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I started the second day of NECHE’s annual meeting at a session on Filling the Workforce Training Gap with Laurie Leshin of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Understandably, she was really focused on STEM jobs—enormous growth in STEM jobs, the quickly changing nature of the skills required for STEM jobs and the need for cutting-edge facilities to use to train the future workforce in STEM jobs.

I really appreciated her focus on facilities, because this is often unaddressed. Leshin spoke about how WPI collaborates with industry on creating training spaces and how they are used not just for WPI students but for others in the Worcester community. I have long said that Boston needs a 21st-century future-of-work voc/tech training center that can be used by K-12, higher ed, industry and for the upskilling and reskilling of current workers. Maybe this sits at a university or, better yet, in a community that was hardest hit by COVID-19. In Boston, that would be Roxbury, Mattapan or East Boston.

Next, I headed to Gearing up for Pell Expansion: Prison Education Programs Now and Post-July 2023, with Amanda Nowak of the University of Maine at Augusta and Belinda Wheeler of the Vera Institute of Justice. Part of their presentation was focused on second-chance Pell and some of the challenges of delivering prison education online and face-to-face. I found this session fascinating partly because I know so little about prison education and partly due to the high level of coordination required with the Department of Corrections as the main partner organization.

And then I was off to lunch, with a keynote from Arthur Levine on Preparing for the Coming Transformation, based on his book The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future. Wow. He was fantastic. Like Scott Jaschik’s keynote yesterday morning, it was sobering. He warned us not to plan on business as usual and said that COVID-19 was not an interruption, it was an accelerator. And then he proceeded to share his thoughts on how we will need to transform higher ed to stay relevant and talked about MOOCs, mergers, residential campuses, research universities and on-demand learning. At the end, he urged us to “restore the connection with the street.” I loved this, and, for me, it made nice connections to the first two sessions—employers and prisons—aka, the real world.

Then I headed to a session on Transformational Partnerships that focused on higher ed mergers and acquisitions, with quite a few references to our own Wheelock/BU merger.

Looking forward to tomorrow and a closing keynote from Nathan Grawe.

Mary Churchill is the former chief of policy and planning for Mayor Kim Janey in the city of Boston and current associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis and an ICF certified leadership coach.

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