Modern Workforce = Specialization

Here's an interesting piece I stumbled on this morning by Angie Herrington at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Never too old for school

Apart from being a nice mention of my man Alan Yanda -- new Associate Campus Director for our Chattanooga, TN campus -- it brings up an interesting point. Here's the quote that got me thinking, from Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro:

Creating more programs geared directly at preparing students for jobs, such as Chattanooga State's new Building and Construction Institute of the Southeast, is one way to lure more older male adult students back to the college, he said.

"Now the specialization of the work force is such that we shouldn't be turning out so many people with general degrees," Dr. Catanzaro said.

For years, we've gone round and round with traditional education about the value of the practitioner degree. Particularly apparent in our doctoral programs, practitioner degrees have come under fire for -- as far as I can tell -- not being Ph.D., churned out of traditional academe.

But Catanzaro has a good point here. The gist of a practitioner education at all levels of higher eduction is preparation. Our own research tells us that people are changing careers three and four times in a lifetime. We're not talking about job changes here -- moving from selling widgets to selling gadgets, or trucks to tractors -- we're talking about wholesale life changes: you were a nurse, now you're a plumber, next you might be an accountant.

With this change in our social economy, education has to play a new role. I'm a firm believer in traditional eduction, the traditional college environment, for those who can take advantage of it at the right point in their lives. I was 18, I went to college, I did the five-year plan and graduated with just shy of 200 credits. It was a wonderfully powerful experience for far more than the academic perspectives; College was my opportunity to develop socially, to learn how to interact with the world, to live with people that were not my parents and do develop the skills I'd later need to manage a productive life.

But that group, that selection of teens able to afford to take the time and money and put it to a dedicated educational experience for four or five years is shrinking. If you're one of the growing cadre of adults who missed college for some reason, you have very different needs from your education provider. You need to know that what you're getting out of the classroom is what you'll need to function in the world, in your career, in your life. And since you'll probably change careers a few more times for retirement, you also need to know that you can count on your institution to change with you.

The future of education is far more like "The Matrix" than it is "Animal House". It's a future in which you'll come to school for appropriate and timely programming, to acquire the skills you'll need to succeed at that moment. You'll move on to master them through application and then come back, when you're ready for more.

Ten years ago, I worked with a fellow who'd graduated with his MBA from Harvard in 1968. He was a powerful guy -- high-dollar consultant -- and I was is his pitchman. I used to think of him as the role model I'd always wanted to be, polished and professional and wearing that alumni status right out on his sleeve.

But the MBA has changed in the last 30 years and today his skills are stale, and a degree (even from a prestigious institution) has a shelf-life of applicability. Those who get it know that life long learning is less about the latest buzz-words than it is about survival. Those who don't get it are living through the greying pages of a yearbook.