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The Future of Higher Education with Gordon Jones, President of CWI

The intersection of innovation, technology, and affordability is a conversation that HAS to be had in the world we are in today. Educators are trying to find new ways to set their students up for success, but are often lacking the resources. How is this effecting their ability to be prepared for college and careers? In PART ONE of our interview - STEM Forged staff and, president of the College of Western Idaho, Gordon Jones chat about our experiences with this. As well as how Jones' lens on higher education is changing the narrative in Idaho and beyond. This interview will also be available to listen to on our brand new podcast, Forging Futures. Coming soon.

Ashley Byington: I am really excited to talk to you about some great topics today. We have a really special guest, Gordon Jones, who is the president of the College of Western Idaho, the largest educational institute in Idaho. So do you wanna tell us a little bit about yourself to begin? Gordon Jones: Sure. Uh, well maybe in reverse order, I'm currently the president of College of Western Idaho and we serve 29,000 students, which is the largest institution of public higher ed in Idaho. A lot of my career has been thinking about value and innovation. Where's the intersection of value and innovation in an organization? So I say that really broadly because I've actually had a career that's spanned both higher education, secondary education, and then also in the private sector doing innovation work there. But I've always been motivated by how established organizations really think about making sure we are at as much of the cutting edge as we can be. And so it's a kinship to startups like STEM Forged, but it's also recognizing that once startups grow up to be successful, they're established organizations. Rather than kind of relying on how we've always done it, let's think about what really is sort of more of a forward looking way of doing things. So that's kind of my career in a nutshell. I'm very passionate about higher ed, but where can we make sure value is constantly being revisited and in some cases innovated to meet the needs of today? Ashley Byington: Yeah, that's amazing. So I wanna hear more about some ways that you have intersected innovation and education? Gordon Jones: Well, one of the things I think is important in my career in higher ed is, hey, what's making sure we take a landscape view? What is higher ed in this country? What's been its purpose? What's been its history? I mean, when you really fall in love with the work you do, you fall in love with wanting to know about how it all came about. Why do we do what we do? I've always been somebody who's been really curious. Even for my first job, I taught high school in a rural high school. And I always remember saying, why do we do it this way? And I didn't have the tools and the analytical capabilities to understand what the problems were or what might be the solutions, but I've always been really curious. I think about what's really the social contract that we've had with society? Public higher ed's kind of been a bargain between our government wanting to provide access for its citizens. And, um, when I start there, it helps me diagnose some of what I think are problems to be solved. So that's a common theme for, I hope any leader, whether it be at public schools or private entities or higher ed is, what are the problems of today and how does that map to what we've been historically? And so when I look at higher ed today, and I don't wanna be too long winded, but we've kind of had a model that I think of as an inverted Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We kind of designed a model that was about self actualizing and broadening individuals. And then maybe we'll kind of add this thing called grad school that can help people maybe get employment, or where they figure out where they go in the world. And that kind of worked for a long time with affordability, but where we are today is we've got a lot of change happening. The cost of going to college is high. We've got all this opportunity in technology. We've got a lot of globalization happening. And so this whole swirl means there's a lot of change. And so when you say what's innovation in higher ed today? It's trying to figure out where's value. What are people really looking for from higher ed? And how can we make sure we always deliver the core of what we've been, which is in the essence, it's about empowerment, broadening learning, but that's kind of table stakes. I think there's more we can do. And so that's kind of how I think about things. I won't get into tactics. But you know, I'm very eager to diagnose problems and make sure higher ed is solving them for today's and tomorrow's problems. Not what kind of problems my grandparents went to college for. Grant Hathaway: My driving force behind all of the work I've done in education comes from what my experience in higher education was. I went to college first to do mechanical engineering, cuz my parents really drove me to go be an engineer, go be a doctor, do something like this. And if you go to college, you do the thing, you know, and you're out, and you're ready to go. It didn't work like that for me. I mean, there's multiple reasons cuz life happens differently for everybody. And I ended up changing degrees like four or five times and I was just like... Am I ever gonna get my degree? Am I ever gonna change it? Am I ever gonna get out? And what I wanted to do is help kids avoid the same mistakes that I made in bouncing around because it gets expensive to bounce around. Especially when you're trying to discover what you want. I want to equip kids to go from middle school to high school and get experience creating and making things so that they can step into somewhere, you know, any college, and they have a little bit more exposure early on to what they want to do and what they enjoy. They find the passion early. Cause if you have a passion going into higher education that can help drive your decision making into something that's gonna be more secure than going to college to discover. Gordon Jones: I think there's a couple things you've said that's interesting from my lens as a leader in higher ed. One is you've just called out that what you've recognized is the cost of going to college is a lot higher. So when you talked about switching degrees there wasn't as much of a consequence of that before the mid 1990s because college didn't actually cost as much of a family's paycheck. It's a factual statement. The cost of going to college has outstripped household income, and not to be too technical, but the true cost of going to college is a lot more than it might have been for your parents. And we're in a technology enabled world. It doesn't matter whether you're the architect or the creator of that technology. All of us need to start to appreciate that we're gonna be technology users, and hopefully enthusiasts. So we all need to be prepared in some way, shape, or form and that comes with exposure. It doesn't mean you have to be the programmer or be the designer. You need to have familiarity with it cuz the internet is not a fad. We can't ride it out.. it's here. Then thirdly, the thing you brought up is applied education. The idea that you practice what you've learned. I can teach all day long on a whiteboard how to swim. I could do swimming 101, 201, 301, 401. I could have people explaining the mechanics of the butterfly, but just sitting and learning in that, arguably, theory based environment gives me zero confidence that you really know how to swim. So that application brought into other more realistic fields is an important theme at the College of Western of Idaho and, I think, other university people are catching onto. PART TWO of our Gordon Jones interview will be out tomorrow!

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