Economic Opportunity in an Era of Change
Non-profit, public mission colleges and universities, and community colleges are important components of New Jersey’s higher education system. These high-quality options allow students to select an institution that best fits their educational needs and personal preferences, while helping them prepare for their desired career path. The New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey (AICUNJ) are both advocates for higher education and strive to meet the ever-changing needs and expectations of today’s students as they cross the threshold into adulthood or grow their skills at any stage of life.
Adapting Education to an Evolving World
Our world is undergoing significant changes every day, from the way we work and interact to how technology is shaping education and professional development. Leaders in higher education have an important role to play in helping people to thrive during times of transformation. “We live in a rapidly changing world,” says NJCCC President, Dr. Aaron Fichtner. “The needs of employers are changing; we’re changing demographically, economically, and societally; and technology is altering how we work and learn. All of these changes provide opportunities and challenges.”
Dr. Louis Manzione, President, AICUNJ and Independent College Fund of New Jersey also recognizes this time of unprecedented change in higher education, with much being attributed to digital transformation. “We will see the emergence of new skills and competencies that professions will require, but we also need to reemphasize core liberal learning,” says Dr. Manzione. “Those kinds of core skills of critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills will emerge with even higher importance because technology is changing so fast.”
AICUNJ is working with students to find ways to enrich learning as they enter college and meet their expectations of the role technology plays in their college experience. “We continue to hear about the growing need for bandwidth to accommodate new teaching models and the use of enriched content in the classroom,” says Dr. Manzione. “Campuses are looking for ways to integrate mobile devices into the education program securely while meeting the growing technology requirements of each student. We look for opportunities for faculty to harness the advantage of mobile technology and how we can better measure outcomes in the classroom.”
Navigating Change with Collaboration
As technology continues to shape education, many opportunities await on the horizon. “This transformation is an exciting time in higher education,” says Dr. Manzione. “We see an unfolding of new types of learning. The definition of the classroom will change and we’ll see the emergence of coached workgroups and project teams that will take advantage of mobile technology.”
In the higher education space, building strong partnerships with a wide variety of people, including the business and nonprofit organization communities, is crucial to navigating the societal and technological changes and ensuring future success. “Partnerships with employers are critically important to helping students succeed once they graduate,” Dr. Fichtner says. “Connecting with a wide range of organizations that have a shared interest in helping people move up the economic ladder is essential, because together, we build a stronger state of New Jersey.”
Dr. Manzione has also noted a growing interest for collaboration between schools and the workforce. “Partnering with businesses helps the universities and colleges understand what skills and career paths are available and how to best prepare their students. Employers can help influence what skills are required and together they create experiential learning. Many organizations want their employees to have access to continued employee education as well. This need for incumbent worker education supports a culture of lifelong learning and the higher education community can be instrumental in accomplishing this goal.”
Preparing Students to Thrive on the Road Ahead
An important focus of NJCCC is to be on the cutting edge of current resources and the knowledge necessary for students to flourish in a technologically-driven society. A large part of achieving this objective is embracing technology within each institution and ensuring students gain the expertise and skills they need for the future. “Our school leaders continually discuss how we can use technology to enhance education and use data to drive decisions that better target our services to students,” shares Dr. Fichtner. “We want to help more students stay in college and complete their degrees and make informed decisions about the courses they should take to prepare for their desired careers.”
Along with the changes spurred by technology, many employers are looking for other qualifications outside of the traditional 4-year or 2-year degrees that focus more on specific credentials. “We must be thoughtful in how we move a traditional system of higher education to a more flexible one,” comments Dr. Fichtner. “The system should allow for students to earn credentials that are stackable.”
Building Skills for In-Demand Careers
Powered by the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the demand for data science skills is increasing and will continue to grow with time. The role of county and community colleges has never been greater as skilled workers are needed to enter the workforce, particularly in these areas of expertise. Each school is dedicated to building relationships with their local employer partners and frequently modifying their curriculum to address evolving technology. “Technology is one of our key industries in New Jersey,” says Dr. Fichtner. “NJCCC will be forming a statewide industry leadership group in technology that will meet with us and provide input on what we should be doing in terms of the curriculum for the future.” The group will catalog all technology-related courses throughout the state, identify any gaps, and work collaboratively to guide students on what career pathways are available in the technology field.
AICUNJ is helping create mentorship programs between partner companies and schools where students can be advised by professionals in their chosen field. “Mentoring not only benefits the students, but the mentoring company as well,” shares Dr. Manzione. “The industry is able to tell our institutions what skills will be required, what gaps we can fill in the curriculum and discuss creating a special program or adding a certain credential.” Companies are able to work with the higher education community to help craft the training, education and life-long learning opportunities needed to support employee and employer success.
Optimizing Investment while Lowering Costs
Edge works with all independent colleges and universities in New Jersey to optimize the technology spend and investment, as well as provide needed services. Institutions must continue to prioritize their investments in technology to offer the largest impact for its students, while meeting the budget requirements of each school. “We recognize that college education is a significant investment, so we’re constantly striving to hold down costs while providing the very best facilities,” says Dr. Manzione. “A leading edge IT infrastructure is a crucial parameter of our institutions. Students want a cutting-edge wired and wireless infrastructure that enhances their college experience and improves their learning outcomes.” AICUNJ’s institutions strive to offer innovative facilities that attract and retain students, while still making attendance affordable.
New Jersey’s colleges are independently accredited and NJCCC works to coordinate and strengthen community colleges by finding opportunities for them to work together. “As the world changes and technology evolves, there’s a growing awareness that our 18 colleges can be stronger when they work together,” shares Dr. Fichtner. “We find new models of sharing services and making collaborative investments that benefit everybody. The challenge is ensuring the choices made honor the unique histories and foundations of individual colleges, while providing the opportunity to move forward. Edge will be an important player in informing these conversations and helping us find the models for collaboration among our colleges.”
Accomplishing Higher Education Initiatives
NJCCC recently released their Vision 2028 report that sets a framework for the future of New Jersey’s community colleges. The council has identified four main initiatives to support the ongoing transformation of higher education offered at their schools:
- Increase access to post-secondary education for more New Jerseyans,
- Support the success of students,
- Ensure access to valuable and relevant learning and
- Expand the role of community colleges as community engines for social and economic mobility, for entrepreneurial success and for sustained economic development.
“The state has set an ambitious goal for increasing the percentages of New Jersey adults who have a post-secondary degree or credential,” says Dr. Fichtner. “52 percent of our adult population currently has a college degree or credential, and our goal in New Jersey is to increase that to 65 percent by the year 2025.”
NJCCC has a long history of collaboration among the state’s colleges and the council exists to be a single voice for these institutions to the legislature, the governor and state government. “We need to work together within the education community, across all institutions, to create a sustaining system of higher education that helps propel the economy,” says Dr. Fichtner. “Edge illustrates this mission through their initiatives and fostering of partnerships. Together, we can build upon the successes happening around the country and be well-positioned to solve some of the bigger challenges we face.”
Continuing to build a network between the local business industry and the higher education community ensures top talent is retained in the area. “New Jersey is fortunate to have a strong corporate industrial base,” says Manzione. “A number of major sectors are represented; from finance to manufacturing to the chemical industry and tourism, and all are facing a talent crunch over the next several years unless we can build better partnerships between the colleges and universities and employers. Cultivating these relationships will assure the talent pipeline of New Jersey continues to be strong.” AICUNJ embraces their role in accomplishing this mission and seeks to retain students in New Jersey, attract students from out of state and couple them with a rewarding career.