We’ve all heard it. The value of a college degree is questionable today. Add to that the perception about ivory towers and that those in higher education don’t work well together nor do they produce students who have the skills needed to meet the demands of a future-forward workforce. Nothing could be further from the truth in southeastern Wisconsin.
The economy and employment are on an upswing with more jobs than there are employees to fill them. Now consider that there are more than 176,000 high school graduates who are enrolled in post-secondary institutions in southeastern Wisconsin. Add to that the message from employers that new graduates entering the workforce aren’t prepared for their unique challenges in a digital economy. There is immense potential here.
The Higher Education Regional Alliance (HERA) is harnessing that potential. HERA is a first of its kind partnership to leverage resources and coordinate efforts of all the 2-year and 4-year institutions in the region. I was pleased as chair of HERA to discuss in a Journal Sentinel Ideas Lab opinion piece our bold gold to significantly reduce skills and talent gaps in southeastern Wisconsin by increasing the employment rates and number of post-secondary graduates in the region.
This is the kind of problem-solving and opportunity-building approach this region needs. Eighteen higher education institutions that represent more than 96% of post-secondary students in the region are committed to HERA. Together, we are accelerating credentialing, building a database to compare talent needs with academic programs, and identifying new educational programs to meet the needs of business, industry and communities. All the while, we will embed a seamless transition between 2-year and 4-year institutions.
When I was describing HERA on WUWM radio the station’s director asked me why nearly all the higher education leaders are coming together now. I told him that it’s the power of partnerships and an ethical sense of selflessness. Our institutions, employers, the community and larger region – benefit significantly when pooling minds, connections and resources. Together, we can improve citizen well-being, reduce poverty levels and boost economic growth, decrease the mismatch of skills to employer needs, and prepare students for the jobs we haven’t even imagined yet.
It’s not just about graduates filling jobs though. There is a need to focus on lifelong learning and equity that includes social sciences, humanities and the arts. These are the areas that develop career resilience and skills that last a lifetime (and that can’t be replicated by machines): critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, persuasion, collective problem-solving and creativity.
Our future economic health, social welfare, capacity to accelerate innovation and build prosperity depend on strong partnerships like HERA. This is our opportunity—and responsibility – to impact generations.
Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee