Higher education should ditch credit hours in favor of measuring learning, and the federal government should combine three agencies into a Department of Talent, an author said at the Clinton School of Public Service on Wednesday (Oct. 21).
Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation and the author of the book, “America Needs Talent,” said talent is what made the 20th century the “American century.” But the hard work, can-do spirit and abilities that marked that era aren’t enough in the 21st century, which is complicated by global competition and the large number of jobs going unfilled. By better developing talent, a resulting “second American century” would be more innovative and equitable.
Merisotis said talent is the combination of knowledge, skills and abilities that, perfected by education and experience, benefit individuals and society. Rather than just being an innate skill, it has to be developed.
Among his prescriptions is redesigning higher education, which he said should be more affordable, student-centered and focused on quality. As it’s designed, higher education is not producing enough graduates with needed skills. He said he would replace course credits, which he called a “magic decoder ring” associated with everything higher education does, with competency-based education, which measures what a student has learned.
“The credit hour has sort of outlived its usefulness, in my opinion, for the simple fact that it is a time-based measure,” he said. “And in the modern world, and the modern democracy and economy, what we need out of our education system is not measured in time but measures of outcome, of quality and output, whatever you want to call it. To me, the key measure that we should be focused on is learning.”
He said higher educators and employers “have spent decades talking past each other.” In one poll the Lumina Foundation conducted with Gallup, both groups were asked if college students were being well prepared for today’s workplace, and 93% of provosts but only 14% of employers said yes. He said employers want employees who are adaptable and critical thinkers, which a liberal arts education can provide. A college education is still a critical part of education, as most newly created “good jobs” require at least a bachelor’s degree, he said.
Merisotis said the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services all perform roles related to talent: with Labor, workforce development; with Education, schools; and with Homeland Security, overseas recruitment. He said the three agencies should be consolidated and repurposed into one agency, the Department of Talent, whose mission is to develop Americans’ needed skills.
He also said immigration polices need to be redesigned so they focus on finding, attracting and developing people from other countries to fill American talent needs.
Merisotis said new financing and other mechanisms should be created to help the private sector nurture innovation. Meanwhile, cities need to be seen as “talent hubs,” not problems to be solved. He said Grand Rapids, Mich., had set goals, listened to employers, created a sense of place, and offered differing paths to success.