WEST CHESTER (January 8, 2020) – What will the university of the future look like and how will that impact the way Pennsylvania prepares young people and others for jobs and in the next decade and beyond?

That question was the overarching subject of a Pennsylvania Higher Education Funding Commission (HEFC) held Wednesday at West Chester University.

State Senator Andy Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee and helped coordinate the hearing, opened the hearing by discussing concerns about the concept of “the cliff” – a point at which workforce skills fail to meet the needs of the new economy

“We have to be a lot more data-driven in looking at how we deliver higher education and how it fits into job creation,” Dinniman said. “We are living in the greatest era of change in human history – that means what we prepare for today could change tomorrow. At the same time, our systems of education and higher education must adapt to meet the needs and develops the skills of a growing variety of individuals.”

Martin Van Der Werf, Associate Director of Editorial and Postsecondary Policy at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, discussed the skyrocketing demand for employees with “middle-skills” – those who may some college experience, such as an associate’s degree or certification, but not a bachelor’s degree.

According to Van Der Werf, between 2017 and 2027 there are expected to be 9.3 million middle-skills job openings, many of them in the health care services industry.

Van Der Werf encouraged the commission to “support policies that allow the maximum number of people to receive their maximum potential. The bachelor’s degree continues to have very high value in the workforce and will continue to do so, but people will be entering the workforce in all different ways with all different credentials and certifications. It’s important that you meet them where they are and in a way that can maximize their potential. It might change the way you think about your funding formulas.”

Joan Wodiska, CEO of Pioneer Management Consulting and a former senior official at both the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association, pointed out that middle-skills jobs make up 53 percent of the labor market but only 43 percent of workers are trained to that level.

She also spoke to the increasing importance of continuing education, ongoing skills training, and lifelong learning, as well as the value of the liberal arts in developing and strengthening invaluable critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

“Education is no longer a finish line, it’s now a life’s work that is never done,” Wodiska said.

Later, the commission heard testimony from Brian Fleming of the Innovation Center at Southern New Hampshire University who described the future of learning as “lifelong, always on, digital, practical and personalized. “

Laura W. Perna, of the GSE Centennial Presidential Professor of Education and Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania, presented recommendations and priorities regarding the future structure, affordability, accessibility, and delivery of higher education.

“We need a comprehensive approach that addresses systemic and structural barriers to education,” she said.

The HEFC, established under Act 70 of 2019, is tasked with developing a higher education funding formula and identifying factors that may be used to determine the distribution of funding among the public institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania.

It officially convened in August and is co-chaired by state Senator Pat Browne, state Representative Stan Saylor and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.

In addition to the three chairs, state Senators Tim Kearney, Ryan Aument, Melissa Shusterman, Robert Tomlinson, and John Sabatina were in attendance, as well as state Representatives Matt Bradford, Wendy Ullman, Curt Sonney, Jennifer O’Mara, Brad Roae, and Aaron Kaufer.

In closing, Dinniman and others called on the commission to work together to put the findings into action.

The HEFC is currently conducting hearings to review and develop recommendations related to higher education funding, affordability, and effectiveness of administration and operations. A report of its findings will be issued by July.