Rio Salado Joins Presidents Forum to Meet Workforce Needs. New Report Highlights Need to Strengthen Higher Ed & Industry Collaboration.


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Friday, April 2, 2021
Diverse group of students in classroom smiling. Presidents Forum: Aligning Higher Education to the World of Work
Black female grad with her son smiling. Presidents Forum: The Reinvention of Higher Education
Interim President Kate Smith

Rio Salado Joins Presidents Forum to Meet Workforce Needs

New Report Highlights Need to Strengthen Higher Ed and Industry Collaboration.

With millions of displaced workers looking to retool for new careers, the Presidents Forum, a national nonprofit network of seventeen innovative college and university leaders including Rio Salado College, unveiled a new report highlighting the need for stronger collaboration between institutions and employers and industry partners to support a more inclusive and equitable economic recovery. 

The report, Transforming Together: Aligning Higher Education with the Changing World of Work, is rooted in the frontline experience of the nation’s largest online universities, community and technical colleges, minority-serving institutions, and state higher education systems.

“Millions of displaced workers are turning to higher education for solutions as they work to reinvent themselves for new roles—often in unfamiliar industries,” said Dr. David Andrews, president of National University. “As higher education works to serve an older, more diverse and heterogeneous student population, institutions should rightly feel a heightened sense of urgency to deliver more precise learning experiences that translate into career-relevant skills and a shorter-term economic payoff.”

Drawing on case studies and examples of how institutions are bridging higher education and the world of work, the report shares five key strategies for how institutions can engage employers and develop stronger linkages between academic programming and workforce needs. These strategies include developing opportunities for lifelong learning beyond a bachelor’s degree, such as short-term certificates and microcredentials, as well as partnering with employers and peer institutions to create a shared vocabulary around skills and competencies.  

Recent surveys show that one in four Americans without a college degree believe that a degree will not improve their career opportunities. In summer 2020, nearly three in five displaced workers were not confident that they could find a new job that would be a good fit for their skillset. At the same time, over one-third of the skills required for jobs across all industries have changed over the past three years. 

“To make good on higher education’s promise of social and economic mobility, colleges must find new ways to match the demands of an increasingly complex economy and labor market,” said Kate Smith, president of Rio Salado College. “As the jobs we do and the way that we do them change faster than ever, collaboration between employers and institutions of higher education requires a new level of creativity, entrepreneurship, and agility if we are to equip students with in-demand skills that are tightly-linked to the needs of the broader economy.”

The new report is the product of the second virtual event in the Learners First Convening series, a set of collaborative convenings with Presidents Forum members, policy experts, employers, and innovators focused on rebuilding higher education in the aftermath of the pandemic. Over the next 12 months, the series will surface insights and best practices from Presidents Forum members and produce resources and tools for peer institutions.

“During this chapter of enormous economic uncertainty for colleges, students and the country, a focus on workforce relevance is paramount for institutions of higher education,” said Jim Manning, executive director of the Presidents Forum. “This report offers vivid and powerful examples of how leading-edge institutions are developing stronger and more explicit connections among academic experiences and credentials and economic opportunity.”

Founded in 2002 by a small group of forward-thinking university and community college leaders who were early adopters of online learning and focused on serving working adults, the Presidents Forum advances innovation in policies and practices to ensure the promise of higher education for working learners and other fast-growing student populations.