By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.
Cochise College faculty and staff came together this week for convocation, an annual in-service day that kicks off a new academic year.
While we recognized individuals for their years of service, including a faculty member and an administrator who have served for 40 years and 35 years respectively, we spent most of the day getting to know each other. There are a lot of new faces at the college. The program, titled “It’s About Us,” was intended to familiarize faculty and staff with their role in student success, and to embrace the fact that what we do at Cochise College is really about all of us – the residents of Cochise County.
A quote from Abraham Lincoln summarizes the position of the college in 2018. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”
Educators must find ways to effectively reach and engage students in the midst of today’s communication revolution, new economy, and the emerging skills gap.
Today, there is, literally, “something in the air.” You can find nearly any information you want to know – factual or not – via the Internet at unlimited speed, about everything, everywhere and anywhere, on all kinds of devices. Today’s learners must move from being knowledgeable to knowledge-able. It’s our role to guide them to find, collect, organize, analyze, criticize, validate, create, and share information. The communication revolution is not going away, and people are the most important raw material.
What’s more, the workforce of the new economy of 2020 looks a lot different than the one community colleges were built to serve. Today, 57 percent of jobs require skilled training – more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree – as compared with only 20 percent in 1960. For every professional (example: doctor), there are two mid-level workers (example: nurses) and seven “new collar” workers (example: EMTs, CNAs, LPNs, and other medical related technicians). What that means is while we’ll still prepare students to transfer to a university so they can fill the 33 percent of jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, a greater percentage of our students may be well served by training that gets them a “middle skill” or “new collar” job. In some fields, a skilled “new collar” worker could earn more than those with a four-year degree.
In 1960, 60 percent of jobs required no specific skills. Today, only 10 percent require no skills or training. The college is thinking anew and acting anew, however, in light of the fact that less than 50 percent of county graduating seniors enroll immediately in post-secondary training or education, and the percentage of residents who hold some kind of credential lags behind the state and the nation. On the whole, the local population is built more for the economy of 1960 than the one of 2020.
Our call to the college and the community is urgent. If we are going to move the needle and make the difference necessary for our region to remain economically viable, we need to provide scholarships that inspire students to enroll, help them navigate the myriad processes that going to college entails, and implement strategies that minimize or eliminate barriers to success and inspire completion. The college’s implementation of the Graduating Senior Scholarship Guarantee; Career, Military and Scholarship Navigator program; and Complete College America have all been covered before. Your college is doing very well, according to national rankings. Now, it must embrace and build upon these activities. We must not just imagine better, but, do better in order to impact the most important metric – the economic health of Cochise County.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at email@example.com.