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Meeting Work Force Needs

A panel identifies ways to match the region's work force needs with higher educational resources.

The key to matching the region's work force needs with higher educational resources lies with collegiate partnerships, research and an academic village, a panel said Tuesday.

At a futures summit, leaders from six colleges and universities and the state's secretary of education met with business leaders and discussed steps to ensure that employment needs are being met now and in the upcoming years.

Robert Templin Jr., president of the Northern Virginia Community College, said his campus is the destination of more than one quarter of the high-school students in Loudoun County after graduation. "We are the front line of access, regardless of where their ultimate destination is going to be," he said. "I don't know where we are going to put them. Our future is about partnership."

HE SPOKE OF partnerships between his campus and the area high schools, and between NVCC and area colleges and universities. NVCC is having students earn college credits by taking advanced placement courses while they are still in high school. It is also working with Dominion University, sharing English as a Second Language resources.

Templin said his campus has 7,000 students and Loudoun County's population is growing. "It would make a lot of sense to team with other institutions around a theme or a cluster" to address emerging work force needs, he said. "We are going to grow. Are we going to be smart about it?"

Tracy Fitzsimmons, vice president for academic affairs at Shenandoah University, said the idea of collaborating rather than competing is an important step forward in higher education.

Peter Stearns, a provost at George Mason University, said, "We're very interested in working in partnership with the community college…. George Mason also plans to develop research to correctly identify the educational and business needs of the county."

John Broderick, vice provost for academic affairs at Old Dominion University, said he has collaborated with Virginia Tech University and Shenandoah University on other course work. He agreed with Stearns that the key to meeting the region's future employment needs lies with research and technology. "Our focus has been on transportation, safety and security … and we've added biotechnology," he said. "In transportation, we might be able to help solve local problems."

EDGAR HATRICK, Loudoun's Superintendent of Schools, asked whether the educational leaders had considered another solution — building an academic village or center, with one large library to service all of their needs.

Otherwise, the colleges and universities are running the risk of having seven off-campus bookstores, libraries, limited cultural resources, Hatrick said.

Jeffrey Lewis of DBI Architects said he thought it was a great idea. "Use common infrastructure, common buildings, common roadways," he said.

Fitzsimmons said an academic village could become a reality quicker if the county could provide land and a building. "If you jump us ahead, we will be there with you."

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said she could envision Loudoun County building a high-school science academy on enough acreage for a college or university campus to as well.

Alan Hansen, director of architecture at DBI Architects, encouraged officials to look at how everyone can look beyond words and develop a concrete proposal. "We have an opportunity. All the clay out here in Loudoun County is not cast," he said.

Wheelan said similar academic centers exist in the commonwealth. To establish one in the county, officials should contact the State Council of High Education, she said.

THE EDUCATIONAL LEADERS discussed other ways to match higher education resources with employment needs.

Broderick recommended a non-traditional approach, allowing students to use a modular approach to education where credit is based on competency rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. Wheelan said she was excited about that idea. "My heart is fluttering," she said, moving her hand as if it were fanning her face.

She also recommended college and universities taking their courses and instructors to work sites. "I think any business would welcome you," she said.

Hatrick agreed. There was a time when students' only option was to go to a college or university campus, he said. "You had to go to the grounds and drink the holy water." he said. "You are making the point that education has to be brought to the people who need it."

Stearns said colleges and university personnel should offer master degree course work with a mixture of online and on site classes. When classroom experience is vital, offer it on weekends, he said. "You need to look at packages that offer flexibilities and tolerate disruptions in the process."

Templin said they need to develop curricula for the current work force to upgrade their skills and to meet changes in technology.

Business people also had an opportunity to discuss their needs. Chuck Wilson of the Middleburg Bank said students need to take courses in customer service. He said he talks to students across the country and none of them have taken courses in that subject. "I think you need to deal with this at the high-school level. Teaching is very costly. It pushes the price up. It make me non-competitive."

David Miles, chairman of the Miles-LeHang Co., said he deals with thousands of people. "The issue is knowledgeable workers are no longer knowledgeable." A manager might have a master's degree, but no time to go back and get another one. "I wish there was an update to a master's program," he said.