National education advocate Cordell Carter said universities remain a “finishing school for humans” and where “the best among us go, not just to get a job but to be a better version of ourselves.”
But during a virtual talk last week before a live Tulsa audience, he added that people also need quicker, less expensive routes to employment.
“Students and parents have been really clear about what they want for universities,” he said. “They want college decision-makers to shake up their budgets and invest in new programs, technologies that will prepare them for careers.”
Carter is executive director of the Socrates Program for the Aspen Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank that gathers 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 — he discussed trends in workforce development and training at the national level.
He was joined by three local leaders who headed a panel on short-term licensing: Karen Pennington, executive director of Madison Strategies; Angela Sivadon, senior vice president and chief academic officer at Tulsa Community College; and Scott Williams, chief instruction officer and associate superintendent of instruction and institutional effectiveness at Tulsa Tech.
Carter said higher education needs to re-imagine itself as a talent incubator to help bridge the vast employment gap. At the end of May, the United States had 11.5 million job openings, led by the sector of education and health services (2.1 million), he said.
Taking cues from moderator Libby Ediger, CEO of The Holberton School, a local software engineering institute, panelists gave examples of how their facilities were helping people get into the workforce.
TCC partnered with 19 area high schools in the EDGE program (Earn a Degree Graduate Early), in which students are recruiting in eighth grade and begin taking credit courses as a sophomore, Sivadon said.
“By the time they graduate from their high school, they have an associate’s degree from TCC, as well,” she said. “This year we had 31 students that graduated from one of our area high schools.”
With multiple partners, TCC also recently launched the Cyber Skills Center, which will develop a talent pipeline for the rapidly expanding career fields of cybersecurity and data analytics at no-cost to Tulsa-area residents. About 350 people applied for the two cohorts (40 students), which will start in October.
Earlier this year, the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County committed a total of more than $5.6 million in federal COVID-relief funds toward a workforce development hub called Retrain Tulsa, run by the nonprofit Madison Strategies Group. Services are free to any resident within Tulsa or Tulsa County limits.
People seeking Retrain’s help have come from about every age group, many with undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees, Pennington said.
“It’s invigorating in some ways. It should be concerning to us in others that we have this group of people who are smart and educated and they just don’t have a place in the workforce at their company, anymore.
“… Some of these gaps and this confusion that people are finding, you can actually fix at one place in Tulsa, which is what Tulsans have deserved.”
She added that some of the best job opportunities are local.
“We have a responsibility to grow our own talent, teach our own talent, pump ourselves up,” Pennington said. “We have no idea how well Tulsa is respected in the circles that we’re in.”
Cooperation between institutions and advocates is key, Sivadon said.
“We all bring our gifts to the table, right, and that’s what makes it a party,” Sivadon said. “There’s not any of our institutions here that are just the end-all, be-all that can accomplish all of this stuff. It takes all of us working together. Our partnerships are so important to serve our students, to serve our community.”