At this past week's American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference held in Washington, D.C. we learned about the changing world and the changing needs of higher education graduates. Presenters emphasized the need for high-skilled professionals in the coming years with a growing gap of as many as 25 million by 2025, especially in high tech, bio-tech, health care and other fields.
High Targets for 2025:
Speakers urged college and universities to emphasize both access and completion of college. Clearly, this will not be easy. It will mean that K-12 will have to dramatically increase the number of high school graduates who complete high school ready for college, precisely at the time that schools are becoming more minority, particularly Hispanic, and facing sharper class divides (with a growing number of very poor and under-resourced schools and districts). Addressing these inequities and ensuring that more Americans graduate from high school college-ready are essential for the future of this great country and for its democracy.
President Obama has set a high goal. By 2020, the president wants the U.S. to regain its leadership internationally in the percentage of the adult population with some college. That goal would require the U.S. to increase the number of adults with some college from its current rate (39%) and by-pass Canada (currently with 55% of its adult population with some college). The Lumina Foundation for Education, the Gates Foundation, the National Governors Association, State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), and others hope to raise the percentage to 60% by 2025. The federal government and foundations are investing billions of dollars to help the nation meet these goals.
Still, it will be a real stretch. Paul Lingengelter, President of SHEEO, said that to hit the 60% target by 2025 would require an increase of 16 million new certificate and degree holders over and above current rates. Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina, told us that to reach this goal means that colleges must work together with K-12, community colleges, and private industry to ensure multiple pathways for students to enter college and upgrade their skills to match a dramatically changing economy. But, speakers also emphasized that the quality of student learning must improve, with greater depth and breath.
Martha Kanter, Higher Education Under-Secretary for the U.S. Dept. of Education noted that "we must move adults through the system faster and with high quality" so that adult learners without a high school degree can earn their GED, those with a GED can earn a certificate or an associate of arts degree, and those with AA or AAS can earn a BA.
Kantor stressed that industry is rapidly changing. She noted that by 2016 the 30 fastest growing fields will require at least a bachelor's degree. Kantor challenged colleges and universities "to do a better job of helping students who enter college to actually earn a degree." She also urged colleges and high schools to work together to expand dual credit and Early College experiences so that high school students can earn a college certificate or even an AA, while still in high school.
Preparing Students for a Global Economy:
We received two very important new reports: The Quality Imperative and at the President's meeting, "Raising the Bar: Employer's Views On College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn." AAC&U's Quality Imperative report urges presidents and universities to undertake "a far-reaching and unprecedented effort to ensure that all the nation's college students--whatever their age and whatever their backgrounds--receive the finest possible preparation for the demands and challenges of this global economy." The report views narrow or overly-specific curricula as a "barrier to opportunity," as all college students "need to develop broad knowledge--of science, society and global developments."
"Raising the Bar" presented a survey of employers conducted on behalf of AAC&U. According to the report, "only one-in-four employers thinks that two-year and four-year colleges are doing a good job in preparing students for the challenges of the global economy." One-fifth of employers surveyed feel "significant change" is required in higher education. When it comes to future hiring, employers indicate that they see a growing need for those with some college, but "their greatest increase in emphasis will be in hiring graduates from a four-year college."
So what do employers feel colleges should stress as learning outcomes? According to the report, 89% of respondents want increased emphasis on 'written and oral communication,' 81% expect greater emphasis on 'critical thinking and analytic reasoning,' 79% want greater 'applied knowledge in real world-settings,' 75% want greater 'complex problem solving' abilities, 75% desire increased 'ethical decision making' skills, and 71% want greater 'teamwork skills in diverse groups.'
Scott Brown of CISCO spoke from an industry perspective, emphasizing that students learn more about globalization, team-work and real-world internships. He noted, "The world and industry is changing so rapidly that we can't even predict what the world will look like in 20 years." Even so, it is likely that by 2030 China, India, Korea, and Brazil will account for half of the world's GDP. Brown urges colleges to prepare students for the global world with language, history, culture, and geography skills for that changing world.
He pleads, "teach your students how to think critically, work in interdisciplinary teams, solve problems together in real world settings, and with tight time-lines." Brown says, students need to be able to argue for their positions and to communicate--not just verbally and in writing, but in multimedia presentations. Brown also stressed that all students should receive "meaningful internships," where they are expected to "apply what they have learned to solve real world problems."
It's a big task. It will require significant change in K-12 and higher education. The task is made harder by state cuts in higher education funding. Still, if the U.S. doesn't dramatically increase the quantity and quality of college graduates we produce, American will lose its competitive edge. So, we must get better at what we do, even in these challenging and turbulent times. I'll keep you informed on our progress.