Students looking to avoid the debt associated with a college degree are turning to alternatives like skills-based training. That was the topic last month during one of the sessions in Transformers: Education, a live event at The Washington Post, in which Montgomery College’s Sanjay Rai, Ph.D., joined a panel to discuss The New Gen Z Focus in higher education institutions.
Rai, who serves as senior vice president of academic affairs at MC, discussed alternatives students are seeking to prepare them for the workforce alongside University Ventures cofounder Ryan Craig and Kettering University President Robert McMahan. “We [higher education in the United States] start from a very good place, we have a very strong system, but we do have a couple of challenges and we have to understand their root causes: globalization, technology, and a change in demography of our nation,” Rai said.
To meet those challenges, he said, Montgomery College focuses on accessibility, affordability and employability. It is accessible through its three campuses and its growing online offering. It is also affordable, as he noted that a one-year degree at Montgomery College would cost about $6,000. It also works with local industries to provide employable skills credit and noncredit students.
“If you are an unemployed or an underemployed IT worker, you can come to Montgomery College and enter into our cybersecurity program that is offered on evenings at a very affordable price,” Rai said. “There are thousands of cybersecurity jobs that are open in the DMV area, so we provide our companies a talented workforce.” The same is true in the fields of biotechnology and data analysis, he said.
Regarding the debate that puts academic degrees at odds with skills-focused programs, Rai believes community colleges don’t have to choose one over the other. “Students need to learn to think critically. I am a student of mathematics and physics. If you look at fundamental questions in philosophy, physics and math, they are not that far away,” he said.
A large number of students at Montgomery College go from the credit area to the noncredit Workforce Development & Continuing Education area at the College, and vice versa.
We have a very strong system, but we do have a couple of challenges and we have to understand their root causes: globalization, technology, and a change in demography of our nation
Rai points to Montgomery College’s partnership with Holy Cross Hospital, which opened at the Germantown Campus in 2015, as a model in collaboration between industries and higher education institutions that benefits everyone. It was the first hospital to be located at a community college campus.
Most of the literature points to the fact that US community colleges are already bridging the skills gap quite well, he said. “The question is: How do we scale that? How do we make the entire spectrum of higher education equally proactive, equally responsive?”