A Post from Interim President Deb Bushway

October 14, 2011

Below is a thoughtful post written by Capella’s Interim President Deb Bushway on an event co-sponsored by the Shank Institute and featuring Capella founder Steve Shank. Take it away Deb…

Reflections on Shank Institute meeting

Two weeks ago, I participated in a Shank Institute sponsored conversation between education and business leaders including former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the Minnesota state demographer, futurists and adult learners who are currently participating in innovative training programs.

Following a set of presentations summarizing the changing conditions in our country and the “new normal” produced by our current economy, we discussed how higher education can best serve our country to increase our global competiveness. What sort of education will support individual and collective success in the future? Will a college diploma still be necessary? Will accreditation matter at all or will employers become the default accreditors of the future?

These are challenging questions. As we all know, in the face of complex and intransigent questions, discourse can sometimes lapse into “admiring the problem”. One reason for this is that it is tempting to fall into old intellectual ruts in problem solving. Specifically, we can get stuck in questions of polarities. Should we be preparing students with job specific skills or to think, lead and communicate? Should we be expecting our high school grads to complete a college degree or to achieve vocational training? Should we focus on filling the high number of jobs going unfilled in MN due to lack of skills or on reducing our high unemployment rates? Clearly the answer is yes and.

Yes, we should be preparing students with job specific skills and we should teach them to think, lead and communicate. The Minnesota state demographer presented compelling arguments that the largest segment of new jobs will be tacit jobs. Tacit jobs require independent judgment with work that is not easily scripted. These workers need critical thinking and communication skills interwoven into the technical requirements for these positions. Yesand.

Yes, our high school graduates should be prepared with vocational training, and they ought to complete a college degree. Vocational training programs with integrated general education outcomes might allow a student to achieve a series of certificates validating her competencies to a potential employer while also building toward a two or four year college degree which will serve her well in future jobs. Yesand.

As we innovate to improve higher education and better prepare our future workforce, this “yesand” approach will be essential. Higher education must join forces with employers to deeply understand their talent needs and swiftly respond. Intentionally integrating traditional general education competencies at relevant points in a job skills training curriculum will produce workers who are able to succeed in the tacit jobs described by our demographer. We can create certificate programs which pull students toward college degree completion. We can build these programs creatively while also increasing completion rates in our traditional undergraduate degrees to serve the students. Yesand solutions.

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