Innovation economy: Ongoing professional education is no longer optional
The pace of technological change and the accumulation of knowledge continue to accelerate.
And while an undergraduate education establishes the foundation for a successful career, education cannot stop there.
This explains why traditional colleges and universities have been increasing their efforts to connect with adults to offer professional education, and all of the top-ranked institutions in the country offer several forms of ongoing learning.
Today, the traditional 18- to 24-year-old student now represents less than half the total enrollment in colleges and universities across the United States.
Here at the University of Michigan, the two most active professional development programs have been growing and evolving for some time. In 1947 Business School Dean Russell A. Stevenson formalized the school’s “Executive Education” program. Growth was especially strong during the 1980s and '90s when the school established an executive residence for managers and executives attending programs.
Michigan’s College of Engineering began offering short courses and continuing education for engineers and technical professionals in the 1950s. The college began offering graduate instruction off campus via “distance learning” in the late 1960s and entire degree programs online in the late 1990s. In this 50+ year history, the college has delivered ongoing education to over 100,000 participants around the globe.
Many of the programs are done in conjunction with corporate partners. Companies actively seek the competitive advantage academic institutions offer in teaching and learning, and the access to new concepts proven by rigorous research.
There are three reasons why companies invest in ongoing education for their management and leadership:
1. Confidence and motivation are critical, particularly in uncertain times.
2. Investment in employee development helps companies retain their best employees.
3. Managers and executives need new skills and new perspectives.
As Melanie Barnett, CEO of executive education at the Ross School, has put it, “Management and development programs - done well—provide time away, access to dialogue with big thinkers as well as practical thinkers and doers, and interaction with a network of other managers and executives from around the globe.Â
"They provide new frameworks for viewing, analyzing and making decisions."
The very act of sending an employee to a top notch open enrollment program, or engaging a group in a customized leadership development initiative, sends the message that the organization will invest in their development and success.
This enhances the employee-company bond and makes these top employees more likely to stay, and to stay engaged.
On the engineering front, some refer to the challenge this way: A technical undergraduate degree has a shorter and shorter “half-life." Engineering schools have to maintain contact with graduates, companies and professional societies in order to ensure that course work is relevant and effective. The explosion of information technology has enabled this lifelong learning to be delivered anytime anywhere on the planet. For example, some of U-M’s engineering programs are delivered online in nine different languages.
It’s September and a new crop of freshmen are arriving on campuses around the state. I hope they all realize they should be beginning a lifelong relationship with higher learning.
Daryl Weinert is the executive director of the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center. He writes this column monthly for Business Review on AnnArbor.com.