This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What is your assessment of the current state of Pennsylvania's educational infrastructure?
With some 300 colleges and universities, Pennsylvania is a net exporter of higher education, but we no longer invest in the success of this “industry” in the same way we do for other major industries. In fact, Pennsylvania ranks 47th among the 50 states in per-capita support for public higher education.
Granted, duplicative and outdated models exist in our sector. Pennsylvania College of Technology welcomes increasingly vocal calls by legislative leaders that our institutions better demonstrate return on investment for students and families and that we, collectively, improve alignment with current and future workforce needs.
What are you/your company/organization doing to improve the educational landscape in the state?
Pennsylvania College of Technology is a national leader in applied technology education, producing graduates with the skills and know-how to excel in the essential occupations that drive the workforce. We align our degree programs with high-demand career fields – informed by industry needs – to put our students in the greatest position for long-term success.
The result is that we place our graduates in career fields at a 96% rate, providing the highest ROI to students and their families and to state, national and global industry-leading employers, who covet our real-world-ready students whenever there are positions to be filled.
What are the biggest education priorities for local, state and national politicians to address?
Delivering technology-based instruction is inherently more costly than offering a standard liberal arts-focused curriculum. Lab facilities and the equipment on which students acquire job-ready skills must be updated frequently to match real-world conditions and to align with industry best practices and expectations. At Penn College, we have been able to offset some of these expenses by fostering relationships with companies that need our graduates and generously provide support.
Moreover, we need to address barriers to non-traditional students, who are increasingly interested in reskilling and upskilling; not just costs, but also child care, transportation and broadband technology for delivery of remote education.
What is the easiest lift to improve the future of education in the state? What is the hardest?
An easy lift: a deliberate aligning of academic programs with workforce needs. At Penn College, industry representatives advise our curriculum in every program and at every level to ensure currency and relevance, and we pride ourselves on a nimble responsiveness to regional, national and global market needs.
Addressing the bottleneck created by not having enough skilled professionals in instructional roles is harder. Health sciences instruction, in particular, is a challenge, which is why we started a graduate program for nurse educators two years ago at Penn College – and awarded our first Master of Science degrees in nursing this summer.
Are there any lessons to be learned from other states/countries on what to do or what not to do to improve the education system in Pennsylvania?
Beyond funding higher education at a higher level, Pennsylvania’s bordering states also offer different and often broader access to K-12 career and technical education, which gives them a greater pipeline of students primed for further development of relevant workforce skills.
At Penn College, our burgeoning partnerships in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany have been instructive. Advanced European-style apprenticeship models – which generally include and/or track with university instruction – validate Penn College’s own federal grant-funded work on registered apprenticeships. These apprenticeships feature “stackable” credentials and a pathway to earning college credit.
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