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ACPC chairman: High school, college, career no longer viable system

By - Last modified: November 19, 2012 at 8:33 AM

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Going to high school, then picking a college major and relying on that degree through a 40-year career isn't reality anymore, the head of a gubernatorial commission said last week.

Institutions need get away from that model to create a system with "easily accessible on- and off-ramps," said Rob Wonderling, Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education chairman.

So closing the gap between workers who need jobs and companies that need skilled employees will take a fundamental shift in how people think of education as much as it will take new policies or programs, Wonderling said.

Gov. Tom Corbett charged the 31-person advisory commission in February with listening to stakeholders, studying the issues and coming back with recommendations. It released its findings last week.

Among other factors, such as affordability and accessibility, the recommendations aim to improve employability of the state's workers for the jobs employers need to fill today and tomorrow, he said.

The idea of high school education ending and college or trade school beginning, for example, needs to be jettisoned in favor of more cooperation between tech schools at the high school level and community colleges, Wonderling said.

That's one place where recommended financial incentives, which are part of the commission's recommendations, come into play, he said.

If a higher education institution wants more money from the government going forward – and they all receive public support to some degree – it will need to retool toward this vision, Wonderling said.

Recommendations include developing this long-term finance and accountability funding model as well as creating tax incentives on the policymaking side to encourage businesses to support science and technology programs, according to findings released last week.

Wonderling, also president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, served as chairman of the commission, composed of 31 individuals from backgrounds that included education and the private sector, according to the release.

Its work included several public meetings across the state. The skills gap was an issue that came up again and again, Wonderling said.

There is consensus from the commission's members, who included representatives from a variety of higher-education institutions, that a model of constantly continuing education is necessary in this century to compete in the global workplace, he said.

The jobs 40-year-old workers will be competing for wouldn't have even existed during their 20s, Wonderling said.

Having institutions geared toward this system of "on- and off-ramps" is one thing, but workers must be plugged in and benefiting.

The primary focus of the commission was on the individual's experience in education, so a key recommendation is development of a "passport for learning," Wonderling said.

The government's role would be to set a technical protocol to facilitate a new generation of apps from entrepreneurial developers that could, for example, calculate what college credits a worker with 20 years of experience already qualifies for under a standard accepted by institutions of higher learning, Wonderling said.

That way, a student wouldn't be constantly starting from scratch to earn new degrees or certifications he or she needs, he said.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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