have the competence and experience to develop this new high powered contextual model. There is a unique opportunity to launch new programs aligned with employer demands for the new economy while designed to meet the needs of the new non-traditional student. #4. The fourth challenge arises from the growing demand for deployment of ‘alternative’ delivery systems.Higher education has a distinctive opportunity to work with accrediting organizations in the development of these new systems. Perhaps “one size fits all” was never really an effective management model.But the demand for alternative delivery models will grow with the increased enrollment of non-traditional students. These students exhibit a wide variety of life experiences and learning styles, are concerned with time and cost, and have a fear of the traditional system. Starting with the traditional classroom setting, the options must include delivery through on-line systems, accreditation of past training/education/work experience, workplace delivery options, internships, expanding the application of contextual learning, and joint technical/academic programs (IRC’s). The emerging opportunities will demand versions of these systems that are calibrated to time, effectiveness, and cost. The public and private goal is to succeed with as many of these candidates as possible and, that means delivering education through means they find positive and effective. It is no longer about the education system but about recognizing the needs of the consumer. The challenge is to develop a more client based post secondary education system that meets the learning/life style needs of the students, is aligned with employer expectations, and meets academic accreditation standards.
#5 The fifth challenge is to develop a series of strategic alliances with business/industrial associations, professional associations, and assessment organizations.Education curriculum and competency standards are no longer within the sole domain of the academy. Such areas as education content, achievement, and application are all reflections of constant evolutions in the world external to higher education. It is no longer possible for free standing independent education and training organizations to unilaterally maintain currency with the rapidly changing demands of the new economy. Curriculum is no longer fixed, singular, or limited in scope. Competency standards are evolving at increasing rates as are the related assessments. Further, the expansion of multiple employer related delivery options as well as the growth in industry recognized credentials suggest the need for formal alliances with external partners.
It is essential that students (particularly adult students) be assured of the portability of their credits between academic institutions and their training credentials within the employer community. Students are increasingly earning credits from multiple academic systems over extended periods of time and depend on the continuity of their credit work toward program completion. As well, the content and competencies of industry recognized certifications (IRC’s) and technical Associate degrees from accredited institutions must be recognized and portable amongst institutions.
Employer Associations. Three fundamental shifts have shaken the employer world: 1) the rapid changes in technology and productivity and the resulting impact on workforce skills, 2)the dramatic shift in demographics with the loss of skilled workers and the lack of skilled entrants, and 3) the difficultyidentifying effective educational ‘pipelines’ for skilled applicants. Both employers and educators are looking to industrial associations as partners in developing the definition of new skills and competencies, the related curriculum, the required assessments and, the resulting credentials. The move towards alignment (tuning) is increasingly dependent on association partnerships. Effective associations will have systems of continuous improvement that will ensure alignment between their education and training partners as well as their employer membership. This communication system opens up the pipeline for skilled workers and provides a communication system for internships, work based learning, and ultimate support for placement of graduates within the industry. While many associations do not have the structure, systems, or history of such involvement, they are open to building these relationships for all the reasons outlined. This is a work in progress and offers substantial opportunities to post secondary institutions.
The primary purpose of these alliances is to ensure both the continuous alignment and portability of academic content and outcomes with the constantly changing expectations of both the employer and academic world.
Industry Recognized Certifications (IRC).Opportunities for more formal alliances occur with associations that sponsor formal industry certifications. These offer industry recognition of credentials and their accompanying competencies. They offer the individual portability of their recognized credentials and the institution a means of aligning curriculum, competencies, and assessments. More important, industries are increasingly ‘certifying’ schools as recognized deliverers of their programs. An exceptional opportunity exists in providing academic credit to students enrolled in programs resulting in industry recognized certifications. Students engaged in technical training would be more inclined to stay in a program if they receive industry recognized credentials as well as specific credits toward academic or technical Associate degrees. This creates a unique prospect to engage students in seamless system of lifelong continuous learning. As well, it is a special model for demystifying participation in post secondary education while significantly increasing industry recognition and earnings. There is the added advantage of employer supported tuition for current employees as well as the advertized value of an industry portal for potential students outside the industry. The prospects for long term strategic alliances with industry associations are enormous and offer great marketing benefits. Alliances with Professional and International Organizations.Forming strategic alliances with professional organizations and accreditors ensures both alignment of curricula and outcome standards as well as ensuring the portability of the credits and credentials.These alliances are becoming increasingly recognized as significant pipelines for qualified professional applicants and they offer exceptional marketing opportunities to both student applicants and industry. Further, alignment with national or international efforts at standardizing curricula or outcomes, such as the Bologna Accords, provides a common frame work for an institutions programs and portability for their students.To date these Accords have been largely limited to Europe but they are gaining recognition and interest in the US. Schools will benefit from any relationship that aligns curriculum, outcomes, and credits internationally or nationally.
Alliances with Assessment/Certifying Organizations.The roles of ACT, ETS, and organizations such as ANSI are changing dramatically. These are groups that have significant financial and intellectual resources as well as substantial research and data related to both industries and education. They are deeply involved in the establishment of both education workplace standards. For example, ACT sponsors WorkKeys and the increasingly recognized National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). The benefits of partnering with these organizations are: increased credibility, linking education delivery to assessment, broader industry partnerships, and visibility. Formal or informal, the ability to build strategic alliances with organizations such as these opens significant new program and market opportunities.
#6 The sixth challenge centers on the development of a ‘One Stop’ access to the new economy. Rather than simply a standalone higher education deliverer, institutionswould become ‘one stop centers’ where individuals would come to: 1) get labor market information about high wage/high growth industries, 2) obtain available skill standards and/or IRC’s, 3) accredit their past training, education, and experience, 4) gain advice and counseling on entering post secondary education, 5) receive assistance with entrance to recognized academic and training programs, and, 6) get assistance with placement within the industry. The major problem with the labor market adjustment system in the United States is a completely bifurcated and user unfriendly information, counseling, advising, crediting, accessing, financing, and education/training system. Both the unemployed, re-entering adults and first time students are highly mobile learners who are looking for the access portal to the new economy. Stagnate outdated agencies, policies and systems are simply incapable of delivering such services. It is time to develop a new on-line system that would ensure all citizens ongoing and easy access to understandable and timely job matches, labor market information, and credentials needed for the new economy. All post secondary institutions have a unique opportunity to participate in the building of this broader set of services into a publically transparent system.
#7. The seventh challenge is the ability to offer, give a perception of and have the reputation of providing a ‘Guarantee’. This is the outgrowth of the need to close the loop between employers, students, and educators. The primary question is: does the institutions system of identified learning outcomes meet the academic and technical standards of the new economy and, then, does it ‘ensure’ that every graduate meets those standards? This means establishing standards, curriculum, and assessments that achieve these levels and ensuring that every graduate meets them. When substandard performance is recognized there is a system of remediation and ultimately the failure to graduate if the student simply cannot meet the institutional standards. Some would add that for any student hired which the employer believes does not meet the standard, the school would take them back and remediate them at no cost. While this would come with a cost, it is far more important to develop a reputation with employers for producing graduates that meet the industry standards for tomorrow’s economy. While this important for employers, it is imperative for students who want to be certain that the education/training they are engaged in will in fact prepare them for the new economy. Action on this challenge represents a fundamental shift away from the old system of ‘education opportunity’. For the future, it is about highly mobile students accessing a system that ‘ensures’ their achievement of the competencies required for the new economy. America’s exceptionally diverse post secondary education system has the capacity and commitment to implement this new relationship.
Many of the challenges identified in this paper run contrary to traditional academic institutional culture and will meet with resistance from management, faculty, administrators, and/or staff. It is important to recognize that the fundamental social and economic changes as well as the opportunities they create are not options; they are realities. All higher education delivery systems will respond to both the changing environment and the expectations it spawns. The question is whether they will opt to evolve over time, catch up after the market has defined the new directions, propose marginal change, or lead by redefining the market, services, delivery, and the outcomes. Every post secondary education institution has the opportunity to invest in the leadership of this transition. They can reach beyond their traditional academic and institutional walls, become more flexible and resilient, develop alternative delivery systems, grow more knowledgeable about the new constituency, and become the coalescing force behind a new broadened system of post secondary education. The new system will continue to provide high quality education as well as be prepared to address the important issues of new target populations, academic and workplace alignment, portability of credentials, industry employment pipelines, integrated learning systems, and strategic alliances. American higher education is in a position to address the concerns of individuals, employers, and public policy makers by making effective post secondary education a reality for a significant majority of our population. The States, systems, and institutions that aggressively respond to this challenge will gain the recognitions, respect, and support of policy makers, employers, and the public.
These are significant issues at a unique time when the way forward is clear and the opportunity for leadership must be unfettered by past cultures and tradition. The ability of our post secondary education system to reach beyond itself and embrace the expectations of the changing world will determine America’s economic, social, and political success in the years to come as the new economy continues to develop.
Appendix A: Data Tables
Appendix B: Reports
ACT 2006. Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?