15:29 PM

UHD Hosts Forum on Higher Education, Changing World of Work

The Center for Public Deliberation at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) hosted an interactive forum this week entitled, "Linked Futures: Communities, Higher Education and the Changing World of Work" for more than 150 Houston-area leaders, faculty members and students.

Attendees gathered to deliberate how communities and higher education can partner to better ensure students' success following graduation.

Local leaders who participated with the forum included Ariana Cavazos, vice president in the Commercial Middle Market group at Amegy Bank; Janet Gonzales, vice president of commercial lending at Amegy Bank; Janelle James, chief operating officer and superintendent of Southwest Schools; Elke Laughlin, executive vice president of corporate development at NAI Houston Commercial Real Estate Services, LP; UHD President Bill Flores, Ph.D.; and Ed Hugetz, interim senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at UHD, among others.

The Linked Futures forum builds on, "Shaping our Future: How Should Higher Education Help us Create the Society We Want?" a National Issues Forum and American Commonwealth Partnership public deliberation that convened more than 150 gatherings across the country regarding the purpose of higher education and its role in society.

Their findings, published in the "Divided We Fall" report by Jean Johnson of the public opinion and engagement group Public Agenda, revealed a gap between the ways in which lay citizens outside the policy making arena talk about higher education, and the debate among elected officials and other policy makers.

Johnson notes, "Forum participants spoke repeatedly about the benefits of a rich, varied college education…where, in their view, students have time and space to explore new ideas and diverse fields." Lay citizens emphasized the need to broaden STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and preparation for other careers in the context of rapidly changing work roles and global workplaces.

Johnson said, "Facing a more competitive international economy and relentlessly rising college costs, leaders say now is the moment for higher education to reinvent itself."

In that vein, UHD's Center for Public Deliberation provided Linked Futures participants three options to consider:

  • Prepare Students for the Job Market: Our colleges and universities have to raise academic expectations, tailor their programs to the real needs of employers, and direct more of their educational resources toward vocational and pre-professional training.
  • Educate for Leadership and Change: Many of the positions available to new graduates are poorly paid, offer little in the way of job security or satisfaction, and are vulnerable to downsizing and outsourcing. Colleges and universities should take the lead in shaping a new kind of workplace and a new kind of worker, one with the skills and habits needed to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world.
  • Build Robust Communities: Colleges and universities represent vital anchor institutions, places where the community gathers, engages issues, organizes activities and debates common causes. We depend on them to provide the civic and intellectual leadership that can strengthen democracy and drive long-term social and economic progress.

Center for Public Deliberation Director Windy Lawrence, Ph.D., thanked attendees for their participation and asked of participants, "Where in your community do you see spaces filled with diverse people talking with each other about issues - like the space we've created here today? We need leaders who know how to frame issues in ways that get people talking and collaborating with each other."

For this reason, Lawrence, an associate professor at UHD, founded the University's Center for Public Deliberation in 2007 to help improve communication in communities, especially in regard to widespread issues that affect citizens and their families.

During the event, attendees gathered in groups of 10 to share differing opinions regarding the role of higher education, its partnership with the community and the changing roles of work, in addition to discussing possible solutions and ramifications of specific actions to ensure graduates' success.

UHD's Center for Public Service and Family Strengths, Student Government Association, Student Activities and Events and Lone Star College-Kingwood also sponsored the event.

UHD's Center for Public Deliberation and LSC-Kingwood will host an additional Linked Futures forum from 5 - 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 13 at LSC-Kingwood. For more information about this forum, please visit the Center for Public Deliberation website at http://www.uhd.edu/cpdevents.