The American Graduation Initiative and Workforce Development in the Community College

A Q & A with Maui Community College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto

The American Graduation Initiative sets out a goal for the United States to have the greatest proportion of college graduates of any country in the world by 2020. CT explored related issues for community college leaders and asked Maui Community College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto (pictured, left) how technology-related workforce development might factor into achieving the goals of the new initiative.

Campus Technology: The American Graduation Initiative will help improve community college facilities as well as enhance systems for instruction and boost student success. But the initiative has even broader implications for our society. As a federal government initiative, it’s got to be poised to solve larger problems. Picking an obvious one, I’d like to ask, to what extent is the American Graduation Initiative motivated by a vision of economic recovery?

Clyde Sakamoto: I think that the graduation initiative really has to do with not simply graduating more students, but getting students connected with jobs once they graduate. For us, we know it’s the living wage careers that will allow our graduates of Maui Community College to continue to live and work on Maui and in Hawaii.

CT: How does technology play a role in that? Which technologies might be involved?

Sakamoto: Well it’s really about economic recovery grounded in some kind of efficiency, adding value via our tech advantage in this country. And I think when you’ve got the NSF involved, you’ve got all of the threshold technologies—nanotech, robotics, and every facet of science that could plumb resources that might allow the country to develop services or inventions that would enhance productivity in one sector or another, or in one field or another. Ultimately, we’d want to get ahead of the curve on the kinds of technologies that would add value to whatever kind of business, science, healthcare, or business sector we might be looking at. The technologies in and of themselves would, in the best case scenario be making contributions to the quality of service or the productivity of a particular sector.

CT: What about your own campus? Which particular technologies in your region do you think might be relevant to this discussion?

Sakamoto: Here in the middle of the Pacific we’re sort of on the periphery of everything I just mentioned, but we are trying to access all that through our place-based relevant technologies. So for us, on Maui, that means adaptive optics—things that have to do with our [island’s] summit and all the celestial and solar observations as well as other kinds of space surveillance that are military-related. Those are all things that we are looking at, along with high performance computing—data from the telescopes needs to be processed, and we are working on how to do that in collaboration with some of the high tech companies here. Another important thing is healthcare technologies, and I think that’s a fairly universal issue around the country. And like all rural colleges, we’re going to be interested in the kinds of distance learning technologies that are going to continue to improve. Along with that we’re concerned with remediation technologies—for example, our netbook project to accelerate students’ acquisition of competencies in math. And there is biotech here on Maui, too, so we’re looking that, especially as it relates to seed corn. So that’s some of what’s going on.

CT: Given your long-term professional involvement in workforce development, do you see the American Graduation Initiative as not only focusing on student learning, degree completion, and things like that, but also on what’s going on in business and industry that may offer the potential for partnerships that might help support the economic recovery?

Sakamoto: That’s probably the kind of underlying connection that everyone’s intuiting is already there. If we can create a well-informed, competent math-science grounded workforce that’s technology-oriented and graduating at higher rates, then we’re going to have the kind of workforce that will fill vacancies and opportunities as they emerge. And I would be surprised if the American Graduation Initiative didn’t have something to invite business partnerships/public sector partnerships that advance the notion of graduation for a purpose—for acquiring skill sets for career paths.

CT: What are some of the greater opportunities for community colleges related to workforce development and business partnerships?

Sakamoto: I think there’s a big opportunity with regard to research universities and community colleges working together to identify and expedite technology transfer from university research programs to commercial applications that have business viability. It would be very interesting to incent technology transfer of scientific and technology initiatives to commercial prospects, with an eye to discovering what the angel investor path might be—and how commercialization between universities, community colleges, and the private sector might operate, so that communities would have a clearer idea of how to participate in those kinds of scenarios.

Maybe the bottom line is that community colleges are the greatest dispersed higher education resource that we have in terms of accessing all tiers of our community, especially those who are the lower end of our local economic spectrum. I think that’s the great untapped potential. The hope is that community colleges could enlist a broader spectrum of our communities in rural, suburban, and urban areas and get those students more involved in retraining in order to grow with a 21st century skill set.

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