Highlights from the Show
This is the full video interview and transcript for OSU Institute of Technology President Bill R. Path’s appearance on Visionary Talk Radio with Oral Roberts University Chief Information Officer and co-host Michael Mathews.
The Higher Education Success Factor with Dr. Bill Path
Visionary Talk Radio for Higher Education – July 18, 2014
Mike Matthews: Welcome to Visionary Talk Radio for Higher Education I’m Mike Matthews along with my co-host Dr. William Ihlenfeldt President Emeritus of Chippewa Valley Technical College. With us we have Bill joined in via WebX from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Bill why don’t you go ahead and say something to the audience?
Dr. William Ihlenfeldt: Well, I’d like to welcome you to this show. We’re excited about having Dr. Path with us and it’s good to be back on the air with this program. As Mike said, I’m President Emeritus of Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and also author of Visionary Leadership: Proven Pathways to Visionary Change. We hope you enjoy this show as much as we enjoy presenting it to you.
Matthews: Thanks Bill. I feel privileged; here I am co-host of a Visionary Talk Radio show. On my left a great visionary, on my right via electronics from a different state, another visionary that I had the privilege to work for, for quite a few years.
And here we are to talk about higher education…It’s no secret that there’s a crisis in education. That crisis has a lot to do with the cost of education, but also the alignment of education to help people get good jobs. The Gallup organization has shared very clearly that the number one issue around the globe is good jobs. 10 million job openings around the world, a surplus of college graduates, and there’s a disconnect. That’s why we’re so honored to have with us today Dr. Bill Path.
Dr. Bill Path has learned some secrets to success, but he’ll tell you some of his war stories as well. He’s learned the secret to success is alignment and I want to give a warm welcome to Dr. Bill Path who’s going to talk a little bit about the campus that he oversees as a visionary leader…Dr. Path welcome.
Dr. Bill Path: Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure to join you here on set today. Greetings to Bill online as well. It’s an honor to be joining he program today and just to introduce you a little bit about myself, I am the fourth president now at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. We identify ourselves as being the state’s only university of applied technology and our major claim to fame is that we work directly with business and industry to almost ensure that students have a job available for them the day of graduation.
Matthews: Wow, the day of graduation. Explain that a little bit further. I mean, what are you doing different from others to ensure, or at least up the chances that they have a job the day of graduation?
Path: Well, OSU Institute of Technology opened its doors in 1946. It was basically set up as a program that would help returning veterans from World War II to enter the civilian workforce and we’ve remained very close to those roots over the years; bringing on college credit and academic degrees now even offering bachelor’s degrees on our campus; but every single degree we offer is identified with a particular job outcome.
We’re not simply training students to enter the workforce; we are identifying students with specific skills, with specific employers, with specific outcomes so that when a student graduates from OSUIT they will know exactly who their employer is going to be in many cases. There have been some occasions even at graduation I’ve been brave enough to stand up in front of a group of graduating seniors in cap and gown and ask the question “all of those that have a job waiting for you at graduation will you please stand?” and to my pleasure see almost the entire graduating class stand up. As you can imagine, moms and dads in the audience erupting into applause to see that, because that’s truly in my opinion what higher education should be about.
It should be about employability and that’s what we do on our campus. Every day of the week, we live and breathe workforce development in our classes, in our labs, in our offices from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night we’re trying to figure out how do we better connect our students with the jobs that are available out there. We are dedicated to fill the skills gap one graduate at a time.
Matthews: Bill, on behalf of all parents in America, thank you. Because I relate to the parents in the audience that say “where’s my son or daughter going to be employed?” But to sit in an audience and hear the president that he’s not going to be embarrassed or she’s not going to be embarrassed by who stands. Why do you think some presidents are going to be embarrassed to ask that question?
Path: Well you know, I was a president of a community college before being recruited here to Oklahoma and we had a very good placement rate, but it was generally within six months after graduation that we would identify where the students had gone. I would say most presidents would be afraid to ask that question, in my opinion, because it would be embarrassing how many students would still be seated.
This is a very difficult job market right now in this strained economy that we have. It is far more difficult to enter the workforce than it was even when you and I were entering the workforce a generation or two ago. But what young people now have to do is understand that employers are far more selective about the skill sets and people that they are hiring. They’re looking for somebody with either work experience or somebody with technical skills to enter the workforce prepared on day one. When you look at the national statistics from the Department of Labor its frightening how many young people with very good bachelor’s degrees are still identifying themselves as being unemployed or underemployed after graduation.
That’s not what the United States should be about. Our higher education system really owes those students more. They deserve better than to be entering the unemployment lines when they should be entering viable opportunities after graduation.
Matthews: Great point. Again, on behalf of all parents thank you so much for having that vision of success in mind. Because that’s really what it is. When you think about advancement, you’re college or university, as well as many, we call it college advancement; but it means fundraising. Right?
Advancement should be the advancement of students. The American workforce is really what needs to be advanced. I’m going to turn over to my right and Bill I want you to share. 42 years in higher education, you a phenomenal success at connecting with industry and business. So go ahead and share with the listening audience a few comments of what Dr. Path just shared.
Ihlenfeldt: Well, I’m very intrigued by it, because that’s really what it’s all about is finding jobs. I know a lot of colleges and universities avoid talking about that situation, but I think it’s the job of college presidents to keep their ear to the ground in terms of the programs that are going to be necessary to provide the future for the state their located in, the nation and, in this day and age, the world. I think too many times we find that institutions will sit back and say “we’ve always done it this way, so let’s just sit back and continue with the same programs we’ve always had.” I think in order to be successful today and into the future you’re going to have to take risks. You’re going to have to look into the crystal ball, so to speak, and try to identify programs that might not be available right now but will be in the future and start to move in that direction. I really applaud what’s happening.
I’m wondering, Dr. Path, if you could give us a little bit of an idea, and the audience a bit of an idea, the types of programs that you have at your institution?
Path: I’d be happy to do that, Bill. I feel a kindred spirit in Bill; because I’ve been in higher education for 30 years doing the same kind of work that bill has done over the years as well. Let me identify some of the programs, but before I’d like to comment a little bit on what Bill Just said. I’ve been around long enough, as most of you in the audience, to remember that when buying a house always meant that you had a appreciated value or having a savings account always meant that you earned interest or having a bachelor’s degree always meant that you were going to be able to find a job. Well, I’m sad to say that none of those are true anymore. Why would we continue to give the same advice to a young person about selecting a bachelor’s degree that we would be giving about having a savings account or appreciations on a retail piece of property?
The rules have changed in the United States and young people need to understand that you need to be selecting your major and selecting your university in a different way than you did a generation ago. We have some pretty strange reasons that we choose the colleges that we do. “That’s where my boyfriend is going to.” or “that’s where my girlfriend is going to.” “I like the football team or the color on the uniform.” or “it’s where my parents went.” or something like that. I tell young people anymore, rather than talking to the admissions office and the recruiters; maybe you need to be talking to someone in the placement office of the university you are looking at. Maybe you should be finding out about the track record of where graduates are going and how successful they are when leaving the institution. That should probably be the first contact that they make on a campus, but sadly not many students are doing that at this point in time.
To answer Bill’s question; over the years we have developed quite a plate of varied programs on our campus that really does establish us as a quite unique institution. Many of our programs that I talk about are sponsored programs, fully sponsored by industry. For a small little campus of around 3,000 students we have corporate partnerships numbering close to 700 different entities from around the country and around the world. We have a Rolex watchmaking program on our campus. We’re 1 of 3 in the nation that has Rolex as a primary sponsor. We’re hoping in the next year or two to establish that into a bachelor’s degree which will be the only bachelor’s watch-making program in the world.
We have a Caterpillar program on campus, Aggreko program, a Komatsu program on campus. In the automotive areas, some names you’ll recognize, we have a Ford program, Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota. In each of these areas we’re teaching the curriculum of the industry. We have those industry representatives on our campus regularly looking at our coursework, looking at what we are teaching in the labs, donating equipment to us so the students are learning on the latest and greatest technology and setting up paid internships for students. A lot of the times students will come to OSUIT with a sponsorship, they’ll end up with more money in their pocket after they graduate than when they entered the institution, which is completely contrary to what’s happening in higher education right now.
We’ve just surpassed $1 trillion in the United States for student loan debt. Student loan debt is now higher in the United States than credit card debt. Something is completely wrong with this picture. We need to be creating these opportunities for young people.
Matthews: Dr. Path, what you said is so phenomenal that you are reversing the way education is being viewed or was viewed four years ago by having a different incentive. But you’re doing something that, Dr. Ihlenfeldt, is good as well, partnerships. How do you exchange? Because there is no workforce entity out there that doesn’t want education to succeed. So that’s an amazing part. Everyone wants education to succeed, so why aren’t we? In your case we are cause you’re doing something innovative, you’re a visionary. But talk a little bit about the partnerships at an international level and local level that makes you succeed. I’m very impressed with a bachelor’s degree in watch making.
Path: I’m happy to do that. Watch making is an interesting case for us. We have a lot of programs on campus but that was one of the original programs. If you think about it in 1946 when the veterans were returning home, many of them were disabled. They were in wheelchairs and so they were looking for civilian technical skills they could use from a wheelchair. So that’s one of the reasons they chose jewelry making and watch repair back in 1946 to be one of the original programs. One of my favorite pictures in our archives is an old black and white photo of the watch making class and every one of the students was in a wheelchair. I treasure that picture because that’s the origin of the institution.
But when we have industry partners that come to us and say we have a workforce need like the Southwestern Association, which is a trade association of over 800 different ag-implement dealers across five states and construction equipment dealers. They came to us and said, “We cannot get enough trained diesel mechanics, is there someway that you can help us teach the curriculum of John Deere and International Harvester and Case and Mahindra?” We said, “Absolutely, with your help we can do this.” We developed a partnership to address the needs of those dealers for the trained diesel technicians they need. So every time a student comes to us, they’re already wearing the uniform of that dealer. They’ve got their dealer name on their shoulder and they’ve got their own name on the other side. So those students know exactly who is sponsoring them, they know exactly who is paying their tuition and buying their tools for them, purchasing their uniform, paying for their room and board in most cases and they know exactly who their employer is going to be after they graduate. That’s one of the reasons the partnerships work so well for us.
Scholarships are very good, and we do go after scholarships, but what we prefer to do is identify sponsorships. Where a dealer or an employer is investing in their own workforce. I know when a lot of institutions of higher education, and I myself for years would say this, we’re very proud to say that students are our number one customers. We take a little bit of an exception with that statement at OSUIT; we believe that employers are our number one customers. The employers that hire our students are extremely valuable to us and we actually listen to their workforce needs and apply those to the classroom.
Matthews: That’s impressive. So again, I want you to repeat that. Who is your number one customer?
Path: Well our real customers are the employers that come to us with workforce needs. We have advances in technology that are affecting employers all across the country and all across the world. We have many major corporations that are looking at a workforce exchange right now with many of their trained employees getting ready to retire and they’re panicked right now. They’re wondering where is the next level of trained technicians are going to come from and they’re looking to institutions like community colleges, like technical colleges, like universities of applied technology to fill that gap for them.
Matthews: Wow, you know, Bill, I don’t want to start a competition here or anything, but Dr. Path, I heard him say before that some students come and leave college with more money than they came with. Now top that when you talk about your partnerships.
Ihlenfeldt: I would like to follow up a little bit before we leave this topic. I’d like to follow up with Dr. Path and pick his brain a little bit more. You start these programs to meet the needs of industry; now, they will provide you with the students that they hire and put in the program. Do you eventually grow these into programs for your institution at the baccalaureate level or do they stay at that level?
Path: As we work with our state coordinating commission, which in Oklahoma is our state regents office, we make sure that any degree program we put together would meet the rigor or the expectation of the state regents. The state regents do require that we have a successful associate degree program before we apply for and establish a bachelor’s degree program. So there is a stair-step fashion if you will. So when they approach us initially, and they talk to us, our initial conversation is what do we need to do to put together a successful associate of applied science degree.
Just for the listener’s information, when we talk about associate of applied science degree on our campus, we’re talking about a 90 credit hour program. When most community colleges offer a program by the same name they’re looking at anything from 61 to 72 credit hours. But because we actually go 12 months out of the year on a trimester system our students can still finish the 90 credit hour programs in a two-year period of time. But it’s because the industry comes to us with a set of expectations, things that they want to see in the curriculum, we still need to have the related courses to offer and award the degree but the result is a student will end up with a well-rounded education that will get them noticed on the job.
It’s not our desire to get a student in a job entry-level position and have them stuck there for the rest of their life. Nobody want’s to see that. We try to give students the skills they need so they can be noticed on the job and be successful in the job. I’m fond of saying to the students as they graduate, “you want to get noticed on the job; you want to show up early, you want to stay late, you want to volunteer for the hard stuff and before too long someone is going to recognize the value you’ve brought to their industry; before too long you’re going to be running the place.” It’s all about work ethic, you know, and it’s something we’ve gotten away from a little bit but we need to get back to our roots.
Matthews: Great point. What’s just as important is when that employer sees that employee doing that it ties back to you. It furthers the partnership to say great people come out of that institution; so, wonderful message that you’re sending to people. Hey Bill, when you ask the next question, if you can stay stationary when you ask the question it will help the audio and make sure it’s consistent. Go ahead.
Ihlenfeldt: Bill, let’s take a little bit of a different path for now and let’s look at your leadership cause obviously you’ve got a lot going for you and I’m wondering if you might share with our audience a little bit in terms of the development, possibly that lead you to your leadership successes. In other words, what can you share with our audience from your background that might mend with them as they go forward in their careers.
Path: Well, I finished a master’s degree from Texas A&M in 1985 and during that point in Texas there was a hiring freeze all across the state. I did exactly what all the career experts tell you not to do. I sent my resume off in a shotgun fashion looking for a counseling position. I happened to have a resume that wound up at a community college called North Harris County College, at that time; it’s now Lone star College. It’s very successful. A metropolitan and very large community college in Houston. Lo and behold, they saw something in me that they hired me as a new counselor and class instructor and that’s the position that I took.
I realized very early on I liked the classroom, I like the student interaction, and I like the advising a student portion of it and assumed several roles along the way. Bill, probably like you, I’ve worn several hats over the years and in my case at a variety of institutions in different states rising up through the ranks. But it’s always been about trying to help create opportunities for young people. I’ve decided in my career that I only want to be associated with institutions that had strong technical programs that were physically and directly putting students into the workforce.
We see so many students, adults as well, who are in down economies and looking to retrain and learn new skills so they can go back into the workforce. Your community colleges, your technical colleges, vocational schools, are very good about doing that. Rarely do you see a person, as in my case that has gone from a presidency of a comprehensive community college to being invited into a university system. It doesn’t happen very often, I realized that. But it has given me a rare opportunity to really see higher education from both perspectives and has given me a little bit of a unique voice in higher education. I do, as a result, say some things you don’t hear a lot of college universities say.
I had decided a long time ago, if I was ever in a 4-year college setting I was always going to create opportunities for articulation for students who had finished their technical programs at community colleges because often times a young person will finish an associate of applied science degree at a community college and they really get the taste for higher education and decide I really want to go on. When they try to apply to a 4-year college, the 4-year college admissions office will make them start over again or not give them full credit for their experiences. I decided when I came to OSUIT I wanted to reach out to community colleges, not only in Oklahoma, but also around the county. To really create a safe destination for young people to finish their bachelor’s degrees they got started in a technical area. That’s one of the projects we’re working on currently and we are excited as we continue to see those partnerships and articulations grow.
Matthews: Great point, Dr. Path; and for the listening audience out there, I know Lone star college system is listening, I did not know that Dr. Path even touched Lone star college until this morning when we were walking down the hallway. We’ve never met before, until this morning. We just knew he was a visionary leader and here he is. Lone star is touching people and most community colleges are, most universities are. Can we quantify that? You know, what’s the impact that a college system or university has on the world today? It sounds like you’ve mastered a big part of that.
As I listen to you, if I was a parent I would say, “How many jobs are there for a Rolex watch maker to earn a bachelor’s degree?” So evidently you have enough data to prove that it’s worthwhile putting on that degree. Any thoughts to other educators out there? How do you know it’s the right program?
Path: Well, you need to be listening to people outside the ivory towers, really, as far as establishing your curriculum. In my opinion you need to be listening to the employers, the people that actually have the jobs out there. They will give you a good clue as far as what the needs are in the industry. The fourth quarter 2008, let’s face it, the rules change in this country and the economy is not fully turned around. I don’t know if it will ever turn around the way that it was before 2008. The workforce needs a change at this point in time. Sadly, the way we teach and the curriculum that we are offering in most colleges and universities and traditional higher education have not changed to address the changing economy and the changing workforce. We are not seeing the same results for graduates that we saw a generation ago or even prior to 2008.
In my opinion it really comes down to a question between theoretical learning models and applied learning models. You heard me say at the beginning of the program that we identify ourselves as the states only university of applied technology. What that means is when I say that and think that, is we have hands on learning. Students are actually learning with tools in their hands. I’ve seen so many times over my career a young person that maybe was a marginal student in high school that they had given up on themselves as ever being a good student that their parents had given up on them, high school teachers and counselors had given up on them, but you take that same student and you put them in a classroom where they’re learning with tools in their hands, they blossom. They are gifted students; they become some of the best and most highly motivated students you are going to have on campus because they realize they see something within themselves that they’ve never seen before. I’ve seen that over and over again so many times that I’m convinced that applied learning must find a viable place in higher education.
I talk to employers regularly from around the country and I talk to HR directors quite frequently. I’m hearing a very common statement that’s frightening to me and should be frightening to everyone in higher education right now. They’re saying, with increasing frequency that “I no longer look at pieces of paper.” Meaning they no longer look at the diploma. They’re saying “don’t show me a diploma, show me what you can do with your hands.” “Show me what skills you can bring.” “Show me what technical expertise that you have that I need in my business. That’s what I want to see.” I believe that those of us in higher education need to listen to what the employers are truly saying.
Matthews: Great point. Bill I’m going to turn it over to you. Give me one second; I’m going to make your audio live. Go ahead.
Ihlenfeldt: A couple of things…. number one, I’m intrigued that you had a counseling background, as did I. You know, I talk about that in my book and I think there’s a lot of things that you’ll learn in a counseling program that pertain and mesh very well with an administrative position. So it’s intriguing that you have that background as well.
I think the other thing that I found listening to you, Bill, is that I see so many colleges and universities that have internally focused strategic planning processes as opposed to a process that will take them outside and listen to the true customers who are in that end and work with it. There are many that are doing it, but there’s a lot of organizations; in fact, I was just involved with one this past week that’s doing that in terms of their strategic planning process. It’s all internally oriented and to me that’s a dire mistake; if you’re not out there listening to the customers first. So I applaud you for that and I think that’s something we need to impress upon our audiences. Strategic planning processes and environmental scans need to be externally focused if they are going to be successful for institutions.
One thing I’d like to ask you though, Bill, is… you know, you talk about the relationship between community colleges and four years. I see a trend in this country right now that a lot of community colleges are starting to offer, or trying to offer, baccalaureate programs. Do you think this is a trend we are going to see more of? Do you feel that this is a good trend or are we going to, as some people say, avoid or water down the associate degree programs?
Path: You know it is a trend in higher education. We’ve seen it coming for a number of years. For so many years community colleges and technical colleges have really been looked down upon almost as a second-class citizen in the realm of higher education and I can understand why so many community college leaders have really been looking toward offering more bachelor’s degrees. There are some very altruistic reasons to do that but I wouldn’t do it just so you can be like a four-year college.
We’ve had junior colleges in the past. I don’t think we necessarily need to be competing over who is offering the freshman, sophomore curriculum. We need to be looking at what the corporate needs are in the area for employers as well as for students and we need to be trying to match those. The community colleges, in my opinion, have a very altruistic mission. Particularly the comprehensive community colleges that offer the strong technical/vocational programs and there is nothing wrong with that.
I really believe in higher education. We are rapidly approaching a tipping point where almost the tail could wag the dog. We have many people waking up to the fact that we need to have some sort of stem education or some sort of strong technical or vocational education component so that students can be successful. I believe that community colleges and technical colleges have this right, and have had this right, for many years and need to be seen more as leaders or the visionaries within higher education. So I’m saying, for community colleges, don’t try to make yourself just like the bachelor’s granting institutions out there for that reason. There may be very good reason to offer the bachelor’s degree programs, particularly if a community college is in a rural setting and there’s not a lot of other geographic opportunities for their constituents. I can understand that. If we get into the metropolitan areas where you’ve got multiple universities already offering coursework in the same area, the need for a community college to be offering the 4-year degree programs… I question that some times.
Matthews: Good point. Bill? I’ll go ahead and continue with the next few questions… Dr. Path, I’m just amazed again that you’re connected to the workforce, I get that that makes perfect sense to me cause that’s ultimately where people are destined to go; into the workforce and be productive for the American society. You know, to comment a little bit on the U.S. economy or the world economy… 10-million job openings, 3 million in America… If we could fill those, the economy has to go up. The gross domestic product has to go up. So when you think of it that way…
I noticed something different about you than most presidents. I have in front of me a book that you’ve written. By Dr. Bill Path, and it’s called “Moments of Forever.” If you just read the abstract it’s very, very clear that you get students. You get young people; that they need to be encouraged, they need to know that they have a destiny. So what do you do, probably behind the scenes that nobody sees that affects students to encourage them to succeed?
Path: Well, I appreciate you mentioning the book. I wrote that several years ago when I realized that over the course of my career I saw a lot of students that were successful and lots of students that weren’t successful. I saw many students who had their act together; they knew exactly what they wanted to do when they grew up. They had no difficulty making their degree selections or major selections. They were very driven by that vision they had in themselves. You see that a lot with entrepreneurs as well. These are very confident individuals, when you study entrepreneurs as a group.
On the other side you see students that just kind of languish. From one job to the next, from one relationship to the next, from one major to the next, maybe frequently changing their major over the course of their higher education career. Wasting time, wasting money, wasting resources trying to figure out who they are or what they’re going to do. The book was really written for that person who is really struggling to find greater meaning in their life.
It’s “Moments of Forever: Discovering the True Power and Importance of Your Life.” It’s a metaphysics book. Metaphysics, of course, is the study of time, space and human existence. I don’t know anything about time or space, but I know a lot about human existence because I’ve been one all my life. I’ve been a student of human behavior for a long time. I wanted to write a piece that would help anyone understand how you fit in the grand scheme of things. I know that I’m really heavy into workforce development, but life is much more than just a job. You need to have well-rounded existences as human beings. We need to make sure that we infuse appropriate recreational activities and hobbies that we can do in order to have a well-rounded life. That’s kind of how I’ve always balanced things in my personal life and my career.
Matthews: You know how I read books? I flip through the pages and I grab the block quotes because that’s sort of my barometer to say, “is this going to be a good book?” So I flipped it open to page 83 and it says “when we endeavor to do the right things for nothing more than right reasons we demonstrate the true and noble character of our people.” That’s a wonderful statement.
Doing the right thing for the right reasons builds great character. I paraphrased there. And so to listen again… How you’re listening to the consumers out there, which is employers, and then to actually touch students believing in them. The Gallup organization says that the education system has reversed the truth in that Education says 60-70% of high school graduates are not college ready whereas the Gallup organization says in third grade 76 percent percent are actually college ready in third grade because they have hope at that level. They’ve got this proven through the Hope Index. By the time they get to be a junior and senior in high school, the testing mechanism; all the discouragement of not passing a grade; maybe its Algebra, maybe it’s reading… and being called maybe a latchkey child or maybe called child left behind or not college ready, remedial education… All those terms are derogatory statements toward students and parents.
What have you done to reverse any kind of derogatory statements that education makes toward the hope of young people?
Path: To elaborate on that I would comment on the most recent blog posting that I have yet to submit… I write regularly for the Huffington Post for this last year. I write a lot on skills gap issues and workforce issues. The latest blog that I’m getting ready to put out is using a phrase… “Education Gap.” We know a lot about skills gap but we’re starting to see in surveys that employers… when they’re asked about the factors that are most critical to the skills gap that they’re seeing within their industry. What is causing the skills gap? The number one thing they say is that the U.S. skilled labor force has not kept up with the needs they have in their industry, hence, there is an education gap.
The degrees that young people are earning are not matching up with the skills sets that employers are actually looking for. What I do, when I talk to young people, is you need to be rational in these decisions. When you are graduating from high school and making that decision to go to college, it’s going to be one of the largest, biggest decisions you’ll ever make in your life. You better make it a good one. Do your homework, do your research, do the study behind the scenes so that you can make the appropriate decisions. Be looking at where the jobs are and what those employers are asking for as far as technical skills sets and then find you a major that will actually line up with that. If a student can do that then they can achieve their hopes and dreams.
They need to first find a job where they can sustain themselves and support themselves and, hopefully, their family at some point. Then life can be full because there’s plenty of time left over for the recreational activities or hobbies in order to have a full and well-rounded life.
Matthews: Thank you, Dr. Path. That’s one interesting thing, when you think of parcel packages being shipped from one end of the country, around the world today. There is FedEx or UPS tracking those packages so they show up on time. When you send your son or daughter on a trip they’ve never been on before you make sure they have their GPS turned on and they get there. But education and careers have no way to monitor, or measure.
In fact, one of my greatest accomplishments in the last two years has been to recommend to a parent that you can get a MIT or Harvard degree cheaper than you can get a University of Texas degree or University of Oklahoma degree if you qualify. They had no clue… Their son just got accepted. But I said, “How would the average parent know?” So it’s one thing to have all the great presidents that understand the value in connections and relationships but how can we help parents better before they put down the money or the students move to a dorm room? How do they know where they are going? How will they get there? Any comments on that from Bill or Dr. Path?
Path: You know it is a challenge in this culture and this economy right now to make those kinds of decisions. I just suggest that, as I said before, do you homework. Figure out what the opportunities are that are out there and pursue them.
Matthews: OK, great point. Bill, any comments?
Ihlenfeldt: I agree with you… it’s basically stepping out of the box. We talk about institutions stepping out of the box, but I think parents and prospective students need to step out of the box as well. I look at my granddaughter who is looking at colleges right now and universities. As she started the process I saw a lot of the traditional types of things that colleges were leading her through, but there’s so much more out there that’s accessible in terms of the Internet and information. I think people have to college search today at the high school level. Albeit students or prospective high school graduates need to really push the limits in what they’re looking for and find out what’s available.
Too many times its “we’ve always done it this way and that’s the way were going to do it.” I firmly believe, and I like something that Dr. Path said before, about the idea that perhaps a community college or a technical college is a steppingstone; the right way to go about it. There are so many opportunities that you can interface institutions today that it needs to happen more and more. I think institutions need to bring this forward. That’s the idea. You don’t have to, necessarily, start here.
At Chippewa Valley Technical College we did bring in a liberal arts program, an associate degree, in addition to our 50-some associate, technical, technical business and nursing programs. For the first time now, I’ve seen institutions like the University of Wisconsin advertising in the materials of the community college saying, “You can start at CVTC and end up at the university.” I think there are so many opportunities for people today that students need to be taught at the high school level to think out of the box, to look for the types of things that are available at your institution, Bill or at other institutions.
I think counselors, counseling programs, career programs, placement offices… all of those types of things need to come into play much more at our institutions than they have in the past. I know some institutions are doing it, but I think a lot more need to make that happen if we’re going to really push this environment and provide an educated workforce that can do the job for all of us well into the future.
Bill, you’ve talked a lot about the programs and I want to take us back a little bit into the world of partnerships. I’ve heard things like Rolex and I’ve heard things like Caterpillar, and things of that nature. That excites me because we did a lot of the same things at the technical college level. I was wondering how you’ve gone about developing those partnerships. How did you strike up a partnership with Rolex or strike up a partnership with Caterpillar? Those things don’t just happen by accident.
Path: That’s a very good question, Bill and there are probably a lot of people in the audience wondering those kinds of things. I’m quick to say I’m certainly not going to take credit for all the partnerships that OSUIT has developed over the years because many of them were established before I arrived. The one thing I have learned since being at OSUIT is that institutions of higher education distinguish themselves not by their similarities but by their differences. One thing I would say to the audience if there’s any educators out there is look for ways you can create relevancies within your curriculum for students. You’ve got to add value to your curriculum.
It’s not good enough to just be like everyone else or just offer the degrees you’ve always offered in the past just because it’s a historic tradition of your institution. Make sure the education you’re providing is still relevant in this modern economy. When OSUIT started these partnerships it was essentially the industries that came to us first with questions. They had needs and they were looking for trained workforce in those particular areas. It took a leap of faith, if you will, with some of the initial partnerships that we established on campus to break out of the mold and say, “yeah, we will do that.” Maybe others in higher educations are not willing to make that investment with private industry and to turn over some of the control as far as the curriculum to the private sector.
Those decisions were made very early. I think they were bold decisions and, as it turns out, I think they were the right decisions for OSUIT. I did create a unique and very distinct campus environment. I mentioned just a few of the majors that we have on campus. I would encourage people, if they wanted to go to the website and look at the rest of our curriculum, it’s at OSUIT.edu. But we have a very well renowned culinary program on campus… a very strong visual communications program… our construction management and air conditioning, heating and refrigeration… we have a line man school on campus… a number of engineering technology degrees…
Did you know that employers say for every one engineer they are looking for, and they can’t find enough engineers across the country, but for every one engineer they need to hire 10 engineer techs in order to implement the designs and drawings of engineers? Where are those coming from? They are coming from schools like ours and schools like community colleges and technical colleges.
Find ways in order to become a unique institution addressing the needs in your geographic area or your state or the country. What I’ve discovered in the case of OSUIT. Success breeds success. We are now at the point where I have industry partners leading other industry partners to my office. People will show up in the president’s office I’ve never met before representing an entirely new company saying, “I’ve learned about you success with my competitors is there some way that you can help me as well?” The number one question I get from employers is “how can I possibly get more of your graduates?” It’s a problem but I still swell with pride when I hear them say that…”I’m offering your graduates good money but they keep turning me down because they have better offers. What can I do to get more of your graduates from OSUIT?”
Matthews: That’s a wonderful comment to have. Tough position to be in, but wonderful position to be in. Dr. Path, as young people are out there thinking, ”I want to be a president just like Dr. Path or maybe like Dr. Bill Ihlenfeldt.” Yet you know some of the difficulties with being a visionary leader. The questions people raise… what advice would you have for people out there that maybe know they are a leader, they are a vice president at another institution and they maybe want to be a president? What would you advise them to do, considering the state of affairs in education today, the U.S. economy, and the challenges brought to your table every day?
Path: The first thing I can tell you is don’t follow the crowd. When everyone else is looking to the left, you look to the right and see what’s happening on the sidelines. It will usually direct you to the visionary element that you need as a leader. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion that would be contrary to others. There are going to be naysayers out there no matter what you try to do if you are trying to be successful. There’s going to be somebody that will tell you that you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it or there’s some reason that you shouldn’t even try. If we listen to the naysayers we wouldn’t accomplish anything in this life.
An uncommon leader, the type of visionary leaders that we need to turn our economies around and communities and with institutions and with organizations and businesses are usually charismatic enough to get others to listen to their ideas and their concepts but have enough courage within themselves and confidence within their own ideas that they can take a position that would be contrary to the popular opinion that are out there.
Matthews: As you look back on your career and you’ve maybe made 10 of those kinds of decisions that are contrary to the right versus the left have you ever regretted taking those other turns?
Path: That’s a good question… I personally don’t ever look back with regrets on decisions. There are some things, I guess, if I knew today what I didn’t know then I would have put a building at a different place or maybe developed a program a little differently than we did. I see that it serves no purpose to go back and second-guess decisions. You try to make the decision as best you can with the information that you have available at the time and then move on from there.
Matthews: Good point. Now this question is for Dr. Ihlenfeldt and for Dr. Path. One of the things that I’ve noticed, and it’s probably the elephant in the room of education, is that nobody is waking up in eighth grade and saying, “mommy, daddy I want to be a college registrar!” “Mommy, daddy I want to be a financial aid director!” “Mommy, daddy I want to be a bursar within the purchasing office!” What that means is somehow as education exploded in the 70s’, 80s’, and 90s’ we filled positions but worse yet there are no training programs for most operational positions within education.
We’re leading forward but we look behind. I wonder if the operations are following or not? Any comments? I’ll turn it to Dr. Ihlenfeldt first then over to Dr. Path.
Ihlenfeldt: I think that you are right, Mike. There are no training programs and that’s why we have such a difficult time. That’s why programs like this exist. We have a lot of people who have been trained and are educated in a certain area but have never had the real life experiences that happen in education. Consequently, we’ve had to do a lot more in terms of on-site training to make that happen. I think colleges and universities will have to catch up with this at some point.
A good example is the use of data in education today. We have systems that are so far superior to the ones that I grew up with that can help college presidents, like I was, make decisions in a much more efficient manner than ever existed before; yet, our colleges and universities are not training people in that. I think we have to step back at some point in time and say, “are there programs that will do this?” I’m sure some exist but I think a lot more needs to happen in terms of making that a reality as we move forward.
That’s what it’s going to take to provide the visionary leaders like Dr. Path in education in the future. Most of us are what I would call “homegrown” in terms of the things we’ve learned on the job to make things happen as opposed to having been educated in that particular format over the years.
Matthews: All right. Thanks, Dr. Ihlenfeldt.
Path: You know, it’s interesting he used that example. I’ve used it before. I don’t know any young person that grew up hoping to be a college registrar. I can say that because early in my career I was a registrar at Northwest Arkansas Community College. There are members of my family who learned I was a registrar and had no idea what it even was. They though maybe that meant I worked a cash register somewhere on campus. We had our priorities messed up for a long time. Even after I became a college president I had family members that didn’t think that was such a big deal because I wasn’t, maybe, a football coach or I wasn’t in charge of a sporting program or something on a college campus.
We need to make sure that young people are making the right decisions for the right reasons and choosing the majors and careers that do make sense for them and moving into the future that will continue to make sense.
Matthews: Thank you both, Dr. Ihlenfeldt and Dr. Path because a challenge for every educational leader out there is this… How do we better improve education? Because it’s so critical. Health care is a crisis in America, according to some, but I dare to challenge that education is twice the epidemic. How do we help people get where they need to be across the board? Whether it’s a community college, whether it’s a university… everybody wants a good job. How do we prepare them for that?
We are privileged again today to have these two visionary leaders who have risked a lot in their careers to get where they want. Dr. Path, if I could ask one more question around visionary leadership… You’ve been through 2 to 3… maybe even 4 cycles of leadership where you’ve been at this university or college and learned lessons… this one… every iteration are you getting better?
Path: I hope I am. No matter where you are in your career be learning from your particular position and learning from the people around you. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve worked for some great presidents and I’ve worked for some not so great presidents. I probably learned more from those that were challenging to me than from some of the ones that would have been considered better presidents. In every situation that you are in you are going to be able to find opportunities to learn something to improve yourself so that you can make the right decisions later on.
Matthews: Great. So, I assume, every iteration you are starting to see further in the future than you’ve ever seen before based on experience and lessons learned. You think of what a visionary leader is and you are able to take more risks than most people are. Think of the value we all can learn from people, if we listen that have learned before us and go further. Dr. Path, thank you so much for all your expertise today. Bill, I’m going to turn it to you for just a minute because you are now retired but recognized as president emeritus, part of many boards around your community… if you could step back into a college presidency today, what would you do different?
Ihlenfeldt: I think that there’s a lot that I learned on the job and that’s a critical part of being a president. A lot of being a president in this day and age is fundraising and things of that nature. I would take more risks at an earlier age if I had to step back into the presidency. I think that’s probably the biggest mistake that most presidents make. You get into the job and you are excited to be into the job and you’re not willing to necessarily lock the bolt right away because you are getting your feet on the ground.
I think educational institutions today are looking for people who are willing to do that, who are capable of doing that… now I realize that we all have boards of trustees and regents that we work with… it’s critical that young people moving into the presidency learn to take calculated risks. I know that’s a term that’s been overused down through the ages but I think its finally come into its own in terms of the thing that’s going to move us forward as a country, more so than ever.
I go back and say… if we don’t provide the educated workforce that is necessary for the future, not necessarily for today, our country is not going to succeed. We’re going to have to make that a reality. I would have taken some of the risks that I had taken later in my career much more early on. I think it’s critical. The big thing that helped me, and Mike you were familiar with this when we were working together, was having the right kind of data at the right point in time. I think that’s so critical for a president.
We have a lot of people who shy away from some of the systems we have today, not only presidents, but mid-managers as well. I think that’s going to be critical as we move forward…that they know how to access and use that data because it can make this risk taking much easier than it is in the past.
Looking at it, to me, data and listening to people from the outside, to me, taking those risks based on those two things is something that I think we need to learn to do much more effectively and efficiently than we have in the past.
Matthews: Thank you, Dr. Ihlenfeldt for joining us from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. You know, oddly enough, Eau Claire, Wisconsin is the place that defines the price of milk across the U.S. The U.S. department of agriculture does that…why? Who knows? But they do that. Thanks again Bill for your joining us today… and again we want to thank the listening audience to tune into this but also look at our library of visionary leaders who have spoken on similar topics because education is critical in the success of our US economy.
I’m going to give Dr. Path one more opportunity if he wants to challenge the audience in anything. A lot has been birthed into him in education, but also for the caring of humanity through people. If you want to share any last minute comments, Dr. Path, feel free.
Path: Just to comment on the role of leadership… No leader is an island. No leader stands alone. You must surround yourself with competent people that you can trust and still trust in those people and have confidence in those people. Your leader on your campus is the number one cheerleader and really creates that campus environment more so than any single person. You need to hire the right people, give them the resources they need, and give them the set of expectations then get out of the way and let them do their job because they will not disappoint you.
Matthews: In fact, if you want to know more about Dr. Bill Path and what’s happening at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology… do a search on Dr. Bill Path and you’ll see that his first 100 days of the fourth presidency at OSU is recorded and he was learning. You’ll find out how great leaders really do learn by getting out amongst the people, by getting out amongst their constituents, opening their ears but then taking action to issues that are happening.
Thanks once again for joining Visionary Talk Radio for Higher Education.