C olleges and universities are a powerful force for the advancement of Indiana and its residents as they educate the next generation of citizens and employees. To achieve their potential, however, the schools must adapt to rapid changes in technology and the economy and in both employer and student expectations. How to meet those challenges was a central focus of a conference at the Indiana State Museum in October 2017 under Lilly Endowment’s Round III – A Call to Action.

The Endowment brought together representatives from the 39 Indiana colleges and universities participating in the Endowment’s Initiative to Promote Opportunities Through Educational Collaborations. For nearly 15 years, and through three rounds of grants totaling more than $122 million, the Endowment has encouraged Indiana’s higher education institutions to develop programs to improve the job prospects of college graduates in the state. The gathering focused on how the schools can keep up to date on the changing dynamics of employer needs and the skills graduates will need to succeed in the workplace.

Sara B. Cobb, the Endowment’s vice president for education, urged the college and university representatives to be intentional about what abilities and skills their students will need to succeed in the future and be open to adapting their programs and services to address changing circumstances. She encouraged them to monitor on an ongoing basis the employment experiences of their graduates and to pursue strategies to sustain the successful programs that have been launched or expanded with Endowment support under this initiative.

Keynote speakers at the conference addressed change and urged the colleges and universities to support game-changing practices in career development and community and economic development partnerships that will make Indiana an attractive place for college graduates to live and work.

Among the messages:

  • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed the issue of how companies choose to locate or expand in Indiana, noting that “one of the boxes they have to check is: Where will they find the talent pool?” Beyond attracting new business to the state, “Education helps Indiana citizens grab the next rung in life, and for many it helps break the cycle of poverty that keeps them from grabbing that next rung.” He praised Indiana colleges and universities as a point of pride for the state but urged the group to work together. “It’s going to take all of us,” he said.
  • Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Brookings Institution, spoke about “Change and Opportunity: Building Skills for an Advanced Economy That Works for All.” Advanced industries that demand a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce are the future, he said, noting that “Indiana continues to punch above its weight,” as second among U.S. states in advanced industries. Gains in this area also will mean “signing on for paradoxes, disruptions and ambiguous forces,” he acknowledged. “The challenge is to embrace the economy but contend with the dynamics. The job of colleges and universities is to help students navigate change.” With advancing technology, including artificial intelligence, schools “need to help people become what machines are not.”
  • In discussing “The Challenges of Change,” Brad Shipley, Ph.D., clinical associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, suggested that there’s a formula making change happen: Motivation and ability must be greater than resistance to equal change. “The fear of the status quo must outweigh the fear of change,” he said. It’s important to not wait too long before responding to disrupting forces in society and the economy, he said. One way universities can assist with positive change is by protecting individuals who are willing to take risks. Colleges and universities should “remove barriers, provide more opportunities and generate short-term wins” by reframing perceived failures.

Throughout the day, college and university representatives were offered break-out working sessions on sustainability and table discussions on topics such as faculty engagement, employer-partners, regional issues, curriculum changes, internships and marketing.