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With the future of higher education uncertain amid dwindling state funding, University President John Jasinski invited a guest to the semesterly all-employee meeting to discuss alternative education models and timelines.

Vice President of Education at the Kauffman Foundation Aaron North highlighted what the foundation thinks Northwest is doing well, but also presented the foundation’s findings about the future of post-secondary education being in certifications and pursuing degrees later in life.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, Missouri, focuses on encouraging entrepreneurship nationally and education in the Kansas City area, especially with members of underrepresented populations.

North described the state of higher education as a “Horace Mann moment.” Mann was a United States senator and advocate for universal public education and teacher training in “normal schools.”

“The reason why Horace Mann is such a moniker and such an icon is because that represented a time when the educational climate shifted pretty much across the board for everyone,” North said.

North said post-secondary education is moving into a future of “both/and rather than either/or,” meaning earning multiple degrees or certifications rather than choosing higher education or trades.

However, a high school diploma alone might not be enough to get into the workforce.

“In terms of being currency for what actually happens next in and of itself, it (a high school diploma) is almost worthless at this point,” North said.

Because high school completion doesn’t set a strong enough baseline for any skills or competencies, North said having trade certifications indicates more reliable competency.

“We make this massive investment for these 13 precious years, and when it ends, we give them something that is not, in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of other folks including superintendents, not an effective enough validation of what that does,” North said.

In addition to secondary certification programs, North said trade certification programs are gaining relevance with or without a degree, before or after college.

North said even a four-year college degree is not as reliable as it would have been 10 years ago when looking for jobs. He said employers are looking for specific indicators of competencies in the areas they are hiring for.

The Kauffman Foundation created non-degree licensing and certification programs through the Skilled KC Technical Institute in response to a growing demand for certifications in growing fields.

North closed with predictions for higher education after 2030, including more stacking of certifications and degrees and universities having an increasing number of non-traditional students as employees are paid to go back to school to get relevant degrees.

He also predicted the idea of the “new campus.” While more education is available online, North said the campus as a transitional space for young adults to get their footing alongside their peers will remain relevant, even if campus residents are not taking classes.

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