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New Opportunities for Partnership- Higher Education and Employers

Businesses and corporations have become intimately involved with creating new training and learning programs that traditionally have been fully controlled by colleges and universities. This article details how some companies have partnered closely with universities to address the shortage of qualified potential employees for the fastest growing parts of their businesses.

Impatient with universities’ slow pace of change, employers go around them; Tech companies are sidestepping the middleman and creating their own courses

We found the title of this article a bit (a lot?) misleading. Rather, we feel this is an encouraging description of how companies and universities can combine their strengths to more quickly solve core challenges that employers face. And a recognition that all agree its imperative to experiment and change to meet employment needs.

Scott Gordon had just arrived in his job as provost of Eastern Washington University when an alumnus approached him at a meet-and-greet ...when the alumnus, who worked for Microsoft, told him (they) would be hiring huge numbers of people to specialize in data analytics, he went back to the campus to fast-track a new degree program in that subject. The first trickle of graduates is expected next summer. That’s the fastest the university has ever introduced a new degree program, a feat it achieved by adopting off-the-shelf course materials already developed by Microsoft that the company is distributing to help turn out more employees with data and computer-science skills.

This is exactly what  businesses and universities must do more of. The article claims its rare, but its actually not. Indeed these kinds of partnerships have been around for decades, but they have been at arms length, and slow to evolve. These need to happen much much faster; colleges and universities and businesses must be far more willing to recognize this is a shared endeavor. The opportunity for colleges and universities to offer their deep expertise in learning and teaching is better then its ever been.

CompTIA projects that 1.8 million new tech jobs will be created between 2014 and 2024, ... But colleges and universities are turning out only about 28,000 computer-science graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees per year..“There’s just a giant gap there,” said Sean Gallagher, executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern University. Fewer graduates are emerging from the pipeline than are needed, he said. “I think that’s why the tech sector has been the place where these alternative models are being pioneered.”

This article does provide a number of examples where industry and education are working together, as well as examples where business and new companies are creating alternative learning paths. Neither business nor higher education can train 1.8 million new workers in the traditional degree models, nor is it likely necessary. Colleges and universities are not retrenching, they fully understand only a small percentage of those new tech jobs will need a traditional computer science degree. But they need to move faster. 

The education system is “failing to keep pace with the changing needs of the economy,” echoes the Chamber of Commerce Foundation. And the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine warned in a report in late October of “a growing sense of an impending crisis” as universities struggle to respond to these complaints.

Its imperative for colleges and universities to move faster.

Adopting ready-made online courses may be cheaper than creating new programs at every university from scratch, Rees said. “But you don’t have a solution to the problem. You just have a lot of poorly trained data scientists coming out of universities.”

 But businesses should recognize colleges and universities have expertise and can help insure quality education.

Eastern Washington combines edX courses with in-person faculty support. That has been shown to improve success rates, which Gordon said are low for students who take online courses on their own. (This is a sensitive issue for providers of so-called massive open online courses such as edX, which wouldn’t disclose completion rates for particular courses or subjects.)

This is the Core challenge that most learners and education providers face. People can learn on their own, but they learn better,  they learn faster, and they complete at far far higher rates when they are fully supported while learning on their own. Employment gaps will not be filled by cranking out more 22 year olds with bachelors degrees or creating more capacity for traditional master degrees. We need more programs for those already in the workforce who can take targeted programs that qualify them for new kinds of jobs.

These students, 90% of them must work while they learn, will need the flexibility to master the material on their schedules and deserve programs that recognize they bring knowledge and skills to the course work. And these students, like all students, should be fully supported by qualified teachers and coaches who will help them persist and complete.

This is where we specialize at Sagence Learning. We help colleges and universities meet and support the goals of todays students and the needs of todays employers.

“The pace of change and product cycles and skills demands in the economy are moving more quickly than traditional university processes and program development can keep up,” said Northeastern’s Gallagher.....That needs to change, for universities’ own self-preservation, said Gordon, of Eastern Washington“...In this new landscape of higher education, where state resources are declining, where there’s an erosion of the public’s confidence, we need to think a little differently and partner with employers,” he said. “It behooves us as an institution to do what we can to fulfill that need. That’s how higher education can regain the confidence and trust of the public, by stepping up to fill those gaps.”

We help do this with a state of the art learning environment expressly developed to meet the changes higher education needs to address. Choose the right tools to do the job at hand; the job is done better, more quickly, with the best return on investment for all.

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