Written by Mike Simmons Ph.D., Associate Executive Director of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at AACRAO
The recent ASU (Arizona State University)+GSV (Global Silicon Valley) gathering in San Diego hosted over 7000 attendees, which appears to be a record crowd. Other than the usual banter among educators, technology entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists all looking to make their next big investment or innovation, the conversation was lively and robust. However, most of the conversations and presentations contained at least some mention of two concepts.
The first is AI and all it entails. This buzzword has dominated the social media traffic, and every other element of information source in the past two months to a degree we never expected, so it was no surprise that almost every session of the hundreds available at least had some conversation or mention of AI. Unfortunately, there seems to be no consensus or conclusion other than it is something to which we should all pay attention and that it will have an impact. I didn’t need to go to San Diego for that insight, but there is comfort in knowing that everyone in higher education and education technology is saying the same things about the impact of AI. To that end, AACRAO will begin hosting information sessions, providing updates, and resource sharing very soon to provide our members with what we are seeing, and hearing so that you can determine where you, your institution, and your vendors fit into the mix.
The second topic that was very frequently mentioned was the notion of skills-based hiring. I think the following summary from Patrick Methvin, Post Secondary Success Director of the Gates Foundation, sums it up best in the April 28, 2023 issue of the Postsecondary Success Notes newsletter.
For now, I want to talk about another theme I picked up on at ASU-GSV – the dynamic between skills and degrees. This has been a long-standing topic of interest and debate at the summit, but this year it seemed to almost be at a fever pitch. Riding high on the waves of advances in data, competency-based learning models, AI, and rapidly changing job markets, some members of the “skilling crowd” seemed to be throwing haymakers toward the traditional college degree this year. And yet, completing a college degree still remains one of the best predictors of socioeconomic mobility. I do think skilling-related approaches will continue to grow, for many of the same reasons I believe apprenticeships will grow. They both make a lot of sense in today’s rapidly changing economy and the expectations of the labor market. However, I think some of these debates about skills and degrees create a false dichotomy and miss the power of the BOTH/AND. If you’ve ever taken an improv class, you know what I’m talking about. In improv, you never say “no” to a suggestion from your scene partner, you just build on the prompt by thinking in terms of “yes, and…” I would argue that we’re in a similar moment in the dynamic between skills and degrees. A postsecondary space that only focuses on skilling misses out on at least two critical dimensions:
1) It ignores many of the non-economic benefits of equitable value, to both the individual and society, in the form of a more informed citizenry, higher levels of volunteer activity, and better health outcomes, among many other benefits;
2) It sidesteps the reality that many of today’s skills are the first things that AI will automate tomorrow.
Today’s college students need both discrete skills AND interdisciplinary ways of thinking in order to navigate a rapidly changing world and responsibly leverage many of the technological advances (like AI) that are accelerating this change. A both/and approach needs more attention if we want to truly deliver on the vision of equitable value.
This is a conversation we will need to have within AACRAO because it will likely impact all components of our membership - from admission to registration and everything in between. We will explore the implications of the false dichotomy between skills and degrees. Join the AACRAO Collective Gathering this May to continue the discussion on higher education and artificial intelligence.