Creating pathways to success Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Whether you’ve recognized it or not, colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio are at your service.

“We offer professional development programs, personal enrichment classes, technical associate degrees responsive to workers’ needs, a host of bachelor’s degrees and advanced professional degrees, specialized centers and institutes,” says Patricia A. Book, Ph.D., vice president for regional development for Kent State University. “We seek to find matches between business, industry, communities, colleges and universities.”

Because employers of all types are facing a fiercely competitive environment, they increasingly need a skilled work force, improved research and development, advanced technology and training.

Smart Business talked with Book about educational/training services available to businesses of all sizes in Northeast Ohio.

I’m a corporate CEO. What can you do for me?

Colleges and universities can work with your company on a host of issues related to organizational development. That could involve customized training for your employees in interpersonal communication skills, leadership development, key attributes of successful performance, or emotional intelligence.

We find that there is a lot of need in the soft skill areas, like working in teams, thinking critically and innovatively, basic supervision and leadership skills.

We can provide customized training for your employees as well as organizational assessments, including assessing employee competencies. We can help with succession planning — a huge issue in Northeast Ohio where we have an aging work force.

Also, if you have a fairly large research and development capability, we can connect your scientists with scientists at the university to do collaborative research, to solve problems, develop prototypes, and provide Lean/Six Sigma kinds of programs to improve profits.

There are lots of training providers available in the Northeast Ohio region. For instance, the Enterprise Ohio Network has access to state training funds. Some companies in a competitive or survival mode realize they need to invest in their talent development and their human capital, but they just don’t have the resources to do it. Lorain County Community College, Lakeland Community College, Tri-C and Kent State’s seven regional campuses all have our distinct areas of expertise and we all benefit from our involvement in the Enterprise Ohio Network.

Why has it taken so long for higher education to develop such ties with regional business and industry?

About 30 years ago, in some ways, public higher education institutions got away from their roots as engaged institutions with their communities. They became very focused on developing their research capabilities — and that was a good thing, because they made enormous contributions to the country.

But in the last 10 years or so, there’s been a real reawakening. A national conversation has developed about returning to our roots as public institutions and re-engaging in meaningful ways with our sponsoring public and stakeholders, who have seen higher education sometimes get out of touch with their needs.

An important element of this idea is not that we sit in our ivory towers and bestow our wisdom on the community, but that we seek mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships that are win-win.

We each have something special to bring to the table as we address problems and seek opportunities where we can work together. The university brings faculty, students, and scientists with certain capabilities in research and analysis, and investment. External partnerships also bring their unique capabilities to the table. So when we bring those together in partnerships that are mutually beneficial and respectful, we are achieving the engagement ideal. It’s not one-way outreach but a two-way reciprocal relationship.

This culture shift in higher education gets us back to the ideal of a public university as a resource to its community. We’re predominantly producers of talent — high-quality undergraduates and graduates — but in addition to that, we have a responsibility to engage more broadly in real, live, everyday problems our communities are facing so that we can make a difference.

What provoked this important cultural change at our state’s institutions of higher learning?

The decline in public support for higher education has been a wake-up call. Public policymakers began to invest state resources in other areas, making them less able to support higher education. The cost burden is falling increasingly on the student and family without a lot of hue and cry from the public. That’s why on a national scale public policymakers have lost sight of higher education as an investment in the future of the country — in a very flat world where competition is very fierce. Recent news from Columbus suggests Ohio plans to invest in higher education and this is very good news for the state.

PATRICIA A. BOOK, Ph.D., is vice president for regional development for Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or pbook1@kent.edu.