Perspective – Higher Education needs more than just a lower cost

This is a perspective on the design of the CCS programs by Director of Education Roberto Mendez

In the last year or two there has been a great deal of discussion and debate about how to fix the education system in the US. What was once one of the top systems in the world, it has descended to mediocrity and in many cases well below that. The issue that has been politicized is the cost of this education and is the government and people attending getting value for their dollars. This is a practical “buying in a free market” perspective to focus on the cost. However, the real issue is “what knowledge are people getting in this education at any price?”.

I have been involved with the politics and administration of education for over 20 years. The directions set in the late 1980’s – in a cold war world with premium gas prices under $1 and the internet not being the foundational element of everyday society and commerce yet – the decision was made to defund education and push its coursework towards fundamentals. Here we are 40 years later and the erosion caused by exposing this foundational base to the elements of time, politics, technology and shifts in the socioeconomic trends is evident. The current state is like a prized oil painting left out in the weather and direct sunlight for 40 years – it is still there, but it is a shadow of its former glory and has a lot of weather-related holes and taters in addition to the fading of the image.

The basis of the 2 year educations in the US public community college systems, is to provide “Foundational knowledge” that is the basic math, science, English, societal classes (history, sociology, etc) to provide an easy step into the core details of a 4-year higher education program. These 4 year programs are supposed to teach the next level of information so people can step into white collar jobs, in the business, health care, technology and financial services marketplaces. These 4 year programs, in and of themselves, are supposed to be foundational for the Master’s Degree and MBA degrees that present more and detailed knowledge. Once again these Master’s programs are supposed to be foundational for the Doctorate (Ph.D.) programs that are primarily recognized or the STEM and health care sectors. In this model it is over 8 years of high education before you “learn how to do something” that is not just foundational information.

While in economic upswings, then the 8 years to get to specialty talent can be justified, but in a down market these long-term R&D type positions are few and far between. What is needed is more practical education in those 2-4 year or even under 2year education cycles. This would allow people to learn directly employable skills so they can enter or re-enter the workforce quickly. After rejoining the working community, people can continue their foundational education on towards higher skills which will allow them to move to better positions in the future. But having something soon is important when the economy is non-existent immediately surrounding your home and family.

In the past, there were practical schools that were often referred to as trade schools. They taught plumbing, machining, auto repair, computer repair, and how to operate many of the entry level and operations level tasks of business and the community. Over the years, these sorts of schools lost favor, as a lot of the tasks were perceived to have been replaced by automation. The reality, is practical skills are still in demand, and more so as independent business in a service economy. While the big companies were focusing on data and consumer trends, these actual “meet with and interact with the customers” businesses were the foothold on the business of the communities being functional.

The reality is the “trade schools” also known as “polytechnic schools” have a key role in the rebuilding of an economy. The trick is to “modernize the coursework” from the agenda and scope that were set in the 1980’s. Modern “polytechnic schools” are addressing the market through training and certification to industry and corporate standards. This model has another major advantage over just subsidizing the existing public education system – the course work is short term, so it can be offered at no cost to the student.

We have opened a new school – mnemonically named Corporate Certificate School (CCS) which is offering complete certificate programs in 10-12 weeks’ periods. This short program time allows for hands-on, in-class learning, with access to labs and equipment, as well as practical internship to gain experience simultaneous with holding a full-time job or transitioning to a new career during a covered period of unemployment payments. The student’s education is subsidized, not by taxes and public burden, but by the companies that are seeking to hire people with specific tools and workflow skills. Under this model, while being an independent school, it is created from the ground up under a non-profit charity model for the education – the coursework and the ability to find a career after – not just a job – is created to the benefit of the students.

We have created the program in the San Francisco Bay Area and the first market being addressed is for the content creation marketplace to prepare people for the 2030 “Message Economy” that is rapidly approaching. Messaging to explain, promote, service and review a product or individual is the next big market coming the US economy. Whether it is in trade publications, blogs, social media, or other communication vehicle, the world of traveling everywhere to see customers and the giant trade shows is gone – so putting the message in to a proper story with the correct visuals to allow someone to focus their attention on the product on an VOD or Podcast basis is where job will be shortly.

There is a difference in tools, equipment, workflow and messaging in the professional content space vs the “I am making of video of my child’s birthday for grandma” content space. These are skills that are needed in TV, Cinema, Live performance, large venue, advertising, gaming and corporate communications. On the corporate communications, a large number of these jobs will move from contract services positions to in-house salaried-exempt positions.

These polytechnic schools have the unique capability to actually drive for information retention and functional learning that comes from un-supervised on-line training. This on-line training is the provider of the foundational information, and behaves like an interactive textbook. However, it is the application targeted polytechnic programs that brings the actualization of the knowledge to the students – by having them use it for something both practical and immediate. Otherwise, the on-line learning becomes as functionally useful as the “summer reading list” to kids in middle and high school – it is a good intention, but tends not to return substantive value.

So in addition to the cost of education, being able to both actualization and realization of skills from the foundational knowledge being taught in 2, 4, and 6 year programs so people can get real paying jobs with real industry desired skills, has to be considered. Otherwise we are looking at putting money into a school bus stuck in idle.