Build Tomorrow's Workforce Today

November 14, 2012

In honor of Strayer University’s 120th anniversary, the institution hosted some of the nation’s top business and education experts to participate in the panel discussion, “Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today: The Role of Higher Education in a Global Economy.” The panelists explored critical issues and offered informed perspective around increasing college-to-career readiness for traditional and nontraditional students.

Each of the experts agreed that higher education is the key to building a U.S. workforce that is prepared to compete in the 21st century global economy. The expert panelists were from Georgetown University, the Lumina Foundation, FedEx Express, and Prince George’s Community College.

Building Tomorrow's Workforce Today Panel
Pictured above (from left to right): Jamie Merisotis, Dr. Charlene Dukes, Dr. Anthony Carnevale, and Robert J. Bennett

“For more than a century, Strayer University has partnered with the business community to educate U.S. workers and expand access to job opportunities and a better life,” said Dr. Michael Plater, Strayer University president. “Today, with only 30% of U.S. adults over the age of 25 holding a college degree, our nation must prioritize higher education.”

Higher Employment and Earnings

The Department of Labor reports that of the 50 fastest-growing jobs in America, 64% require some level of education after high school. A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that nearly four out of five jobs lost in this recession were held by individuals with no formal education beyond high school.

Simply put, for Americans who lack a college degree, middle-class status has become far less attainable over the last three decades. Panelist Dr. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center, noted that in 1973, 70% of working Americans with a high school degree or less earned middle class wages. By 2010, that figure had dropped to 40%.

Graduating from college is one of the most significant ways an individual can increase his or her earnings potential. “Unemployment, jobs, wages are all still highly-correlated with educational attainment,” said panelist Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation. “Clearly, the value of a college degree is overwhelmingly positive.”

Panelist Robert J. Bennett, vice president and chief learning officer for FedEx Express, noted that job candidates with a college degree demonstrate their readiness to succeed in the workforce. “Employers look for somebody with a college degree because unless the candidate has a lot of experience, there is no other way to base a decision on his or her ability to move forward, to be successful, to drive the company or the business to the next level.”

Increasing Competitiveness At Home and Abroad

In addition to increasing the success of individuals, higher education also contributes to American competitiveness in an increasingly globalized economy. By 2018, 63% of U.S. job openings will require postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center.

In a competitive global economy, “the quality of our human capital will matter, not just socially, but in economic terms,” Dr. Carnevale said. “The difference now is that there is a global labor market and a global economy.” The current U.S. educational system “is not going to work very well for us. We need a broad, almost visceral reorganization of that.”

Panelist Dr. Charlene Dukes, president of Prince George’s Community College and president of the Maryland State Board of Education, noted that building a competitive 21st century workforce requires teaching more than just functional knowledge. “Colleges and universities have to take into account those ‘soft skills’ that people need when they go out into the workforce—the ability to operate in teams, to communicate, and to think critically,” she said.

A Changing Educational Landscape

Experts believe that academic institutions will need to evolve substantively to prepare graduates for the jobs of the future. According to Merisotis, the higher education landscape will undergo “more change in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the past 50 years.” Merisotis envisions significant systemic change that calls for public and private institutions to shift from “a time-based system to a learning-based system” in which “credentials of value become the currency best able to demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities.”

The panel discussion celebrated Strayer University’s 120th anniversary and longstanding mission to educate working adults, first-generation college students and others without ready access to higher education. Since 1892, when Dr. S. Irving Strayer opened the first institution in Baltimore, Md., Strayer University has provided individuals with the opportunity to earn a quality higher education that prepares them for the dynamic business world.

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