Schools must now deal with the challenge of preparing today's students for a lifetime of career changes due to ever-changing technology and a competitive global economy, a panel of education experts said at the 2011 State of the Schools Address on Wednesday.
The Tempe Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum was aimed at a focus on higher education and workforce development, but its panel members on several occasions spoke to the need for the K-12 education system in Arizona and nationally to better prepare students to succeed in college.
Karla Phillips, education policy advisor to Gov. Jan Brewer, told the audience of business people at Tempe Mission Palms Hotel that more than ever there is a national conversation about how to get high school students better prepared academically and with life skills to succeed in college and later in life.
Mason Bishop, director of the National Industry Strategy Group at University of Phoenix, said employment experts today project the average young person will have at least eight different careers during their lifetime.
"Eight different careers, not eight different jobs," Bishop emphasized.
Phillips said a solid liberal arts education is needed for most people to deal with all the possible career changes that will be ahead of them.
"We are changing careers at an incredible pace so they need to be prepared for choices in the future," said Phillips.
That starts with preparing students in K-12 so they can succeed in college, she said.
Virgil Renzulli, vice president for public affairs at Arizona State University, said a major problem is that spending money to improve the education system is seen by most in Arizona as a cost and not as an investment. He argued education is an infrastructure issue that is just as important as roads when it comes to driving a state's economy. More and better education translates to higher incomes which means more spendable income, he said.
Because of a rapidly changing world that will constantly create new jobs and eliminate old ones, today's students need an education, but they also need broad skills and a commitment to lifetime learning, said Chris Bustamante, president of Rio Salado College.
Bustamante said business and industry needs to help institutions of higher education keep track of emerging technologies that will become needs for future employers and the future work force.
Renzulli said it is not enough today for students to gain technical skills because technology is constantly changing.
"People now have to be trained to succeed at work," Renzulli said.
Bishop said that extending the opportunity for higher education to more people is essential. He said a young person's long-term quality of life is tied strongly to whether he or she has the opportunity for college or not.
"A high school diploma is a pretty meaningless thing for those that want a lifetime of good employment," Bishop said. "At the end of the day most people go to college because they want a good job and a good career."
States need to provide the educational pathway that creates experiences to prepare young people for an ever changing future, Bishop said. He said doing something about the high school dropout rate and bridging the gap between just having a high school diploma and really being college ready are key issues.
Phillips pointed out that another significant development in higher education is that the majority of college students now are what used to be called non-traditional students - those that may be a little older than fresh out of high school and working while taking classes as time and money allows.
"The 18-year-old going away to college with parental support is now the exception rather than rule," said Phillips. "It is difficult to afford to go to school full time and get a degree in four years. The vast majority of college students today are working adults either full or part time."
Phillips asked the business community to support the governor's education reform plan that calls for higher standards to be implemented in K-12.
Both Bustamante and Bishop emphasized the role of community colleges in the job of preparing the future workforce. Bishop formerly was a VP at Salt Lake Community College.
"Higher education in this country is very good. The rest of the world will tell you that," said Bustamante. "We just need more people to take advantage of it."
Sybil Francis, executive director for the Center for the Future of Arizona, moderated the event. It was sponsored by Cox Communications, Arizona State University, Medtronic Tempe Campus, the University of Phoenix, Dental Village, Tempe Schools Credit Union and Alphagraphics.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune