Reasons to Expand, Re-Tool Entrepreneurship Now.

Two VERY impactful articles for your college, university, or workforce center:

Future of Education and How Reskill-Upskill Education 

Dr. Gordon Gee, WVU President of 40 years and former Chair of Higher Education Commission says, “if I were King for a day, first, I would get rid of colleges and departments, and create centers, institutes, and working groups, and organize around ideas.”  Re-upskill article says, “as the nature of work changes rapidly, workers will need to learn new skills for existing jobs (up-skilling) or whole new skills for different jobs (re-skilling).

With American’ trust in higher education dropping, we asked West Virginia University president Dr. E. Gordon Gee, who has served as a university president for 40 years, about how institutions can positively move forward and focus on equity, accessibility, and diversity:  “What do you believe are the prevailing issues threatening the vitality of higher education?”

This is an existential time for higher education.  When I became a university president in 1981, there was a public survey showing 95 percent of people  in this country thought higher education was important.  It has now fallen below 50 percent, even though higher education is the most important element in our culture and economy right now.  This is happening in part because change has not been part of higher education’s portfolio. Universities are made up to two elements: talent and culture.  Most universities have very talented people, bu they have the culture wrong.  We need to spend much more time developing a culture of change, a culture of creativity.  Universities are places of curiosity.  We have great people thinking about great ideas and doing great things, but we have no curiosity about how we make ourselves better.

If I were king for a day, first, I would get rid of colleges and departments, and create centers, institutes and working groups, and organize around ideas.  Another problem is that every institution is chasing after other institutions, rather than trying to be themselves.  Because of that, I think a thousand institutions are going to fail over the next  couple of years.  “How has your leadership at a number of universities and colleges prepared you for the current climate and circumstances of higher education?”

In my 40 years as a university president, I have experienced what I thought was every possible challenge, including wars, the 1987 stock crash, riots, tragedies on campus, 9/11 and multiple recessions.  But the COVID-19 pandemic is testing education –and every other sector of society — as never before.  Personally, I am approaching our current situation a bit like a freshman showing for their first day of class: a little anxious, but eager to try new things and learn all I can.  This is the “Black Swan” moment that requires educational leaders to ask questions, rather than pretend we have all the answers.  And, as we work through current challenges, we must constantly fix our eyes on the future.  We must learn from our mistakes and from what we do right.

Because changes to our world will linger after this virus subsides, we must find ways to educate and sustain our institutional families while operating in a new environment.  In my conversations with senior university leaders, I have asked them to couple their immediate crisis responses with thinking “from the other side of the mountain”.   This means thinking about how we can use what we learn to reposition West Virginia University in a more powerful role of leadership locally and nationally.  “What is one piece of advice you have for leaders of higher education institutions to improve student success?”

The most important priority leaders can address today is increasing the quality of higher education while ensuring that it is cost-effective and affordable for students.  In my state, West Virginia, you hear a lot about the need to create jobs, which is real, but the state also has many jobs that are wanting for people.  We just have not trained them in the right way.  While not everyone needs a four-year college degree, everyone needs some post-secondary training to succeed in today’s economy.

i chaired the Commission on Higher Education Attainment, which issued an open letter to college presidents outlining some important ways to increase college completion and reduce student debt:      ~Create a campus culture that promotes student success and persistence.  ~Provide greater support for non-traditional students.  ~Find new ways to assess and provide credit for students’ previous learning experiences.  ~Deliver courses more efficiently and in more flexible ways.  ~Do a better job identifying at-risk students and provide better remedial help for them.

How Universities Can Implement the Reskill-Upskill Education Trend

Education has been moving towards a lifelong-learning model focused on skills.  To take advantage of this shift, institutions will need partnerships.

Online learning has been the future of education for some time –even before the global pandemic, the online education market was predicted to hit $350 billion by 2025.  The drive to online learning has only accelerated  since.  “This is a time of seismic change in education”, say Justin Cooke, chief content and partnerships officer at FutureLearn, a leading social learning platform.  “We’re moving towards a demand-driven world.  People want to be able to learn wherever and whenever they want, from the best experts in the world, with a click”.

Going Digital.  But universities and other educational institutions seeking to develop online program  have found there are many challenges. “The deman for education is growing exponentially,” Cooke says.  “It’s only through digitization and digital delivery that this deman can ultimately be met.  But there are practical things you need to think abut.  What technology to use?  What licenses are needed?  Do they have appropriate security, are they able to guarantee privacy?  What about digital storage and supporting connectivity?  How will the faculty members be trained to facilitate virtual instruction?”  Aside form the technical challenges, there’s the course content itself.  “How do you make a course really engaging and really  effective online with measurable outcomes?” Cooke asks. “It’s not as simple as recording seminar with a video camera in the back your lecture theater.”  FutureLearn has quickly become a leader in onolnine learning, boasting more than 14 million “leaners” worldwide and partnerships with 25 percent of the world’s leading universities internationally.  In March 2020, they launched FutureLearn Campus, which allows their partners to offer short courses to their students and staff.

Removing barriers.  While the benefits for universities in terms of enlarging their pool of potential students and modernizing their offerings are clear, online learning is also crucial to the emerging “life-long-learning” model.  As the nature of work changes rapidly, workers will need to learn new skills for existing jobs (up-skillling) or whole new skills for different jobs (re-skilling).  “Automation and technology are causing a huge shift in the employment landscape,” Cooke says.  “Rising unemployment combined with big skill gaps are driving global need to up-skill and re-skill people to equip their workforces for the future.  The need is now, and the need is real.”

Flexibility for equity.  One solution is “microcredentials”, which can be used to reskill or upskill workers in very specific areas without the expense or time commitment of a traditional degree. “Microcredentials are sort of an unbundling of the degree,” Cooke explains.  “They provide access to affordable learning, they are designed to be more targeted and have directly job-relevant outcomes, and they’re flexible –you fit them into your life and your work.”  A recent piece in Wired Magazine suggests that learners are now seeking micro credentials with a view to stacking them into a degree later on.  Cooke believes that the affordability of micro credentials and short courses is going to remove barriers to education.  “It’s a real benefit of the online model because we can pass on  economies of scale to our learners,” he says, noting that micro credentials can be “stacked” to eventually translate into a full degree, allowing students to pay as they go.  “Thinking about this as being a lifelong journey, we need to ensure that we are providing people with the right sorts of skills that hey need to develop to have a significant ump too economic change in their lives, whether it’s getting back into employment, progressing in their career, or getting into employment in the first place.”

It’s all about making the world a better and more equitable place.  “Without education in a rapidly changing world, when individuals get left behind, economies suffer”, Cooke says.  “The physical limitations of the current education sector make this an inevitability.  Here at FutureLearn, we’re determined to make that history.”    Courtesy of MediaPlanet by Jeff Somers.

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