Balancing the needs of employers with the goals of higher education was at the heart of the discussion by two prominent academic leaders at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s annual business policy conference last week.
The University System of Maryland conducts more than $100 million worth of industry-funded research for the private sector every year, said William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the system. This includes surveys to find out the workforce demands among verious sectors, he said.
“A strategy must exist between businesses and universities,” Kirwan said at the conference at Turf Valley in Ellicott City.
He also referred to Maryland Industrial Partnerships, a program that accelerates technology commercialization in the state by jointly funding collaborative research and development projects between businesses and university faculty. The 25-year-old program has helped more than 400 companies since 1987, with those companies’ products generating more than $21.6 billion in sales, according to the university’s website.
Kirwan emphasized the university system’s commitment to industry growth, with a goal of launching 325 businesses by the end of the decade. The university helped start 35 businesses in the last quarter, he said.
He also said the state needs to stop spreading the misconception of weak commercialization results from its universities.
While the university focuses on supplying a workforce, community colleges concentrate on helping businesses be more competitive, said Bradley Gottfried, president of the College of Southern Maryland
The old model of higher education telling people what skills they need has changed to one in which the business community tells higher education institutions where the industries are and how students need to be educated to succeed, Gottfried said.
In the case of Southern Maryland, when it heard that the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby couldn’t find enough technicians, the school started programs to educate students for those jobs, he said.
Community colleges have more flexibility than universities when it comes to quickly developing and implementing new programs, as universities face more complex review processes, he said.
Kirwan said he would like to look at streamlining this process.
Gottfried also cautioned employers that although training is often the first thing cut in a budget during economic downturns, it is the most beneficial for companies.
When asked about concerns that many high school graduates are not college-ready, Kirwan and Gottfried said higher education institutions are working on a national standard to address this.