The broken higher education system

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The broken higher education system

Higher education is a must. What a High School diploma was 50 years ago now requires a College Bachelors degree. Join Karl Susman this week as he and his guests talk about how to pay for higher education. Transcript below:

JIM: Welcome to this week’s show. I’m so excited. Today we have the president of Marquette University. I attended a program not so long ago where he described some new innovative ways that they’re bringing teaching to the classroom, and not so much the classroom but more of a worksite environment, which is really preparing kids much better for college. Having my own kids having just graduated from college and being kind of disappointed with the leadership or the interaction that my kids received when getting their education, it was refreshing to hear what Dr. Michael Lovell, the current president of Marquette University, has brought to I think it was the University of Pittsburgh, brought to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and now he’s bringing it to Marquette University, and I’m excited for him to share some of these innovative teaching techniques that are going to get our kids more prepared for the 21st Century. Welcome Dr. Lovell.


DR. LOVELL: Well thanks for having me Jim.


JIM: Did I get that right, was it University of Pittsburgh?


DR. LOVELL: That’s correct. That’s where I started.


JIM: Alright. If you wouldn’t mind, why don’t you talk to us a little bit about the challenges facing higher education. I know when I heard you present we’re talking about teaching the same way we did some 150 years ago, we’re doing things the same way for the most part, and it’s time to bring it forward, so talk a little bit about some of those challenges that we face today.


DR. LOVELL: Sure, I can honestly say that I think that higher education is facing headwinds and challenges that we’ve never faced before and they’re on several levels. The first is the traditional education system which we operate under is obsolete. We probably should have been thinking about changing the way that we teach students 30 or 40 years ago, I’ll get into that more in a few minutes. The other challenges we face is now the price sensitivity for higher education has never been more stringent in the fact that the average student is graduating with more than $25,000 in debt, and the skills they are graduating with don’t necessarily allow them to be successful when they enter the workforce, so for the first time in our history USA Today actually in December had an article written by Goldman Sachs and the title was Is Higher Education Worth It, and he said not so much. We really have a perception that what we have in term of a product may not have the value that the consumer wants anymore. Between the fact that about 25% of students graduating today are either underemployed or unemployed just demonstrates that we need to be thinking differently about the way we educate students and the skills they graduate with and underst anding the financial constraints they’re under where students are making decisions for as little as $500 a year and where they go to school is pretty competitive. Between these different forces we really need to think and act differently in terms of higher education in this country.


JIM: I think parents need to be aware. I think there’s a total lack of education of what it means to pay the tuition and what are the results or what kind of return on investment we’re getting. It’s not so long ago we passed the trillion dollar mark (with a T) in student loan debt, and a lot of that student loan debt right now, you talked about how many kids are actually coming out of college and having a degree where they can actually make payments on those loans, and I’ve had a lot of clients that I’ve worked with personally that didn’t realize so much what that co-signing meant for the students, and if they can’t get a job and pay their loans, mom and dad at a time when they’re getting ready to go into retirement all of a sudden have a payment they weren’t really planning for, so it is really important. Why do you think universities need to transform themselves? I know you talked about some of the educational techniques, the fact that we can go on to Google and get an answer to any question. I know you talked a little bit about that we don’t have to teach them facts and figures we need to teach them how to do things that can be productive in society today, so how do universities do that?


DR. LOVELL: If you think about our traditional education model, it was actually adopted back in 1893, and think about the way the world has changed since then. I like to use the case of Moore’s Law and how we keep doubling computer processing power and by the year 2023 a single one inch computer chip will have more processing power than the human brain, and by 2045 that one inch computer chip will have more processing power than all the brains in the world combined. That’s the world that students graduating are going to be going into. Back 50 years ago or more, the knowledge you’d get from sitting in a classroom and being given to you in a lecture and you being able to kind of return that knowledge, that did have some value because not everyone would have that same knowledge, but today, as you alluded to, we can get any piece of information on a phone or other device in a matter of seconds. What skills students need to be successful are maybe critical thinkers and problem solvers and be able to work in teams, be innovative and entrepreneurial and be able to communicate. Those are the skills we need to focus on. In a traditional lecture based environment those aren’t necessary the skills the students are learning, so there’s really two things that I think we need to do in higher education that would give the students skills they need to be successful in a knowledge based economy which we now operate in. That is first of all we still need to focus on the core of what a liberal arts education is, because that is where we do learn to communicate and to think critically, but along those lines we need to be solving real world problems within all courses. We need to find a way to bring in challenges that the private sector is facing into the curriculum at the university. When I say that, we saw in the past it’s a little bit easier to do in the professional schools, but we also need to do that in kind of the core liberal arts, humanities as well. There’s ways that I’ve seen other universities do this that really does bring a lot of value to the students, because if they’re solving real world problems when they’re learning content in the classroom, that makes them much better prepared to synthesize all the information and data is out there for them to come up with problems they’re going to have by society and quite frankly it will make them good employees.


JIM: We’re going to take a short break, and when we come back what I’d like to explore is, number one what you’re doing at Marquette University kind of to, I know you’ve got a strategic plan to do just what you’ve been talking about and what Marquette University is doing, but also share some of your successes that you’ve had in some of your past experiences, so please stay tuned.




JIM: Welcome back as we continue to visit with Dr. Michael Lovell who is the president of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dr. Lovell has had some great success in transforming the way education is being done in our nation’s colleges, and he’s had some success at some past colleges and now he’s implementing those same types of strategies at Marquette University. Share with us what is Marquette doing in its strategic plan beyond boundaries and its vision statement to guide the transformations to have Marquette have an educational experience that’s kind of like what you were kind of describing in the beginning.


DR. LOVELL: Really we have a vision and we want to be on the leading edge of education in terms of being innovative and entrepreneurial and be looked at as a model for other schools in the country. Through my past experiences I found that if you can find ways to collaborate closely with industry and kind of, actually I’ve refer it to as a co-location model where you actually have people in the private sector helping develop and deliver curriculum and actually do technical work with the university it creates and ecosystem that benefits all sides. It creates a talent pipeline for the companies you’re working with, it allows the university’s talents and technology development to help the companies be more successful, and it helps the faculty and students be more relevant and successful in their endeavors. I can go back, the first time I saw this was back in Pittsburg, and between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh we built a building when at the time was called a co-lab, and the idea is we built a seven story building and we essentially invited companies to come co-locate with us so that they could help teach courses with us their employees and our students and faculty work in their lab. When we built this it was kind of a leap of faith, we didn’t know who was going to come, but we knew the industry did want to be tied closer to the university. I like to describe it the first company that moved into that facility was Intel and I met a gentleman at the track, I’m a runner, and he described how he was an Intel employee but he was also an adjunct faculty in the computer science department, he was teaching and mentoring students and doing research with some of the other faculty with Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. Once Intel was in there the next company came in was Google and they filled the rest of the building up. Again, because they wanted to be close and work close with the universities. Once Google was there, the next company that wanted to come in was Microsoft, and so they actually built the Gate Center next to this facility that was between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon. Google got so big they moved out and moved into an old Nabisco factor in the next neighborhood over, and then both Apple and Disney moved in. I’d like to say that the reason why these companies moved in is because they saw value in working close with the university, and certainly as the university experiences our students and faculty were able to get and the opportunities they had with these companies, all five of which had never been in Pittsburgh before. We built this facility was really second to none what we provide the campus. Kind of taking that model when I went to UWM I started working very closely with Johnson Controls and underst anding kind of the secret mix was getting the employees with the companies side-by-side with our faculty and students to not only develop curriculum but to do research and other technology development. With Johnson Controls we actually took a classroom offline and we were able to recruit 15 PhD scientists from around the world, only one was from the United States that otherwise probably wouldn’t have come to Milwaukee. The reason why they came was they came their offices were on our campus and their labs we built in our engineering building, and so we had 22 student interns, we had 11 faculty members and these 15 employees from Johnson Control who had adjunct employment for helping us teach and develop curriculum and do research, and that model was so successful in so many ways. In the first year we actually got $35 million in federal grants from DOE with a 92% success rate which is unheard of to that success. The technology we developed, the first battery that we developed in those labs became the st andard for the Department of Energy for all of their _____ batteries. I think every student at the time when I left UWM once they graduated they got a job with Johnson Controls and they had the skillset that they couldn’t of had anywhere else because we had the best battery research labs in the country at UWM which we never could have built on our own without this partnership and collaboration. With those two experiences at Pittsburgh and UWM as we think about plan and rolling out the way we’re going to change things on our campus. A couple of examples, we built an athletic performance research center we have planning, and in this facility we’re partnering with Aurora Healthcare and the Milwaukee Bucks to really create a state of the art facility where people from around the country will come to get the research done on athletic performance, and we’ll attract some really special people, and Aurora will attract people, and the Bucks, Wesley Edens the owner of the Bucks he’s trying to recruit free agents so he can allow them to win an NBA championship who typically want to go to Miami or New York or Los Angeles, and if we can somehow build a facility where we do research that will allow them to extend their career by two years by coming to Milwaukee that will financially be enough incentive to hopefully get some free agents here for them.


JIM: Hopefully we didn’t let the secret out that other teams are going to compete with now. I’m just fascinated by the work that you’re doing, and it is amazing because I had some kids that graduated from college here and it just seemed like there wasn’t a lot of direction, there wasn’t a lot of outcome based education. It’s like you just go in, you take your classes, you get your degree and cross your fingers and hope it all works out, and this is so much in alignment with a direct path. It’s just amazing. I’m from the Milwaukee area and we keep hearing about the brain drain and you’re doing just the opposite. You’re bringing some of the most brilliant minds here to mentor students and then they have the jobs here potentially waiting for them because they’re already integrated into the how that company does business, it’s fascinating. Talk a little bit to about I know here in Milwaukee we do a lot of water research, and I think with UWM there was also some interesting things that you helped evolve there as well.


DR. LOVELL: At UWM we started the first school of fresh water science in the country, and we’re blessed to have over 140 water technology companies here in Milwaukee, it’s really based on roots. Milwaukee is really becoming a global leader in water technology. One of the great things we did about three or four years ago was we built something called the Global Water Center, it’s a seven story building down the fifth ward of Milwaukee and it includes research going on from some of the largest water technology companies including AO Smith, Badger Meter, Veolia, Rexnord. We also rotate six new startup companies in the building every year, but we also have the universities. In particular Marquette is on the sixth floor and UWM is on the seventh floor, but we have research labs and space which the great thing about this building is everyone can utilize each of the facilities and you have all this co-mingling of existing companies, startup companies, faculty and student researchers that really is phenomenal, and it’s become a place where literally people from around the world visit on a weekly basis to get their water problems solved. This co-location is something that’s really special. Getting back to the brain drain, another thing that we’ve started and just finished up our second year, something called The Commons here in Milwaukee. The Commons is a partnership between a local organization called Innovation Milwaukee or Mike with the 23 higher ed institutions in the southern region and what we’ve done is we’ve created a place and a platform to allow students that are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship to gather and find each other and what we’ve done is we have two tracks, one is students can come pitch their ideas about a new company to each other, and then the resources are located and awarded for in The Common for them to have the mentoring and access the capital or things they would need to be successful to launch a company. Then on the flip side we also have companies come pitch ideas for students to work on. People like Kohl’s, Milwaukee Bucks, Briggs and Stratton, have pitched ideas to student teams, and it’s amazing how these student teams work on these problems the companies need help with in innovative ways. The companies talk about how the students help transform their organizations and help their employees think differently and act differently because of the students, but a great stat I just learned last week was that 81% of the students involved in The Common are more likely to stay in Milwaukee based on this experience where they have that direct connection and again getting the companies and the students tied together with a regional perspective means that the talent is more likely to stay here because students see that hey I do have a future here, there are jobs that are interesting and I can stay in Milwaukee. As we think about our strategic plan, when we talk about building any new building on our campus, we want to pro-locate, have companies located with us and hopefully those ties that they have here, like with Johnson Control at UWM, those students will then stay and work for the companies that they’re seeing and underst and they do have great futures here.


JIM: One question I’d want to ask is, let’s say we’ve got some parents out there listening and their child is now finished high school and maybe some of those juniors right now that are exploring colleges that they want to go to, and I’m amazed, the first I ever really heard about this was hearing you speak a couple weeks ago, and obviously this has been in the works like at the University of Pittsburgh you started this years ago, and I know I was at a wedding recently and talking with people at the wedding they had heard about this technological boom that Pittsburgh got with all these major tech companies coming into Pittsburgh where there was none before. If there is a student exploring, maybe they’re not quite sure what line of work they want to get into or they’re looking at their first couple years of colleges trying to figure it all out. What advice would you give as far as looking into colleges for opportunities like you described. Because it seems like it’s a very well-kept secret.


DR. LOVELL: Well the biggest thing is first of all there’s always the fits with any university that they’d have to feel comfortable with the campus. Like I know some students may like more rural, some like more urban, but thinking about what skills they need to be successful, there needs to be opportunities for them to get those real world, h ands-on learning experiences as part of their education, that’s really what’s going to breed them success going on the future, and I always say, I love the fact we have entrepreneurship opportunities for students on our campus, because I’d much rather have them have their first venture when they’re a student here, and if they fail they’re going to be supported in ways other than if they were older on their own they wouldn’t have. Just think about ways that students can either have that entrepreneurship experience or have the h ands-on experiences whether it be internships or actually programs directly on college campuses where they’re working with companies and solving problems that are important to the private sector.


JIM: Lastly, what about for those business owners out there that have companies, and a lot of us as business owners, I know I went to a seminar about how to deal with millennials and the younger ages today. I remember one seminar that I went to if you hire a young person consider that they’ll be on board two years as a record and get what you can out of them, they’re very smart, but they’re going to be on to the next challenge or the next challenge or the next challenge. But if there’s a business that wants to tap into this young talent, how do they go about partnering with a university. Is it just the big Fortune 500 companies or are there opportunities for small medium size businesses too?


DR. LOVELL: There are all kinds of opportunities for anyone. I can go through example after example; it doesn’t have to be those large companies. We recently had the banking industry, particularly the rural banks in Wisconsin, they were looking for talent, and we were able to develop a banking program to feed those industries so that we were graduating students that would go out and work in the banks that were in rural areas where they were having trouble talent. We’re always open to thinking about ways that we can work with different sectors or different companies of any size to ensure that they’re getting the talent they need to be successful long-term, because ultimately it gets back to the fact that students when they graduate they’re going to want to get a job, and if we can create these opportunities so that it’s a direct line once they graduate here they have the skills they need to be successful in those jobs it’s a win win for both sides.


JIM: Who would a company contact to find out about programs at maybe some of their local colleges?


DR. LOVELL: Every university has direct corporate relations. We have a whole department that works on that. We have somebody on our campus called Carmela Ruffolo, she focuses on this full-time. She’s always trying to meet with companies and figure out what they need. I have CEO forum where I meet with CEOs a few times a semester and get together and try to figure out their needs are. A perfect example is something we heard in one of these forums about how important data and election data science was. It didn’t matter what field they were in big data was going to be hugely important, and so we actually, very proud to say we’re launching one of the first undergraduate data science programs in the country this fall to kind of give students the skills that they need whether it be healthcare, whether it be business, engineering, you know data is just so critically important and so we heard the need and moving forward and developing the course work and things the students need to be successful going into these fields which are still emerging today.


JIM: I know we’re running a little bit long today, but I got one more question, do you also have a think tank of university presidents such as yourself where you get together and exchange ideas, or is this something you want to kind of keep to yourself to give you a competitive edge?


DR. LOVELL: No, I think there is plenty of space for us to do this, and I happen to be part of something called The Council on Competitiveness, which includes university presidents, directors of national labs, and CEOs of companies, and we get together several times a year to talk about what the needs are to help your country to be more competitive, particularly around manufacturing and other areas. In fact we just lead an analysis around water and what the needs are going to be for the future of water in manufacturing in our country, and we just had a report that we are presenting to the White House on this. There are a group of us that are thinking along these lines and great colleagues out there like Michael Crow from Arizona State University, somebody I have a lot of respect for that I like to learn from and hopefully he learns a little bit from me as we get together in these forums.


JIM: Well Dr. Lovell it was great having you here. This has been another eye-opening experience, and I’ll tell you what I have become very cynical of our educational system and you’ve restored my faith. I congratulate you for what you’re doing and what your colleagues are doing. I think we need to put America back on the map again, you’re instrumental for that to happen.


DR. LOVELL: Well thank you very much Jim. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.