Newspaper article MinnPost.com

'Higher Education and the Changing World of Work' -- Designing a National Conversation

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

'Higher Education and the Changing World of Work' -- Designing a National Conversation

Article excerpt

Both communities and higher education are in a time of dramatic change, when higher education faces new challenges and citizens often feel powerless.

"If you look at the whole picture of everything that is wrong, it is so overwhelming," one woman from Richmond, Va., told a researcher with the Kettering Foundation. "You just retreat back and take care of what you know you can take care of -- and you make it smaller, make it even down to just you and your unit. You know you can take care of that."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment at degree-granting institutions rose 37 percent between 2000 and 2010 to a record 21 million students. During the same period, the cost of higher education rose as well, and states have drastically reduced financial support for higher education. To meet costs, students are borrowing at unprecedented levels -- last year, student load debt exceeded credit-card debt for the first time at over $1 trillion (yes, that's trillion) -- setting themselves up for decades of loan repayments and economic hardships.

Meanwhile, communities face a host of problems, from growing poverty and chronic unemployment to troubled schools and partisan gridlock.

Efforts to lower costs

In response to the challenges in higher education and community problems, policymakers have offered solutions such as making higher education more affordable by dramatically lowering the costs. Part of the support for online education is its potential to reduce costs. Keeping costs low is also often the reason proposed for holding faculty salaries low and replacing permanent staff with temporary staff.

Many have also been calling for curricular changes to ensure that students take courses that will directly contribute to their ability to get jobs. These work-force development approaches ask higher- education institutions to focus instruction on courses that are directly useful in helping students find jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Others ask, is this response too narrow? Can higher education help communities understand and address the rapidly changing nature of work and the workplace? What does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century? How can diverse populations, including minorities and the poor, gain access? Does quality education suffer when cutting costs is the main focus? Where does education take place? What kind of education will help communities act to solve their collective problems?

We know from earlier research by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College (previously at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs), working with the National Conference on Citizenship and the CIRCLE research center at Tufts University, that higher education has an important role to play as communities wrestle with issues such as these. Education is correlated with high levels of civic participation. Both education and civic involvement are associated with health and economic resilience.

Design team from six local institutions

Work is currently under way on the design of a national public conversation called "Higher Education and the Changing World of Work," which will explore questions about the link between the fate of communities and the future of higher education. This work is undertaken by a design team with representatives of six area colleges and universities - Augsburg, Century, Hamline, Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and St. Paul College - in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation (a nonpartisan research organization) and the National Issues Forums (a network that promotes deliberation on public issues). …

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