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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024


Colleges of the Future Need Help From Businesses

Editor’s Note: Glenn Roquemore earned a doctorate in geology and geophysics and became head of the Applied Geoscience Research Office at the Naval Weapons Center China Lake, where he worked for a decade before becoming a college professor and eventually president of both Irvine Valley College (IVC) and California Southern University.

Roquemore, who now owns an Irvine-based firm to help schools become accredited, Roquemore Higher Education Consulting, and is president emeritus of IVC after serving 18 years as the school’s president, wrote this Leader Board for the Business Journal.

Higher education in America ranks No. 1 in academic rigor and standards compared to other nations around the globe. Still, according to the Pew Research Center, we continue to rank in the middle regarding academic achievement and completion.

After serving 30 years in the California Community College System, including 18 years as president of Irvine Valley College, I can shed light on the discrepancy.

When higher education was designed initially, the mission was to provide fertile ground for ideas, innovation, and research, but limited to the fortunate few that studied, for example, law, medicine and mathematics. At that time, most college-aged people worked on family farms, in businesses, or the trades.

From an academic perspective, there was a distinct difference, perhaps a firewall, between teaching to develop a well-rounded, educated citizen and skills training leading to a specific job. I began my college career in 1990, teaching in the Geology Program at three local community colleges.

At one of the colleges, I was counseled by a few full-time faculty members in mathematics who would tell their students on the first day to look to their right and then look to their left. The students were then told that only 50% would still be in the class at the end of the semester.

From Rigor to Access

That emphasis on rigor has changed in recent years to emphasize universal access to higher education as the main goal and now includes wraparound services to assist with student success.

The demand for educational pathways for those who do not desire or need a traditional education is rapidly increasing.

Fortunately, within public education, primarily community colleges, a new focus on Career Technical Education and Workforce Development emerged during the Bush and Obama administrations.

This focus is echoed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the last three California Community College chancellors. New organizations formed to support this effort, and significant funding became available.

However, higher education has a noted and well-published reputation for being slow to change.

The former California Community College chancellor provided millions of dollars to help colleges “move the needle” toward higher achievement and completion.

That needle did not move.

College of the Future

Why? Seeking an answer to this question, about six years ago, I held a seminar/workshop titled the “College of the Future.”

Leaders of regional businesses and industries were invited as well as faculty, administrators and students. The room was packed. Once we got through all the “set-up” presentations, we moved to open dialog.

What should the College of the Future look like, and how do we build it?

Then a large elephant landed in the room, when the CEO of a prominent digital arts/gaming company told our audience: “Your A students are our D applicants.”

After the educators in the room regained consciousness, the business and industry CEOs outlined, in detail, the chasm between business and education.

The big problem was the resistance of faculty to measure student learning objectives as mandated by the Office of the Chancellor (remember to look to the right and then to the left).

With a few excellent exceptions, faculty resistance was also met when the American Association of Community Colleges developed the Career Pathways Program, which helped students selects a program of study that could lead to a career and the expected salary.

Career Pathways is a program that created transparency to help students, but it also exposed dead-end areas of study and the teachers who worked there. Too many students were choosing pathways for which few or no jobs were available.

This program chocked full of Key Performance Indicators thus provided a sometimes uncomfortable and highly visible evaluation of program performance.

Finally, the Chancellor’s Office designed the Vision for Success. It brought multiple benefits, including transparency at the state and college levels to measure and report performance for student success and completion.

All the programs mentioned above made valuable improvements to the quality of higher education, but as reported, success and completion remain low on a global comparison.

Blame COVID?

The COVID-19 years had multiple negative impacts on society. Some blame COVID for the significant drop in college enrollments across the nation. But are the COVID lockdowns, illness, and comfort in working and learning from home to blame?

Enrollment nationwide in the spring of 2022 was 15.9 million students, down 9.4% from the start of the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The number of students in two-year schools in California declined 23% during this same period to 943,629.

Even before COVID, the nation began questioning the value of higher education.

Consider that enrollment nationwide is down 20% from 19.8 million in the fall of 2012, according to Clearinghouse. During that same decade, enrollment at two-year colleges dropped 38% to 4.2 million as of spring 2022.

Cost and relevancy are two of the most reported issues.

Job/career readiness began to come into focus.

Has higher education moved quickly enough to embrace the pedological shift to student success and completion?

I contend that the missing link is strong and effective partnerships with business and industry, the organizations that will evaluate program and teaching effectiveness through the graduates they hire.

Today’s students seek well-paying jobs and look to their colleges and universities to provide a relevant and career-ready education that is transparent and has well-defined outcomes.

Around the globe, Germany owns the best example of business partnerships with education. A well-defined, purposeful foundational curriculum, combined with internships and apprenticeships, leads to an exemplary education system preparing the educated citizen and the career-ready employee.

That model should be the template for the College of the Future.

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