MnSCU IT workforce exec: We’re not that far apart on education

Bruce Lindberg, who runs the MnSCU-affiliated organization Advance IT Minnesota, comments in On Campus that the gap between the Inter Faculty Organization and Chancellor Steven Rosenstone on how to educate students isn’t necessarily all that large:

Lindberg

With some clarification, I would suggest that the IFO positions are not that far off from the intentions of Chancellor Rosenstone, which need to be framed from a body of work over the past two years and not solely on a preliminary set of ideas put forth by Charting the Future work groups for the purpose of generating discussion.

Let’s take IFO point number four as an example. I believe there is wide agreement among senior leaders, administrators and faculty that higher education should be “driven by the demands of students and families.” But what are they demanding?

According to the 2012 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 88 percent of 192,000 freshman surveyed said the ability to attain a good job was a very important reason for going to college, and 75 percent said the ability to earn more money was a very important reason. Both proportions are the highest ever recorded in the annual study that dates back to the 1970s, when many faculty began their careers and the motivations for pursuing a degree were quite different. But as one of our Minnesota folk heroes once chanted: “the times they are a- changin.”

Enhanced economic security is by no means the only reason young people and their families choose to invest their time and money in higher education, as the study notes; “…a majority of students still said they went to college to get an education and gain an appreciation of ideas. It’s just that now, more of them put an even greater value on job-related reasons.”

So as in many “either-or” debates, the correct answer is both. If public higher education hopes to serve the interests of their students and regain the level of public support needed to fulfill that mission (and pay faculty salaries), we must provide both an intellectually and socially engaging environment AND the competencies now required by a globalized, highly competitive and technologically sophisticated economy.

I work with many faculty members who understand that the reality of today’s radically changed economy and public policy environment does not allow the vast majority of employers to spend large sums of money to “train” entry-level employees. Rather, they hold the reasonable expectation that they have already paid for a “work ready” level of competency through corporate and payroll taxes. In many cases, employers also commit additional funding through contributions, grants, paid internships and many forms of in-kind support.

It’s well past time to recognize that employers are rightful partners in public higher education, and that we in public higher education are partners in helping our private organizations remain viable in a global economy that demands the best talent we can develop. Anything less is a downward spiral in overall prosperity.