University leaders advocate for more flexibility in scholarship funding and more apprenticeships and just-in-time training.
Universities, vocational schools and workforce development leaders should expand on lessons from the pandemic to support lifelong learners, instead of short-time students. The federal government can help this evolution by changing the rules for Pell grants and helping small businesses fund more apprenticeship programs. University presidents made these recommendations at the “Future of Tech Town Hall” event this week.
The Knight Foundation, the Future of Tech Commission, ExcelinEd and the Florida Chamber of Commerce hosted the event. The Foundation’s Miami director, Raul Moas, moderated the panel discussion.
Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College, said the pandemic created overnight changes that would have otherwise required a year and a taskforce to accomplish.
“All of those silos broke down during the crisis, and there’s no reason for us to allow them to be built back up,” she said. “With this new normal, we’re quicker and more responsive, and that allows us to be more innovative.”
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Pumariega said companies want employees to have three specific skill sets:
- Future proof skills such as design thinking, resilience and dependability
- Strong writing and analysis abilities
- Digital skills beyond basic computer literacy such as quantum and cloud computing and artificial intelligence
“We have to level up our own people to produce the talent we see the demand for,” Pumariega said.
Gov. Deval Patrick, co-commissioner of the Future of Tech Commission and former Governor of Massachusetts, closed the discussion with a question about how universities will preserve their role in developing good citizens, as well as good employees.
Pumariega said that university leaders have to remember that not everything is microwavable in terms of learning.
“Some things need to marinate overnight and slow cook the next day,” she said. “We are not going to produce robots. It’s not just about tech skills but life skills and civic engagement skills.”
Here are the recommendations about modernizing education and workforce training relevant in the 21st century.
Expand the options for Pell grants
Students who qualify for a Pell grant have to use the funding to attend a college or university to attain an undergraduate degree. The university leaders want to see that funding expanded to cover more options for students who might not need a degree.
Pumariega said that all training from industry certifications to digital apprenticeships to college classes should count toward a degree.
“To build lifelong learners, we need stackable credentials and multiple entry and exit points,” she said. “Funding has to align for this kind of nimbleness and that will be critical for federal policy.”
Hardrick said that this approach will help not only people with college degrees but for people who continue to reinvent themselves during the course of a career.
The group also called for more coordination overall among all educational groups. Pumariega said that Florida is a good example to follow with this kind of coordination based on the changes that the Reimagining Education and Career Help Act proposes. This bill would break down silos around workforce education and potentially make it easier for people to “stack” credentials. This could also make it easier to build toward an undergraduate degree without spending four years straight in school.
“There’s no secret that states win on talent,” she said. “That’s the new economic driver: ‘What’s your talent pool look like?'”
Create more just-in-time training options
Rosenberg predicted that just in-time learning is going to become the standard for all education. He said universities need to get better at offering this kind of training and that federal incentives need to change to fund these offerings.
“We need structures that allow us to turn on a dime,” he said.
Rosenberg added that personalized learning is another change driven by the pandemic that will endure. He predicted that all students will be on customized educational pathways within a few years.
“We’ll have the tech measurement techniques and the big data to do this,” he said.
He also predicted that the sharp lines between vocational training and college classes will disappear.
“The market is going to drive that,” he said.
Fund more apprenticeship programs
Jaffus Hardrick, president of Florida Memorial University, said that there should be more options for people to work and learn at the same time. He said that many students face the challenge of working and going to school at the same time.
“I love the idea of working more collaboratively to ensure students can stay in school and stay focused,” he said.
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Pumariega added that new apprenticeship funding should help small businesses offer paid internships as well.
While Rosenberg agreed that universities should create more opportunities to learn and earn at the same time.
“We talk about reskilling and upskilling, but there are real lives and real checking accounts that need to be replenished while a person is learning,” he said.
FMU recently launched 12 certificate programs that last six, eight or 12 weeks as a way to help students and the community as well.
“To make that a reality, I had to work with business partners to raise the funds, so it wouldn’t be a greater burden on students,” Rosenberg said. “We have to remember, talent is universal, opportunity is not.”