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In economic free fall, potential students want their degree to be a ticket to a good job and life.

Your State Department of Higher Education succeeds if run by heroes, not three-headed hydras.

“HEROES VS HYDRAS” SERIES

This fifteen-part series introduces you to the heroic partners you and your community will require to survive and thrive during pandemics and economic disruptions. The articles also provide tips on avoiding the three-headed hydras of apathy, envy and fear, those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.

State leaders in education can ensure that higher education leads to careers, if departments align with the future job markets.

Your State Department of Higher Education

This state agency oversees all public colleges and universities and can help colleges and universities align their courses and degrees with present and future job markets. This is a great start, but there is more to do. The state agency can support all institutions of higher learning in strengthening their role as a community hub, with strong links to the residents of the county they reside in. In a post-pandemic society in economic free fall, community engagement is a good thing.

With college and university leadership working in collaboration with city and county government, all the challenges presented in this time of unprecedented chaos, change and economic disruption can be solved. It is not hyperbole to say that it will take a degree of cooperation that is unprecedented because we are living through uncharted waters. The State Department of Higher Education can have a vital role in helping all institutions of higher learning become hubs for local empowerment.

Challenge: Online and engaged

The State Department of Education can support all colleges and universities as they embrace online options. Many higher education campuses have, for decades, seen the promise of online instruction and kept educators trained on the latest technologies and methodologies. The State Department of Higher Education can also lead the movement to end the digital divide, to ensure that any resident who seeks online education can access it. (Getting an entire state wired for internet access is a big job and what better advocate than the state department committed to the acquisition of knowledge?)

Challenge: Alignment

As with public education, higher education must keep in touch with what is happening in the job marketplace. This means ongoing research on global, national, state and local trends in order to effectively address what we call supply and demand. Today’s students will want to know what a degree will get them. A job? A career? A way to survive or thrive? Will there be jobs in their desired field in their city or will they need to move across the state or nation? With an advanced degree, might they find themselves a temp worker in the gig economy staring at a screen in their studio apartment for the rest of their lives?

Just like the public education data system (of the future), higher ed needs to be tracking their graduate’s success in the job market and feeding that data back into a responsive system. It’s the only way to truly understand whether or not certain classes or degrees are springboards or dead ends. This is a big job that can use the support of the State’s Department of Higher Education.

Challenge: State-of-the-art education in times of chaos

The State Department of Higher Education, in a perfect world, would be offering webinars, social media postings, experts posting to public blogs and news outlets could answer questions, offer support and possibly avert some of the worst side effects of difficult times. Certainly, information is available from experts hundreds or thousands of miles away, but interpreting that information to reflect local conditions and needs could mean the difference between panic buying and emptying local store shelves and a community that is calmly making certain that everyone has what they need and to be safe and healthy.

Challenge: The state’s entire system of higher education as one giant continuous quality improvement machine

As we prepare for the next pandemic or disaster, the need for the ten surviving and thriving services will be very clear to those leaders in government and nongovernment organizations providing these ten services. In order to effectively expand services (like that of a health clinic, food bank or transportation system) and to improve user-friendliness, these organizations will need help in applying the tenets of continuous quality improvement (CQI). This means expertise from the state’s most brilliant minds.

Universities can become resources to teach service organizations in the public sector how to become more responsive and effective in their delivery of service, thus benefiting everyone. Universities already have experts in CQI and can provide the data-driven process of assessing, planning, acting and evaluating to hundreds of local organizations to help improve every aspect of an organization in the county they are based.

In some states there is already a university system in place called Cooperative Extension that has training staff and an office in every county. These local programs, already set up to provide ongoing public training and technical assistance, are poised to become CQI training centers to support local readiness and recovery. The State Department of Higher Education can support this type of county-based technical assistance to communities, networking all the state’s colleges and universities to increase alignment in all the areas that matter to localities.

How do I connect with the state department of higher ed?

Your work on the county level will mean getting connected with people in education across many levels. For theState Department of Higher Education, you will be connecting with your local college and university presidents, department heads and other leaders on campus, all with relationships with the state department staff.

As with all state agencies, some are data-driven, committed to solid research to inform all proposed policies and practices. Others, less so. As with all state bureaucracies, you will need to find your way to management, sharing with them your local work in education focused on job training and placement. Persistence will be key as you need to connect with a manager who will fully understand and appreciate the work you are doing to ensure job training for everyone wanting it in your county.

Bottom line

The State Department of Higher Education can promote a vision and strategies to ensure that every student is empowered to succeed in the future job market. Leadership within the department can advocate that all campuses become hubs for community health, safety, resilience and economic development.

The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The future awaits: www.tenvitalservices.org

Written by

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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