Panel: Businesses Need Seat at the Table for Higher Education, Community College Reform

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

If the U.S. is going to be economically competitive with the rest of the world, overall education reform will need to be made a priority and businesses will need a seat at the table, particularly when it comes to higher education, according to panelists at an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The event, hosted by Politico Magazine in partnership with JP Morgan Chase, was titled “What Works” and is an extension of a series published by the magazine about the future of American cities. The series examines innovative ideas taking place in cities as they become “reinvented,” according to Politico. Tuesday’s event focused on the need for a more skilled workforce in cities across the country and, in part, how community colleges can help build that workforce through partnerships with businesses.

During introductory remarks, JP Morgan Chase Managing Director of Global Philanthropy Chauncey Lennon said that U.S. employers are currently spending fewer resources on workforce training than in the past, resulting in fewer opportunities to develop skills while on the job.

“In an era where there is less opportunity … we are putting more risk on the job seekers,” Lennon said. To solve the problem, he added, employers must be more engaged in the education system from K-12 through higher education. There also needs to be greater innovation around career training, including a focus on career pathways and contextualized learning.

James Kvaal, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said during a panel discussion that President Barack Obama’s free community college proposal – and its “significant” $60 billion price tag – sends a message about the importance of educational attainment in the U.S.

He added that completing at least two years of college, which can often lead to an associate degree, should be the norm in America, much like a high school education has become standard for students. And while community colleges hold valuable offerings to students looking for career training opportunities, “there’s a lot to do” in terms of strengthening remedial course offerings and other high quality academic programs, he said, adding that partnerships and engagement from the business sector can provide investment and opportunities for improvement.

Mayor Karl Dean (D) of Nashville, TN, discussed the recently launched Tennessee Promise program, which provides two-years of community college free to eligible students in the state. Dean said the program has been “a great success so far,” adding that it “gives families who didn’t have the opportunity to send their kids to college … the opportunity to do that.”

One reason for the program’s initial success, he said, is the partnerships businesses in Tennessee have formed with community colleges to better target programs to jobs available in the state. There needs to be a broader effort to create such partnerships in cities across the country to better align the needs of employers with job preparation efforts at community colleges.

Harvard Business School Fellow Karen Mills said that research she has been involved in shows that the erosion of the path to the middle class has been caused largely by the “systematic underinvestment” in what she called “the commons,” which includes education at all levels. And while there have been some improvements over the last decade or so, “we’re not actually moving the needle” to a better, reformed education system in the U.S., she said.

Mills, who is a former administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, echoed the sentiments of other panelists, calling for the business sector to be involved in education in a way they have not been before, particularly regarding higher education and workforce preparation.

“Businesses should pay as much attention to their supply chain of human capital as they do to their supply chain of materials,” Mills said.

Delegated Deputy Secretary of Education John King, Mayor Greg Fisher (D) of Louisville, KY, and Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University Director Margaret Raymond also spoke at the event, focusing most of their comments on K-12 education challenges.


Publication Date: 9/23/2015

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