A New Approach to Education Vetting

We are back from the break and it is great to see all the students and activity on campus!  I used the break time to catch up on reading books and blogging. During the break I responded to a post regarding a coming study 2010-graduation-hire-meto evaluate how the college experience enables graduates to pursue life and career success.  I added a comment but someone else’s post caught my eye.  This post related to how the paths we choose to follow after college influence our success as much as what we study.  This caused me to reflect on how many successful people, without planning, use their first college experience only as a basis for a starting a career.

After a few years to build experience and gain a little maturity in a career, today’s technology driven world provides great opportunities for those that are willing to look outside their original training for new problems to solve.  In fact, many progressive companies like Google, Apple and Amazon are well known for their open-ended interview questions that test thinking, problem-solving and behavioral skills rather than seek to find knowledge gained from a specific award or educational experience. A classmate at a training event I attended last year, a Russian computer scientist named Roman and an employee of the online retail giant Zappos, shared that company’s interview process with me.  Zappos asks potential employees, “What superhero would you be?” For those of you that are curious, my answer is Iron Man, with never ending funds to develop gadgets to protect society from evil. Who would you pick? However entertaining these questions may seem, the point is to find out more about a person than what their resume shows. Let me continue.

In another recent education blog, author Jeffery J. Selingo, editor at The Chronicle for Higher Education, comments, “The curiosity and the willingness to adapt are more important than what the degree is in.” History is full of people who started down one path, only to be destined for another by the choices they made and chances they took. For example, historical figure Benjamin Franklin was trained as a printer’s apprentice but eventually became not only a key player in shaping the United States of America, but also an inventor, who created items still used today, including bifocal glasses. Charles Goodyear was trained as a blacksmith but invented rubber.  Herb Kelleher was trained as an attorney before he studied NASCAR pit crews, which became the foundation for running Southwest Airlines. By the way, Roman at Zappos; he now works with shoes more than computers.

Still today, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2010 only 27 percent of college graduates had a job that was closely related to their major. As the economy and job market continue to rapidly change, we must change along with it. Perhaps looking at education in a multidimensional way instead of linear; focusing more on the critical thinking and social skills we learn, on our life-challenging experiences and the rigor of work projects, rather than on a declared subject of study will help us stay ahead of the curve – be more marketable and successful in new jobs and careers.  The so-called “terminal” degree or award is not terminal at all – It’s the start of a chance at many careers. It’s your choice, be flexible and continue to learn and change.

The Importance of Continuing Education

There is no question the professional world today is not what it was for our parents’ generation, or even that of only 20 years ago. Both the technical and leadership environment today is complex and continually evolving. Because of that, it is important to stay current with technology and its affects on the world that we live in. TheMore and more we are living and working through our smart devices. only way to do that is to participate in continuing education – to update professionals and their organizations to the opportunities that come out of the changing environment.

Even though our careers may not be directly tied to the business of technology, they are impacted by technology. In fact, on a daily basis our professional and personal lives are affected. The lines between personal and professional lives is becoming blurred; whether we are communicating with family – a text, email, photo, video clip – checking travel options, looking for an address, the list goes on and on.  Right now, I am sitting in an airport typing this on a tablet while watching most around me using their smart devices. Some are reading, some are talking, others shopping – all on their smart devices.  To enjoy life today takes more “know how.”  So how do we keep gaining more “know how?”  It is no longer just linked to a college degree.  Even the old word processing program is now an “app” that looks and feels very different from just a few months ago.  For a few, dealing with technology upgrades is common sense.  For most of us it is not.  It affects our lives and jobs so what options do we have?  Let me continue.

Continuing education plays a key role in expanding opportunities, even if you are looking to stay in the same field.  Things are done differently today than they were even a few years ago, in just about every field.  Even industries hundreds of years old, such as dairy farming, have decreased disease transmission and increased efficiency through technological advances in just the past few years, thus requiring continual training for farmers around the world. Staying within the same field has become just as demanding, with remaining current in it, as moving to another field.

Technology also works as an aggregate, converging different disciplines and professions, and narrowing the gaps between them. Continuing education helps us cross those boundaries more easily and capture opportunities to understand multiple worlds from a career and life standpoint. Continuing education is now a requirement whether you are in a technical field, or in management and leadership – if you work on your own or in teams. At first glance these connections may not make sense, however, the value of professional development is not realized until its application in our personal workspaces, our individual context. This is especially true in leadership and management, which deals with people, efficiencies and effectiveness. In these areas continuing development is going to be cast by the context of the environment. So even as a leader, a “soft science” so to speak, the same theories hold as they do in the engineering or healthcare environment. But, your updated skills rarely take effect immediately instead they come through spread out over time, in messaging and decisions you make – during normal times and times of crisis.

Education can also come from outside a class or conference room. Coaches or mentors, of all ages, can bring guidance, suggestions or different perspectives to the table. Input from different vantages can provide powerful feedback and can have significant influence. Growing as a leader is more than going through the traditional education process. However, creating a personal curriculum is up to you. Many of the knowing gaps we have – in technology, in healthcare, in math and science, in literature, in politics – can be overcome by building a network of mentors, of any age. After all, you can use technology to reach out! Setting a goal to learn of a broad range of topics from all fields will help you in your current job and advance your career.

I have a personal curriculum and many mentors, younger, my age, and older. I have a “to know” list with me all the time.  Do you?

Have a Merry Christmas and holiday break!  I look forward getting back together in a couple of weeks.




Reflections on Being a College President

Friday evening I had the privilege of handing our fall graduates their awards. It was both exciting and humbling to stand with these students, shake their hGraduation 2013ands, see their smiles. I was able to share in celebrating their success, congratulate proud parents, spouses, and children. As I sat at home late that night I reflected on my time as Texas State Technical College President, over five years now.

There is nothing like the beginning of a new semester. For our incoming students, it is a step to a new stage in their lives, or a new career path. For our returning students, it is a stride toward finishing their program and in most cases, accomplishing a lifelong goal. Being a part of this process is exhilarating and extremely rewarding. Being a college president is the job of a lifetime, for reasons well beyond the benefits and “privileges.”

What we really do is help to shape and sustain campuses where the education and growth of people both younger and older, is paramount, and where great teaching and inspiration can occur. What drives a college president is the chance to do something with great meaning that makes a life-changing impact for students, employees and the community we live in. College presidents have many rewards. We get to represent the college community locally, and at state and national levels. There are many facets in addition to orchestrating many departments in tune to advance education- that come with this profession. Presidents have the privilege of speaking before large crowds to share the many successes of our institutions. On its own, this is a great way to share the wealth of activities happening on one’s campus, but combined with other duties it is no doubt work. In addition to marketing and communicating best practices, presidents also play a major role in seeking funding, managing campuses, working to land new programs for our students, all while fulfilling many other obligations. We are presidents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yet, without a doubt, we are very fortunate to be presidents. Let me continue.

All that said, the best reward for being a college president is shaking a graduate’s hand at commencement, sharing in the family celebrations, and watching the hugs and tears. Being with joyous graduates as they look to starting their careers is an unbelievable reward for college presidents. It is humbling to sometimes be asked to pose for pictures that will be cherished memories for these graduates and their families for their entire lives. Never have six words, “By the power vested in me …” brought so much joy to others and been such a huge reward to me. Thank you Texas State Technical College Harlingen students, faculty, staff and community.

Be A Team Builder not a Team Slayer

Team Building CloudWe live in a world of teams. At home, at work or at play – we perform as teams.  A successful team takes extraordinary effort to build. It takes careful consideration and no small amount of preparation to make sure all the right people are on board. Picking a handful of superstars does not always mean they will work effectively together. Teamwork is about bonding and growing each member’s compatibility to work with the others.

First comes credibility.  Each one of us must show our ability or expertise, plus a presence in that ability.  This requires honesty and openness, not only with the other members of the team but with ourselves, as well. It requires a high level of self-confidence so that each of us can be clear on what we can, but more importantly, on what we cannot do for our team. Credibility is also built on relinquishing control over a task or portion of a project we know another member to have a particular strength or skill in.

Next comes reliability. Knowing a team member will put forth the effort to their best ability, to get the work done and do their fair share. Reliability includes consistent communication and meeting commitments. When others know you can be trusted to do your part, they can more easily focus their attention on their part.

Finally, team above self. Teamwork needs to be seen as just that, making the benefit of the whole the only priority. It is easy to over calculate our contributions to a team based on our experience of the effort we put into our work. In fact, many relationship studies show that people, whether in a work-related team or a personal relationship often overestimate their contribution, making themselves a team of one. Putting the whole of the team before oneself is not discrediting your personal work, but rather, putting it aside for what will work best for the task at hand.

So, what do you think happens after the big win, after all the work of laying out a strategy, executing the plan, achieving the victory – after winning teamwork?  Many teams, even whose members are credible and reliable, can begin to fall apart the minute after the big win. Why is that? The talent inventory is the same, the experience of working together has grown, the team has finally come together – gelled so to speak.  Why does a team weaken?  Let me continue.

Teams fall apart because team members change from being energy abundant to energy deficit. Some begin to focus on individual credit and self-importance, thereby becoming more important than the team. These people bring negativity that serves no one, not even themselves. Energy deficit individuals are those that take energy from a team and focus it on themselves, slow down momentum and bring an “emotional contagion” to the entire team reducing productivity, motivation and collaboration – they are Team Slayers. A physician friend who works with multiple teams daily often says, “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” Be a Team Builder.

A Case for Institutional Accreditation

img_accreditationAs we already know, technology is advancing at a faster pace today than ever before, and the pace is expected to accelerate even more in the next decade.  A new, faster, or more functional app is now released for my smart phone nearly every week.  So what does this have to do with a college’s accreditation? Everything.

The shorter life cycles of technology affect all industries, from manufacturing to medicine.  This creates a constant need for all of us to continually update our skills, both for our personal benefit and the benefit of our employers, students, or patients.  Pick any industry – the demand for professional development is a requirement for success.  All industries continue to evolve, not for the sake of technology, but out of necessity to stay relevant in a changing work environment. If you find an industry that doesn’t need it, get out as quick as you can because it is a dying industry.  So again, what does this have to do with accreditation? Let me continue.

As we deal with lifelong learning and career changes, the re-purposing of existing knowledge is critical to maintaining our investment in education and training.  An essential element of this recapture is mobility, the ability to transfer experience from one job to the next and educational credits from one institution to another.  What originally started as a way to establish uniform entrance requirements among educational institutions nationwide has evolved into a method of assessing the transferability of the modern, mobile student’s credits between institutions. The form of those educational credits will undoubtedly change over time, but the value will remain.  Mobility and transferability become increasingly more critical as we apply new technology in our work and private lives, and, especially into how we educate our students. Enter the need for accreditation.

Accreditation provides a uniform standard from which to measure quality.  I am not referring to standardization where prescriptive methods are used to enforce compliance with rigid rules, but instead a standard framework through which to provide a level of uniformity in learning outcomes; again quality assurance for students.  This is extremely important as we make physical, virtual, and career moves throughout our lives.

Today’s economy will continue to drive mobility and customization to suit ever-changing student and employer needs. As we move toward degrees with personalized course bundles and increased online delivery, how will we ensure consistency and quality? How will students and employers know if our career preparation is of any value?

Students, employers and higher education institutions must have confidence that an endorsement from a college is a valid “seal of approval.” The investment in higher education is not only a student issue. Communities, employers, fellow tax-payers and those who devote either time or money to education have a shared interest in this process. It is crucial that students be secure that their efforts and time in college will fit their needs and be recognized by other institutions and by industry. Only through college accreditation will we be able to have standards that will provide the framework needed to make sure education processes are relevant and yield reproducible results.

If you would like more information on the accreditation process, you can visit the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.