West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 79

James Skidmore Chancellor, Community and Technical College System of West Virginia WVE: Tell us about the types of trends you are currently seeing in public higher education. JS: From a community college perspective, we are focusing our efforts on providing employers with a skilled technician-level work force. Some refer to these occupations as middle-skill jobs. These are, in fact, high-skill jobs that require education beyond high school but in most cases require less than a baccalaureate degree. Employers are facing the issue of having an aging skilled work force that is eligible to retire. At some companies, 50-60 percent of their skilled workers are eligible to enter the ranks of retirement. Mainly because of the changing technology, those entering the work force will need a higher level of skill if they are to successfully replace the gap left by retirees. I expect this trend to impact many incumbent workers, as well as those who will need additional education and training to continue to be productive in technology-intensive workplaces. As West Virginia’s energy and petrochemical industries expand, such as with a new cracker plant, they will require high-skill workers. Those seeking employment in these industries must increase their education and skill levels to qualify for those jobs. Community colleges are filling that training niche, and because of this trend, the student demographic for community colleges will continue to be a mix of adults aged 25-45 and recent high school graduates. WVE: How is the fast-paced evolution of technology changing education, and what kind of impact is it having? JS: Technology has permeated almost every aspect of our lives, and that is also true for our colleges and the industries with which we work. In order for companies to be competitive, they are required to embrace technology and invest in the technology that will enhance their efforts to compete in a very competitive market. Similarly, to meet work force needs, community colleges need to offer technology and equipment-intensive programs, and those are expensive to operate. This expense makes it a challenge to maintain state-of-the-art technology that gives students the technology skills they will need as they enter the workplace. At the same time, technology is enabling our colleges to be more cost-effective in course delivery by utilizing online and remote instruction and simulators for our technical programs. We are also exploring ways to use information technology to provide our students with better advising and more student support services. We are also making sure that the students who enroll and complete our education and training programs are learning the technology skills they need to be competitive in the job market. WVE: West Virginia has one of the lowest graduation rates and rates for degree completion in the country. What is the driver behind these problems, and what is being done to address them? JS: There are a couple of critical factors to consider when looking at those rates. First, I want to point out that we are making progress. If you look at all adults in West Virginia, only 18.6 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, but if you look at adults 25-34, 24.1 percent have completed a bachelor’s degree. So we are not where we need to be, but we are getting the message out that college is important. Second, when you look at community colleges, it is important to look at the multiple roles they play. Some students may attend one or two years before transferring while others are seeking a degree or certification. Often, adult students only want a few courses to upgrade their skills and never intend to graduate. Third, community colleges are open access institutions, which means there are no admissions requirements to enroll. Some of our individual programs like nursing have selective admissions, but in general at community colleges, we try to serve anyone who wants an education. One problem is that 65 percent of students enrolling in community colleges are lacking the academic skills to be successful in college-level work and are placed in developmental education. This is consistent across the country, not just in West Virginia. The Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, though, has been working very intensively with our colleges to reform the delivery of developmental education, which we know will increase the graduation rates for these students. This is part of a broad set of strategies that we are using to increase retention and graduation rates, including changing how we deliver programs so that we can accelerate time to completion, deepening student engagement and providing broader student support programs. WVE: What do you see as the biggest challenges in education today? JS: Our state funding has been decreasing, and our state’s need for skilled workers is increasing. To meet the work force needs of West Virginia’s employers, community and technical colleges have implemented 133 new technical programs over the past six years. Most of these programs are not only expensive to implement but also expensive to maintain. With recent budget restraints, it has been a challenge to maintain these programs and also provide the support services required for successful student completion. Although our community and technical college degree attainment has steadily increased over the past five years, because of the population we serve, student completion will remain a challenge for our community colleges. WVE: How does global competitiveness play a role in determining the community and technical college’s need for new programs and curriculum updates? JS: Since our employers must compete in a global market, community colleges must prepare their graduates for a level that will enhance employers’ efforts to meet these global challenges. A world-class work force is necessary to compete against worldclass competition. The quality of the product many times is determined by the quality of the employees. In order to prepare our graduates to meet the challenges of competing against world st