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Bridging the Divide Between Education and Employment (Video)

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) panel discussion on improving connections between higher education and employment. I was honored to participate in this panel with Davidson College President Carol Quillen, Monty E. Sullivan, president of the The Louisiana Community and Technical College System, and moderator Jeffrey J. Selingo.  Watch the video below or on AEI’s YouTube channel.

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Transform Higher Education… Now (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post by Rasmus Lynnerup, former executive vice chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago.

The United States of America has a proud history of excellence in postsecondary education. International rankings routinely show higher education in America as the pinnacle of global academia. As an example, the latest rankings by US News and World Report (2018 Best Global Universities Rankings) place 8 of the best universities in the world in America, with two British universities (Oxford and Cambridge at 5 and 7, respectively) rounding out the top 10.

As a result of this perceived level of excellence, the names of undergraduate colleges and top business schools are household names—global brands that serve as the yardstick that global competitors emulate.

However, more granular data about America’s ability to provide postsecondary education for its population tells a very different story than the one suggested by the global Top 10 lists. In short, I believe we have lulled ourselves into the belief that, while the system of higher education can be improved – especially when it comes to affordability – it is generally providing the path to the American Dream for most. In reality, I will argue that the house is on fire and that we as a society are standing by or working on small-scale initiatives when we all should be moving with the urgency of first responders.

In the latest OECD analysis of the educational attainment levels for 25-34 year olds (2016 OECD Education in a Glance), the United States has dropped out of the top 10 in terms of the share of the populace that has completed higher education:

  • #12 for at least a 2-year degree (associate’s degree level)
  • #18 for at least a 4-year degree (bachelor’s degree level)
  • #26 for at least a 6-year degree (master’s degree level)

Similarly, in the 2014 analysis of educational attainment across working age adults (25-64), the U.S. ranks #7—so more respectable? No. The average ranking hides that the USA is #4 for adults 55-64 and again out of the top 10 for 25-34 year olds, coming in at #12. We are simply getting worse, while others are getting better.

An integral part of inclusive economic development is for a country or region to have a highly educated population. In that context, the steadily declining share of the population with postsecondary credentials in the United States is an alarming problem of national proportions. Despite once leading the world, our nation is now in the middle of the pack—and dropping in the rankings.

Furthermore, these numbers do not even begin to reveal the ways in which the current system creates a gulf in educational attainment outcomes between the population as a whole and African-Americans and Hispanics. In the latest report on educational attainment by the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of African-Americans with an associate degree is almost 25 percent less than the population than as a whole. For Hispanics, the share is almost 50 percent less than the population as a whole.

I believe these patterns constitute one of the most important issues of our times—both from a perspective of maintaining American leadership on a global scale and from a civil rights perspective. Except for the very elite schools that populate the global top 10 lists, the current system of higher education in America is simply failing the American population. The house is on fire.

I will write more in upcoming blog posts about how to collectively address these patterns, but I believe that transformation of the entire system of higher education, as well as most of its institutions, is needed. Everyone in higher education is always looking for the next ‘program’. What is needed instead is fundamental, comprehensive change.

About Rasmus Lynnerup

Rasmus is a first-generation college student who immigrated to the U.S. in his 20s. He now resides in Chicago, where he served as executive vice chancellor for the City Colleges of Chicago. He has a passion for helping his adopted home country’s residents fulfill their highest potential and rebuild a system of higher education that his twin boy and girl can grow up to view with pride.

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A Leadership Perspective on Taking Risks

Ever hear someone say, “you snooze, you lose?” To most it’s just a clever cliché, but companies like Amazon, Netflix, Uber and Airbnb have used it as a core business principle to disrupt entire industries. In today’s marketplace, disruption is the new norm. The common thread among the casualties of disruption has been a failure to recognize the need for innovation or moving too slowly to adapt to change.

Most of us know that the biggest risk we can take—professionally and for the organizations we lead—is taking no risk at all. While we encourage our employees to take risks, leaders are always keenly aware that it can be a double-edged sword. We are charged with protecting the institutions we lead, but doing so through risk avoidance can be a recipe for disaster. So, how should leaders think about risk-taking as a strategic imperative for their organizations?

As someone who has worked in both the public and private sectors, I’ve learned that cultivating risk-taking as a skill and creating a risk-friendly environment for your teams is paramount for survival and success. That is not to say there aren’t pitfalls; there have plenty of instances where the risk I took didn’t work out. At the time, I didn’t imagine that the failures would lead to the tremendous insights about innovation and resilience that guided my career.

My advice to leaders is to consider the following:

1)  Hire good people, give them a framework to operate and get out of their way. In a previous article, I shared my perspective on the importance of hiring people who bring different skillsets and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo or your assumptions. Once they’re onboard, how can you tap their creativity and experience to help drive innovation and change? First, ensure the team is aligned on the organization’s goals and metrics for success. Then, define your most critical challenges and offer the team a blank canvas to paint you a new picture packed with creative solutions. Encourage them to take risks that are free from the influence of tradition and other constraints. When you trust the knowledge and candor of the people you hire, it’s easier to let them take risks on behalf of your organization.

2)  Use your goals to guide risk-taking. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work for and be mentored by some exceptional leaders. Over the years, I’ve observed them take a variety of risks—from what would be considered measured to potentially catastrophic. The common theme among them was that their decisions were always tied to the goals of the enterprise. That’s because at the end of the day, you must be able to demonstrate the return on investment or value of the risks you and your team have taken. If it doesn’t help achieve the goals of the enterprise, then it is not worth consideration or resources. My advice to leaders is to build strategies that not only provide a clear roadmap for achieving your goals, but also embrace and equip your team with risk-taking as a critical part of their problem-solving toolbox.

3)  Think—and act—outside of the box. It’s not uncommon to hear leaders challenge employees to “think outside of the box,” but how many enterprises are prepared to have them act outside of the box? For many organizations, policies serve as invisible fences that restrict their ability to innovate. If the goal is to drive change through innovation, leaders must remove barriers by ensuring that existing policies can accommodate bold action. For leaders working in industries that are highly-regulated, I encourage you to find ways to educate regulators about policy changes that can continue to support needed innovation.

While there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating and taking risks, my hope is that these three lessons will be helpful as you lead your enterprises through this period of constant disruption. When you run into obstacles, remember this famous quote from Thomas Edison– “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”