The head of Pennsylvania’s system of higher education recently shared a statistic to demonstrate the urgent need for bridging the still existing gap between the state’s education arena and the real-world workforce needs.
Across the Keystone State, Chancellor Daniel Greenstein of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education said, 60 percent of adults need a degree to meet today’s workforce needs.
In reality, Greenstein said, only 47.5 percent of those adults actually have met that requirement, be it in the form of an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree or specialized certificate program.
To further punctuate his desire to reshape how education across all levels is delivered now and into the future, Greenstein, in a wide-ranging discussion with the state Higher Education Funding Commission, referred to students as “workforce learners” throughout a 2-hour meeting Thursday.
“We’re in a position where we have to fill gaps … but we have to do it in a way that meets the needs of our workforce learners,” Greenstein said.
While it requires a forward-thinking mindset, Greenstein shared with lawmakers on the panel his vision to align curriculum with what he described as “recognizable workforce pathways.”
The current education ecosystem across Pennsylvania lacks continuity and connectivity, Greenstein said, and has resulted in a landscape he described as “chaotic.”
“It’s time to stop thinking about sectors of higher education,” Greenstein said. “We need to be thinking about these working learners and their pathways.”
Because the workforce needs are constantly changing and evolving, Greenstein said he believed education in the future will more often require Pennsylvanians and others across the country re-enroll in the higher education system to attain new skills.
But before any groundwork is laid, Greenstein called on lawmakers to work with him and his office in setting goals. Throughout his exchange with the panel, Greenstein continued to circle back to his desire to have in place specific, clearly defined metrics to clear up current ambiguity.
“Unless we have measurable goals, we have no idea if we are making progress,” Greenstein said. “Don’t fly blind.”
The big-picture discussion on Feb. 6 did not result in any actual recommendations or firm commitments. Several lawmakers pointed to the actual fiscal realities of making changes – a point to which Greenstein said he agreed.
“At the end of the day, it’s about what we want to have and what we are willing to spend on it,” Greenstein said. “That conversation is critical.”
While he said he appreciated the point Greenstein was trying to make, state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-West Chester, said there are other considerations to take into account.
The call to overhaul education, for instance, could lead to the closures of one or more state universities — a scenario Dinniman said could have sizable impacts on some communities.
“Remember, we are elected to take care of that community,” Dinniman said.
But the panel’s overall consensus was supportive of the high-level visioning Greenstein touched on throughout the discussion.
“Your testimony has impacted me greatly,” said state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion, who chairs the Higher Education Funding Commission.
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