National education advocate Cordell Carter said universities remain “people’s final school” and where “the best of us go, not just to get a job, but to become a better version of ourselves.”
But during a virtual conversation last week in front of a live audience in Tulsa, he added that people also need faster and cheaper paths to employment.
“Students and parents have been very clear about what they want from universities,” he said. “They want college decision makers to shake up their budgets and invest in new programs, technologies that will prepare them for their careers.”
Carter is executive director of the Socrates Program for the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that brings together diverse, nonpartisan leaders, scholars and members of the public to tackle some of the world’s most complex problems.
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The virtual keynote speaker Wednesday at the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s State of Education event — Carter had COVID-19 and was unable to attend in person — discussed trends in workforce development and training nationally.
He was joined by three local leaders who chaired the Short-Term Licensing Committee: Karen Pennington, CEO of Madison Strategies; Angela Sivadon, senior vice president and chief academic officer at Tulsa Community College; and Scott Williams, chief instructor and associate superintendent of instruction and institutional effectiveness at Tulsa Tech.
Carter said higher education needs to reimagine itself as an incubator for talent that will help bridge the large employment gap. At the end of May, 11.5 million jobs had been created in the US, led by the education and health services sectors (2.1 million), he said.
Led by moderator Libby Ediger, executive director of the Holberton School, a local software engineering institute, panelists gave examples of how their capabilities are helping people get employed.
TCC has partnered with 19 area high schools in the Earn a Degree Graduate Early (EDGE) program, in which students are recruited in eighth grade and begin taking credit courses as a sophomore, Sivadon said.
“By the time they graduate from high school, they also have a diploma from TCC,” she said. “This year we had 31 students graduate from one of our area high schools.”
With a number of partners, TCC recently launched the Cyber Skills Center, which will develop the talent pool for the fast-growing career fields of cybersecurity and data analytics for Tulsa area residents at no cost. About 350 people have applied for two cohorts (40 students), which will start in October.
Earlier this year, the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County committed more than $5.6 million in federal COVID relief funds to a workforce development center called Retrain Tulsa, run by the nonprofit Madison Strategies Group. Services are free to all residents of Tulsa or Tulsa County.
People seeking retraining help come from nearly every age group, many with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, Pennington said.
“It’s invigorating in a way. For others, we should be concerned that we have this group of people who are smart and educated, but they simply no longer have a place among the employees of their company.
“… You can actually fix some of those gaps and that confusion that people are finding in one place in Tulsa, which is what the people of Tulsa have earned.”
She added that some of the best job opportunities are local.
“We have a responsibility to develop our own talent, teach our own talent, strengthen ourselves,” Pennington said. “We have no idea how well respected Tulsa is in the circles we’re in.”
Collaboration between institutions and advocates is key, Sivadon said.
“We all bring our gifts to the table, don’t we, and that’s what makes it fun,” Sivadon said. “There is none of our be-all, end-all institutions here that can accomplish all of these things. We all have to work together. Our partnerships are so important to serve our students, our community.”
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