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Higher Education's Duty to All Students

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Like many Americans, I was brought up in a small town that was home to one major source of employment. For many people in my town, high school graduation was quickly followed by a job at the local plant, which turned into a permanent career. When traditionalists and baby boomers, who until recently comprised the majority of American employees, filled the workforce, company loyalty was the norm. People used to stay at one company their entire working life, but as the workforce fills with more Generation X and Millennial employees, the emerging idea is that jobs are temporary, and each one is a stepping stone in an individual's overall career.

Along with this mentality shift comes the need to reevaluate American higher education with a more scrutinizing eye. In the past, we were a generation who received diplomas and went to work, never considering the need for continued training in our jobs. Now, we must realize that businesses are changing and we must keep pace with these changes in order to be effective and responsible leaders in our communities.

The ever-changing business culture requires employees to be life-long learners, willing to continue their education and training with every promotion, career change or progression down life's path. Our country not only needs a workforce that is invested in life-long learning, but also institutions and universities that share this attitude and are willing to provide students with opportunities to learn at any stage of their career.

Many industries are requiring continuing education and training. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that by 2020, all magnet hospitals have 80 percent of their clinical nurses hold bachelor's degrees in nursing. Already, Harrison College offers a program focused on enhancing the skill sets of hospitals' nursing staffs. The RN to BSN program allows nurses who have earned their nursing licensure (RN) to obtain the credits necessary to receive their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This program allows for partnerships between the college and health care system, and will continue to be important as more nurses seek their BSN. Rather than replacing nurses who only hold their RN, this program allows the RNs to work while earning their BSN, leading to a more effective workforce.

Higher education institutions need to move away from providing education only for traditional students. These schools need to adapt to non-traditional instructional methods and alter educational practices to meet the needs of a changing student demographic. One of the most successful techniques I have witnessed has been the development of partnerships that between private sector companies and public schools.

Take, as an example, Wake Technical Community College and IBM, a public school and private company both located in Raleigh, N.C. The college and technology giant have joined together in a partnership to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. With IBM's help, Wake Tech will be able to provide better training for faculty and professional development in STEM. These types of relationships work to build networks for students who need real-life and on-the-job experience.

In addition, universities and post-secondary educational institutions need to consider non-traditional ways to help students obtain or continue their education. Many people who have not had the chance to finish school due to the challenges of juggling full-time jobs or family obligations. Non-traditional learners will best be able to succeed with self-paced programs or online platforms that offer flexibility in their school schedule that cannot be found in a traditional college semester.

Universities are in an excellent position to take advantage of the countless technological platforms that are currently available. Many leading universities now offer online courses that students all over the world can take, free of charge, to help provide a foundation that will assist them in working toward degrees and other certifications. These courses provide great networks for students to connect with others who share the same academic ambitions.

Americans are known for our desire and ability to innovate and use new ideas to drive our country forward. With increased innovation, we can incorporate more effective training and more accessible platforms into students' learning plans. Universities have the responsibility here -- many students have a desire to receive an education, but simply do not have access to the necessary resources.

Our country needs skilled and educated workers. While much of the talk about a troubled economy centers on job creation, there is also the very real problem of existing jobs that go unfilled because there are not qualified people available. Many of these unfilled jobs require specific skills, including a number of technical certifications. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 4.2 jobseekers for every job opening, and still many businesses are understaffed. The solution here is to proactively train and educate our workforce. Proper training is the key to job growth and it is up to universities to step in and make a significant difference in the availability of training for students.

This nation is home to the greatest universities in the world. The next step to improving them and education in general is to expand the programs offered and increase accessibility. As schools go beyond the traditional course offerings and expectations, great benefits will be reaped, and the people making up the American workforce will realize the numerous opportunities for an improved job market and better lives.

Jayson Boyers is the national division president of The Chef's Academy at Harrison College, located in Morrisville, North Carolina.