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‘The Future of Learning is Lifelong Learning’: A Q&A with Dr. Walter Bumphus

ACT is much more than a college admissions test. In fact, our mission emphasizes the work we do to help people achieve education AND workplace success. We advocate for learners of all levels to pursue the education and career paths that work for them, whether they’re interested in attending a community college, enrolling in a four-year institution, pursuing a career and technical education, or jumping right into the workforce.

Dr. Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and an ACT Board Member, recently reflected on the multiple pathways students can take to find success, and how ACT’s transformation will enable more students to learn, grow, and bloom in their field.

Read on for insights on the benefits of community college, how colleges are responding to the threat of automation displacing workers, and why the future of learning is lifelong learning:

1. ACT’s mission is about helping people achieve education and workplace success. What does education and workplace success mean to you?

Our association, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), shares the mission of ACT. I believe that for many individuals community colleges are the on-ramp to the middle class. Research continues to show that individuals will need more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree to enter many high demand, high-quality professions. Two-year colleges offer diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees, which all position individuals to gain skills or upskill so that they can compete as a part of the 21st-century workforce. Education and workplace success mean that individuals have the skills and competence necessary for jobs that lead to family-sustaining wages. It also means that these same individuals have been positioned to build on the initial credential that they obtain to further their education, which will also result in increased wages.

2. Why is it important for students to understand that there are “multiple pathways” to success?

There is no single path by which students must travel to meet their goals. A diverse body of voices and stories must be shared by educational providers and advocates to educate and adequately support the communities that we serve. In the two-year sector, the average age of a community college student is 28. Of the 41% of students enrolled in community colleges, 15% are single parents and 29% are first-generation college students. Most work full-time or part-time, so unlike traditional college-aged students that can take a full course load of 12-to-15 credit hours per semester, the “new traditional” student cannot. Educational experiences must be flexible and offered when and where students want, whether it is digitally, in-person, or through hybrid engagement. In large part, our colleges are doing this work, but when individuals are supporting their families, and they do not have direct familial guidance on how to navigate the education process, they may not know that their goal can become reality. It’s our job to tell those stories.

3. What advantages do students find when selecting a community college?

First and foremost, community colleges remain a high-quality, affordable option for completing the first two years of a degree. Across the country, community colleges have worked with their four-year counterparts to establish stronger course and degree articulation. Over the last seven years community colleges have been redesigned so that individuals pursuing a degree are guided through structured paths ensuring they take only the courses needed for their chosen credential. Community colleges provide access to advisors and have required more touchpoints in an individual’s academic career to ensure that they remain on track toward their educational goal. The student-to-instructor ratio remains smaller than that of four-year institutions, which allows for more individualized engagement. Some community colleges have also initiated zero textbook cost degrees, which addresses the still skyrocketing costs of textbooks, another major affordability issue.

4. With the threat of automation displacing American workers, what can educators and higher ed leaders do to prepare learners for the workforce of the future?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the nature of work and the workforce, requiring community and technical colleges to restructure programs to meet employers’ demand for new skill sets. Colleges are working to meet these needs by developing certificates that demonstrate competencies in IT, informatics, software development, and technology administration.

Partnerships are becoming more important and more universal. Community colleges are working within their local service areas, but partnerships with companies like Apple, Amazon, Cisco, and Dell are necessary to advance these programs in data analytics, cloud computing and emerging technologies.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that future learning will be lifelong learning. Rapid advances in technology will continue to grow exponentially and we must be sure that students learn how to learn in this new environment.

While the landscape of the nation’s labor market may change, what won’t change is the need for human brain power. Creativity and empathy are inherently human, and unequivocally necessary in the workplace. Community colleges are adapting their teaching based upon the needs of industry to focus not only on technical skills, but to teach students critical thinking, creativity, leadership, teamwork, etc.

One example is Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. The college has partnered with the Smart Automation Certification Alliance, and other community colleges and businesses to develop certificates that demonstrate competencies in IT-focused industry 4.0 skills. Ivy Tech is also collaborating with Salesforce to train students for a Salesforce developer or administrator certification, qualifying them for 300,000 positions among the company’s partner employers. In 2020, Ivy Tech will introduce new certificates into its informatics and software development associate degrees.

5. Which aspect of ACT’s transformation do you find most inspiring, helpful or relevant to solving these issues?

I appreciate that ACT has been reflective and proactive about how it continues to serve educators and students. Providing research and data is so helpful in doing to the day-to-day job of being an administrator. But, more than that, ACT worked to revamp and revise its own products and how those products impact student and institutional success. That work brings substantive and needed change to educational practices. ACT has put its money where its mouth is in order to advance student success. That is inspirational for any leader!

Looking to learn more about our workforce solutions? We provide opportunities for business, education and workforce advocates to join together to foster vibrant partnerships, sustain a robust workforce and make an impact on our communities through the ACT Workforce Summit.

The 2019 ACT Workforce Summit will take place from October 28-30 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Join us!

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.