On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders

S2E3 The Opportunity Gap

April 06, 2021 MassTLC & Matter Season 2 Episode 3
On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders
S2E3 The Opportunity Gap
Chapters
On the Tech Trail: Walks with Strategic Leaders
S2E3 The Opportunity Gap
Apr 06, 2021 Season 2 Episode 3
MassTLC & Matter

Education is at the core of equity issues, and the pandemic shone a spotlight on existing gaps and potential solutions.  

This episode, our guests investigate inequities in educational opportunity, the challenges for public education during the pandemic and beyond, and the emerging technology that’s helping close persistent gaps. Join us as we explore what the future of education will look like and what responsibility our leaders have in terms of enabling the kind of social mobility that comes with greater access to learning.  

Highlights from this episode: 

  • Katherine Newman (System Chancellor for Academic Programs and SVP for Economic Development at UMass) explains the impact of educational opportunity on social mobility 
  • Lee Pelton (President of Emerson College and the next CEO of The Boston Foundation) introduces the connection between intergenerational wealth and educational opportunity 
  • Massachusetts Secretary of Education, James Peyser, discusses how opportunity gaps manifest themselves in public education 
  • Joshua Ness (Sr Manager at Verizon 5G Labs) tells us how 5G will open doors for students and new learning opportunities 
  • PTC’s Chief Strategy Officer Kathleen Mitford describes how learning and access to technology present opportunities for social advancement 
  • Art Papas, CEO and Co-founder of Bullhorn, proposes some practical alternatives to the traditional four-year degree 
  • Liz Reynolds (Executive Director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center and now Senior Member of the National Economic Council) continues the discussion of skills training as it relates to economic recovery  

So, follow us on our journey this season as we investigate Boston’s challenges as a microcosm for bigger issues of equity and access. Through topics like access to technology, healthcare innovations, the future of education, and forward-thinking DE&I strategies, we take Boston’s Brand Problem out of the shadows — and onto the Tech Trail.

Show Notes Transcript

Education is at the core of equity issues, and the pandemic shone a spotlight on existing gaps and potential solutions.  

This episode, our guests investigate inequities in educational opportunity, the challenges for public education during the pandemic and beyond, and the emerging technology that’s helping close persistent gaps. Join us as we explore what the future of education will look like and what responsibility our leaders have in terms of enabling the kind of social mobility that comes with greater access to learning.  

Highlights from this episode: 

  • Katherine Newman (System Chancellor for Academic Programs and SVP for Economic Development at UMass) explains the impact of educational opportunity on social mobility 
  • Lee Pelton (President of Emerson College and the next CEO of The Boston Foundation) introduces the connection between intergenerational wealth and educational opportunity 
  • Massachusetts Secretary of Education, James Peyser, discusses how opportunity gaps manifest themselves in public education 
  • Joshua Ness (Sr Manager at Verizon 5G Labs) tells us how 5G will open doors for students and new learning opportunities 
  • PTC’s Chief Strategy Officer Kathleen Mitford describes how learning and access to technology present opportunities for social advancement 
  • Art Papas, CEO and Co-founder of Bullhorn, proposes some practical alternatives to the traditional four-year degree 
  • Liz Reynolds (Executive Director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center and now Senior Member of the National Economic Council) continues the discussion of skills training as it relates to economic recovery  

So, follow us on our journey this season as we investigate Boston’s challenges as a microcosm for bigger issues of equity and access. Through topics like access to technology, healthcare innovations, the future of education, and forward-thinking DE&I strategies, we take Boston’s Brand Problem out of the shadows — and onto the Tech Trail.

Katherine Newman:

I don't think higher education will ever look exactly as it did before the pandemic.

Lee Pelton:

What is often called the achievement gap should be called the opportunity gap because the problem is not in the abilities of students, but it's in the disparate opportunities they are afforded.

Tom Hopcroft:

Welcome to Season Two of On The Tech Trail. I'm MassTLC CEO Tom Hopcroft and this season, we hear candid stories of the pandemic from some of Boston's most influential voices. From issues of equity and access to technology and talent strategy, we're building off last season's insightful conversations as we tackle some of today's most burning questions. This episode, our guests investigate inequities in educational opportunity, the challenges for public education during the pandemic and beyond, and the emerging technology that's helping close existing gaps. So, join us as we explore what the future of education will look like and what responsibility our leaders have in terms of enabling the kind of social mobility that comes along with greater access to learning.

Tom Hopcroft:

We'll begin with someone deeply familiar with the impacts of educational opportunity on career success, UMass's system chancellor for academic programs and senior vice president of academic development, Katherine Newman.

Katherine Newman:

Well, education has always been integral to social mobility, which is why inequality of access to education amplifies into inequality in the labor market, which in turn drives inequality in people's life chances and lifetime income. So, this is one big stream. It's all interconnected and hence, any remedy for it has to be interconnected as well. So, it has always been the case... I mean, all the way back to the founding of the country, that education was essential to the placement of people in the labor market, although in our earliest years, in the 18th century, apprenticeship was very much part of that model and education, formal education, was a smaller part. Over time, it's mutated into education playing a larger role, but not always to the satisfaction of employers who are looking for people with skills. But the balance can shift over time and shift as students spend more time preparing with employers as a complement to the classroom.

Katherine Newman:

So, that whole pattern is an integral package that, in the end, is intended to produce not only someone who's ready to go to work day one and contribute, but someone who has... And, this is where higher education really matters, the capacity to learn. Because the job you take, your first job, is definitely not going to be your second, third or 10th job, and even the job you take anywhere along that continuum is going to change. The ability to learn, to master new ideas, to be a creative contributor to those new ideas, that is an essential aspect of human capital that universities are very good at producing.

Katherine Newman:

I think the social sciences, which are the bedrock of all public policy programs, began to recognize around the year 2000 that inequality was a major topic that needed to be studied, and it is a topic that's particularly important in public policy because it unites economics with political science with sociology and all together, those disciplines are crucial for understanding the options for addressing inequality, and those options always run through public policy.

Katherine Newman:

There is a universe of debate and conversation in these disciplines that spans public and private because we're all part of the same academic and policy-related communities and we all recognize these problems of social mobility are pressing. I would say this is the problem of our age and it affects everything. It affects transportation. It affects educational outcomes. It affects income distribution. It affects poverty. It affects race relations. So, that general theme of inequality, which is, I think, now at the heart of many schools of public policy, is something the University of Massachusetts is very committed to solving.

Katherine Newman:

There are some macro definitions of success for us and some micro definitions. The macro definitions have to do with improving our ability, first, to attract as economically, racially and in other respects, a diverse student population, attract and enable them to afford a higher education, which is not a simple matter and under the pandemic conditions became even more difficult. Then, we need to be sure that we are retaining them all the way through and graduating them in a timely fashion. And, that too is complicated. The more a student has to attend to earning a living at the same time as going to school, possibly having to take care of other relatives... You know, their own children or their siblings, while they're going to school, balance a work life and an education life... This usually translates into a significant juggling act and some of them are very, very good at that and others, it's much more difficult, and if we don't have as much financial aid to provide them as we would like, that balance can become a real problem.

Katherine Newman:

And, I do think over time that has become a pressing issue in Massachusetts and every other state. So, as we look across public higher education in general, we see a kind of retrenchment of state support that became very pronounced in the Great Recession, never really recovered, and certainly has not recovered now. So, that puts pressure on universities in many ways. But it puts pressure on our students in the form of rising tuition to replace the revenue that wasn't there from other sources, and that in turn means that they have to get better at juggling some very difficult, very adult tasks.

Katherine Newman:

So, I think the success at the macro level means diversity of all kinds, success at graduating people and then placing them in the labor market according to their dreams. Success at the micro level is every individual student realizing their own dreams, and there are thousands of students like that for whom public education was the reason why they were able to vault into the middle and upper middle class from truly impoverished beginnings.

Tom Hopcroft:

This connection between success and social mobility becomes more pronounced when framed as systemic inequities faced by people of color. As an educator, administrator and community leader, our next guest has experienced and examined these gaps from a variety of angles, both personally and professionally. Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College in downtown Boston, the next CEO of The Boston Foundation, has seen these access issues play out time and time again.

Lee Pelton:

What is often called the achievement gap should be called the opportunity gap because the problem, it's not in the abilities of students, but it's in the disparate opportunities they are afforded. It is rooted in a history of oppression beginning with 401 years of slavery, 1619 in this country, to separate but equal laws that grew up after Reconstruction and part of the Jim Crow era. It's in red-lighting. It's sustained by systemic racism and by the country's ever-growing economic inequality. And, as we've seen in some states, people of color have been disenfranchised by laws that are legal. They are legal, but they are part of a history.

Lee Pelton:

This is not an easy fix because wealth is transmitted intergenerationally. So, it's not just about income, but it's about the transfer of wealth. So, I think you have to start with the notion that this is an intergenerational issue and that you've got to start somewhere, and I believe the place that you start is not just within your companies, but to look outside of your companies where you can provide opportunities for folks who are not traditionally a part of this community [inaudible 00:07:57] begin to make opportunities for them by developing relationships or partnerships with high schools or with colleges or with community colleges or with technical colleges, if you have to. But it starts there.

Lee Pelton:

You have to be proactive and you have to see this as a structural issue, not as who did we hire this year. We certainly know this by the data that despite its best efforts, our city on the hill, as it was once referred to, continues to be a tale of two cities, one prosperous and well-off and the other is struggling to make ends meet. And, one of the nation's most expensive and economically unequal cities. And, these triple pandemics have only thrown these inequities into sharper relief.

Tom Hopcroft:

The pandemic has, for many of us, revealed just how these inequities manifest themselves and how our public education system has been particularly impacted. To understand those specific issues, we spoke with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser.

Jim Peyser:

The way public education works, you have the state government, which establishes certain parameters and certain sort of basic standards by which local public school districts are supposed to operate their individual schools. And, the state provides resources. They provide other supports and technical assistance and things like that. And, at the end of the day, the decisions that are made about what goes on in a student's classrooms are made at the local school district level, which in turn means it's some combination or interplay between a local school committee, a superintendent and the local school department and the local teachers' union, which is responsible, in combination, obviously, with those other two actors to develop a collective bargaining agreement, which tends to define, sometimes in very detailed specific ways, what the school day is supposed to look like, what teachers can and cannot do and how schools are going to be operated on an ongoing basis.

Jim Peyser:

It's those kinds of interactions, those kinds of structures and system, that just don't respond well to change. I think the reality of the world today is change needs to be embedded in our systems in a way that they just currently aren't and the sort of political and bureaucratic sort of components of public education just make it really hard in this space to do the things that in the private sector or in business come much more easily.

Jim Peyser:

We're still in the middle of the pandemic as we record this session, so I think at some level, we're trying to do the best we can to get through it, and I will say that in many respects, this idea about applied learning has been pretty difficult to move forward in the context of remote learning, which has been, in many ways, the primary mode of instruction over the course of the last a year or so, dating back to when schools closed during the first wave of COVID.

Jim Peyser:

But, having said that, I think re-investing in and continuing the momentum around expanding opportunities for applied learning remains a high priority, certainly for the Commonwealth and for the state, but it's also going to be an important way, I think, to re-engage students in their learning, many of whom have been disconnected so much. Our first priority in the new term is to get children back into their classrooms as soon as possible. And, although guidance from public health experts can sometimes be confusing or contradictory, it's now clear that schools are relatively safe places for students and staff as long as the basic health and safety protocols are followed.

Jim Peyser:

And then, the last thing I'll just mention, which has been something that has emerged over the course of the pandemic, are these sort of community school district partnerships to create remote learning programs and learning pods. And, I'm not sure exactly where they're going to fit in the landscape, but I think there is a long term place for more community engagement, for more community partnership, whether that's in schools or outside of schools, but that provide more flexible environments, more personalized environments for students to engage with educators.

Jim Peyser:

You know, one thing that's happened during COVID has been the parents have gotten a much closer look at what school is like. Even though this is not what school had been like, they are seeing their children in action in, quote, school, in a way that they've never seen it before. And, at the same time, a lot of parents have taken it upon themselves to become more active teachers or to organize learning pods in other sort of instructional or teaching educational settings for their children. Again, in ways they never would have had this never happened.

Tom Hopcroft:

With this increased visibility, we start to see how the future of education is taking shape. Again, Katherine Newman of UMass.

Katherine Newman:

I don't think higher education will ever look exactly as it did before the pandemic. I think all crises have some silver linings inside of them. You learn about the capacity of the institution for flexibility, for spinning on a dime, which I have to say is not the general reputation of higher education. We are often thought of by people outside of our realm as [inaudible 00:12:56] who can't change. But, in fact, we pivoted to online education with about 10 days' notice and we have now learned how effectively we can use it.

Katherine Newman:

One program I'm particularly proud of is we called ICX, the Intercampus Course Exchange. So, we are now looking at using remote technology to enable students to enroll in courses that aren't on their campus at all, but they're somewhere else in the five campus system. They can take that through these remote platforms and benefit from the extraordinary expertise of our faculty across all five campuses. That wouldn't have been possible and we wouldn't have even thought about it. So, now we're thinking about it a lot and I think that's going to lead to new forms of collaboration and new kinds of interdisciplinary and intercampus programs.

Katherine Newman:

Now, that depends on being able to make some investments and it's not easy to come by that money right now. For example, can we equip all of our classrooms so that they can be what we call high flex classrooms, where you can both reach an audience that's distant and reach an audience that's sitting in front of you? You know, what will our students' preferences be for the mix of distance and in class? And, for some instances, commuting students, working students, it may turn out that the mix in the future will be more hybrid and that may enable them to do more to balance this school and work continuum than they were before. I think for commuting students and some commuting faculty, the trade-offs between a long period stuck on the grounds in your car and being able to do something more productive from home will be a balancing act they will try to figure out.

Katherine Newman:

There is a great deal to be said for the experience of face to face education. I don't think it'll ever be fully replaced. I don't think anyone wants it to be fully replaced because there's something about that human connection and the conversation that goes on outside of formal classroom environment that matters, and you lose something if you don't have it. But you also lose something when you're stuck in your car and you really lose something if you can't do the work hours that you need to keep your roof over your head. So, I think technology will end up providing us with options for recombinant higher education that will make use of all of these different modalities and hopefully come out with a mix that works for everyone.

Katherine Newman:

I think, also, the issues that we think about when we speak about inequality are very pronounced when it comes to the technology. We did some surveys on our campuses to learn about how our students were faring, especially in the spring semester, and what we found was that our low income students have real challenges with internet accessibility. Surprisingly, not so much computer access, but just internet access.

Speaker 5:

Massachusetts is home to some of the world's most innovative individuals and businesses. At the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, MassTLC for short, we aim to accelerate growth, innovation and inclusion in the local tech ecosystem. Stay connected, learn from industry leaders, gain visibility and drive business impact with the region's leading technology industry association. For membership information and to learn more about our mission, visit masstlc.org.

Tom Hopcroft:

Before the break, we heard from educational leaders about opportunity gaps and how institutions are working to close them. But how do we actually bridge that digital divide in terms of access to education? At Verizon 5G Labs, senior manager Josh Ness sees solutions to some of these issues on the technological horizon.

Josh Ness:

We've run programs and challenges where we have asked developers to start thinking critically about how 5G can be applied to education, and what we got out of that was very interesting, and a lot of it was on the immersive side. Using technologies like AR and VR to teach children at scale, either synchronously or asynchronously, and either located or co-located, right? What we have found is that it is a really efficient way to get students to engage with information in ways that they didn't before, whether that's through capabilities of augmented reality using either tablets or headsets to be able to explore the inner workings of a robot or a cell to using full-on VR and putting them in an environment, in real time, collaboratively, to explore the creation of a solar system, right?

Josh Ness:

And, these are things that we've been able to show are possible with 5G. And, the ability for schools to be able to do this in a classroom requires 5G to be in that classroom, so we've been doing that with our Verizon Innovative Learning Schools. We've been bringing 5G into classrooms and providing them with hardware and software tools, including some of these experiences I just mentioned, that are allowing these students to learn in completely new and exciting ways.

Josh Ness:

Now, those same experiences can also be conducted in the home if a home has access to high speed broadband that is of 5G caliber, either through 5G mobility with cell phones or 5G home, which is a fixed wireless access product where we're able to essentially beam 5G into a home or a business to create that 5G experience, whereas otherwise they may have had to rely on things like fiber or very high speed cable. We can start bringing the capability for these experiences into that hybrid scenario so that just because a student is at home, that they can still interact with students that are in the classroom and share those experiences so that they don't then fall behind.

Josh Ness:

And, this is just one application of 5G with education technology that we've been exploring. Others... Within higher education, now you're getting into how can lectures be made more interactive? How can we record professors giving lectures and creating interactive and dynamic lesson plans that are either holographic in nature or using artificial or virtual reality? And so, because 5G can empower public edge computing capabilities, you're really starting to see the potential for schools and small businesses to use new technologies that otherwise would have required much larger capital outlays.

Josh Ness:

Now, you take that a step further. As technologies like virtual reality begin to take advantage of that, their form factor will come down and their costs will come down. And so, as the technology of 5G and edge computing continues to evolve, you're going to see even more flexibility in that regard and it's going to be able to empower new types of learning experiences and new types of curricula that we can't even really think of right now. The hybrid experience is not going away, probably not going away for the next five years, and we know that technology is coming online that is going to help people to bridge that divide.

Josh Ness:

I think 5G as a technology is in a place where they can begin to facilitate the closing or the bridging of that hybrid divide with a desire to be at home or the desire and need to be in a central location, like a classroom or a concert.

Tom Hopcroft:

Educational institutions are not known to be early adopters of technology and innovation frequently outpaces even business and society's ability to keep up. For Kathleen Mitford, PTC's chief strategy officer, society's race to catch up with advances in technology presents challenges alongside the opportunities it creates. But those challenges carry with them a whole new set of opportunities for social advancement and access.

Kathleen Mitford:

I think that technology has greatly helped in some areas and it's also shown inequities in others. At PTC, we like to say the genie is not going back in the bottle. Technologies like cloud and SaaS, so you can access software anytime, anywhere, from any device, are now the norm if not a requirement. And, one area where this had a huge impact is in education. We've seen a viral adoption of Onshape, PTC'S SaaS-based computer-aided design software. Computer-aided design is the technology that allows you to create a 3D image of a product. So, if you think about any type of a product, whether it's a chair, whether it's a car, whether it's an airplane, there is a CAD program that is used to design what that looks like and what are all the different parts that go into it.

Kathleen Mitford:

And, this is typically taught to students from probably about sixth grade up as part of their education. Since most CAD software is installed on a computer in a school's lab, many STEM and CAD programs were completely shut down because of COVID. So, what we decided to do was to offer our Onshape technology free of charge to students and educators for the beginning half of 2021 school year. With Onshape, PTC has been helping STEM educators and students reduce academic disruption by providing them an online tool to collaborate on design and other engineering projects. It runs on any computer, whether it's a Mac, a PC or a Chromebook, whether it's IOS or Android. It's really built for virtual teams and allows real-time collaboration for instructors and students.

Kathleen Mitford:

So, we're really excited about the impact that that has had and we felt that it was our responsibility as a technology company to do something to help these engineers of the future.

Michelle Serpa:

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Tom Hopcroft:

Before the break, PTC's Kathleen Mitford explained her optimism for leaders stepping up to society's educational challenges. To tease out what institutional changes will shape the needs of our students and future leaders, Education Secretary Jim Peyser.

Jim Peyser:

Well, we haven't totally closed the digital divide. From a device point of view, there's just been a sea change that's happened and I don't think there's any going back on that one. The issues of connectivity continue to be challenging, but I think their visibility has been raised. It's not necessarily a schools-only issue. It's a community issue. But I think some of those infrastructure challenges that have maybe impeded innovations, especially when it comes to technology, have probably fallen away, at least to a significant degree. So, I think that's also going to open up some new avenues for innovation and change.

Jim Peyser:

Over the last few years, we've been launching what are called Innovation Pathways. They're really early career pathways. So, it's sort of analogous to early college, but it's focused more on career opportunities. And, a number of them, for example, are in the health care field. So, EMT is a great example because that is one of those things where you can sort of immediately, upon completing high school, if not sooner, you can actually start working and you can do it on a part-time basis, as a volunteer, as a professional. And, because of its community and in many ways, sort of community connection, there really is a way to very quickly kind of in real time while they're in school, connect their learning to actual work and experience that's rewarding.

Jim Peyser:

But even if it ends up not being a good fit for me or someone long term, it's still a great way to really help students learn about a variety of different things. You could imagine other scenarios like that where students would be located either at an employer's site or at a hospital, whatever it might be, right? And, for a couple hours a day, whatever it is, they're on their laptops and Chromebooks and they're doing their regular schoolwork, but they're able to sort of immediately or quickly pivot to do activities that relate to other [inaudible 00:24:32] adults in a professional or work environment in a way that can be very rewarding and engaging to them.

Jim Peyser:

So, this is where I... Again, I think some of what we've experienced over the last year could be translated into these kinds of new modalities, if you will, as long as we're kind of open, open to it and not sort of putting roadblocks in the way.

Tom Hopcroft:

Once again, UMass's Katherine Newman.

Katherine Newman:

In general, in the U.S., both businesses and universities have tried to look on the bright side. What can they learn from this pandemic that has application to productivity and to innovation going forward? And, I think we've learned that there's a great deal more than we expected. We just thought this was going to be a gigantic rescue mission and a treading water period, and instead, I think it has been a period of great innovation which we are now learning how to harvest so that we will be able to be even stronger in the future.

Katherine Newman:

What is important about this from my perspective is that in our state alone, there are thousands of students eager to enter the vocational high schools and community colleges that are providing training for what we might call middle skill occupations, especially in entry levels of engineering, mass manufacturing. But this model could be used in any profession and it could be and, I believe, will be elevated to the professional occupational level in universities going forward. So, it was designed for a blue collar model, but there's nothing particularly blue collar about it. The principle that you should be skilled both in what you can learn on the job from professionals who've been doing the work, whether it's banking or finance or communications or biotechnology, and what you learn in the classroom, that complementarity is more likely both to prepare a student to enter that workforce and be ready to be proficient and to be sure they're at the cutting edge, which is what employers are really looking to the university to help prepare.

Art Papas:

Technology companies and companies in general need to rethink the four year degree. Why is that required?

Tom Hopcroft:

That's Art Papas, the CEO and co-founder of Bullhorn, the cloud-based talent software company.

Art Papas:

Why does somebody need to go to college? We talk a lot about diversity, but if we're all fighting over the same handful of graduates [inaudible 00:26:54] coming out of college that are people of color or female engineers, we're missing something. You've got this whole segment of the population that, they can't afford a four year degree or they can't get financial aid or maybe they don't want to commit to that. They need to start working because they've got to take care of their family. They're a single mom or a single dad. We got to re-think it and we've started to challenge people. Okay, tech support. If somebody's technically facile, get them into a tech support job. Let's get them into the company. If they're smart, they will learn very quickly and they will rise within the organization. So, we started to see that.

Art Papas:

But I think every employer needs to be encouraged to hire people that don't have degrees or maybe there are training programs that are much, much shorter durations, six months or something like that. But we've got to stop talking about going to the same career fairs and the same old tactics. It's time to re-think the whole thing. It's a huge opportunity, actually.

Art Papas:

I think that if we want to transform the way that we hire and we bring people into the workforce and circumnavigate the need for a $300,000 bachelor's degree, you really do have to focus on training. And, I even say, what about a high school degree? Why does somebody need to go all the way through high school? What if we just started at 15 years old giving people some skills training that would...? Okay, you want to be in tech support. Here's an avenue for you. It's kind of like vocational school. It's got such a bad rap. But, oh my God, it could be so powerful.

Art Papas:

Career Collaborative, the organization that I'm chair of, just joined forces with Career Work Services here in Boston and they actually have a culinary program that's really powerful. They have all sorts of job training, job readiness classes. These are short. Six weeks, you can get a great paying job.

Tom Hopcroft:

The MIT Task Force on Work of the Future is currently shaping skills training policies and using that as a strategy to bridge opportunity gaps and to aid in economic recovery coming out of the pandemic. We heard from executive director and recent Presidential appointee to the National Economic Council Liz Reynolds.

Liz Reynolds:

We've had growth of the lower skill jobs on one end, growth of the higher skill jobs on the other end, and in the middle, and this is over decades, we've seen a sort of shrinking of the middle. And so, that pathway to the middle is a really important pathway that our community colleges and others can serve to bring adults into good-paying jobs that have career paths. And, frankly, for the last several decades, it is true that a four-year degree has a higher return for those who are investing in it. It's also true that almost 40% of those who start a four-year degree do not graduate within six years. That's a tremendous amount of waste in money and time.

Liz Reynolds:

And so, we need to align the education pathways for those who don't need a four-year degree, and we've had some really... I think some companies and others trying to change their own mindset about whether you need somebody with a four-year degree to fill some of these jobs. For example, IBM started PTECH, Pathways to Technology, where they're training high school seniors and then have a work-based learning experience and education at the community college level and come out and be, for example, a cybersecurity technician. Now, in the past, you'd say, "Oh, I need a computer scientist to be my cybersecurity technician." It's not the case, and if we can get our employers to stop looking at these credentials as the only thing that they look at, I think there's a real opportunity for educating, right from high school through into our young adults, particularly into these new jobs and then hopefully also transitioning those who are older into these new jobs.

Liz Reynolds:

I do think that we really need to be evaluating these carefully because people are making choices and there are literally hundreds of thousands of certificates out there for people to choose from. Which one is going to give the greatest return long term? And, is that better to have a number of stackable credentials compared to a two-year associate's degree? Right now, it feels a little bit like the Wild West in terms of all of these options for someone who's trying to advance their skills, and we want to make sure in all of these cases that these credentials have been accepted, tested, verified or approved by firms and by associations, third parties that have said, "Yes, this is aligned with what we see needed in industry." Because that alignment is critical and to the extent that we can align these with also with work-based learning, that seems to be most valuable in a lot of this educating and preparing people for the workforce, is how can they can get some education, some experience in the workplace.

Liz Reynolds:

There is no question that firms are now looking at online content for educating and upskilling workers. I mean, we've seen this across the board, whether it's in manufacturing or in tech firms. They're delivering a lot of their education now largely through an online format, which is more accessible, which can deliver a lot of the content and in bite-sized pieces, which people learn better from. And so, I think it has, in some ways, made it more accessible and also made these skills ones in which you're layering on. You're able to build upon wherever you are and build your skills at your pace along a pathway forward.

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Tom Hopcroft:

Before the break, we heard about technology and policy shifts towards skills-based learning. But these changes won't come about without investment. Katherine Newman from UMass explains.

Katherine Newman:

When we raise the questions about public policy and what public policies would make the most difference in our ability to evolve the way we think we should, there are two areas that I think make a great deal of sense. One is loan forgiveness from employers as a benefit for their workers to help share the costs that students have borne in making themselves the kind of skilled workforce that employers need. Half of my student loans were forgiven because I became a university teacher. We need to do this in all areas of STEM now. If we want an excellent STEM labor force, we need to make it financially easier for our students to complete these degrees. And, if we could either create loan forgiveness programs or, even better than that, especially at the advanced levels, the kind of training grant programs that we have now in cybersecurity.

Katherine Newman:

The cybersecurity example is actually a very good one. The federal government, through the National Science Foundation, now provides extraordinary support, stipends and tuition grants for students who study cybersecurity in exchange for working for the federal government for two years. The Amherst campus has one of these grants. We should be doing that in biotechnology. We should be doing that in AI. We should be doing that in any area where we see an extraordinary need and where we can help young people invest in these fields by making it financially easier and more attractive in a sense for them to pursue it.

Katherine Newman:

But the second thing that we need to do is to invest... And, I know many employers in Massachusetts are very interested in this right now. Invest in high quality early childhood education. What can we do to ensure that we have a stronger labor force in early childhood education, a higher quality, a larger supply of early childhood education that professional women and working class women will have confidence in, along with their partners, that their children are being well taken care of?

Tom Hopcroft:

Now, these investments and the challenges that demand them aren't necessarily driven by taxes or policy. Again, Art Papas.

Art Papas:

Now is the time because we've just seen this population, the people of color and women in the workplace, in particular, get absolutely decimated by this pandemic. And, not to mention the fact that the impact on education. If you're a 16-year-old that was thinking of dropping out of school this year and the pandemic hits and you're... Now, you're on Zoom all day or your teachers aren't even doing Zoom. They're just blasting out videos and you're supposed to follow along at home. You're done. It's over. We're taking an entire generation of kids, and it's mostly poor kids because the wealthy kids get tutors. They get help. Their parents help them. You know, they go to private schools. It's kids that can't afford all of that. They're just getting hammered right now. And so, we've got to do something. We can't just sit here and say, "Well, that's too bad, but hopefully the government will do something."

Tom Hopcroft:

And, maybe it's on us as a business community to enact that change. Again, PTC's Kathleen Mitford.

Kathleen Mitford:

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's taught us that there is an increased need for technology training, both for our students and front line workers. I think it's really important that we are building the engineers of the future. We have a responsibility to help those that may not have access to technology or have the same benefits as others. I think as technology companies, we all need to lean in and not only at the university level, but at the high school level, at the lower school level. We need to lean in and see what we can do.

Tom Hopcroft:

The future of education, in essence, is tied to the future of everything we've been talking about, from leadership strategies and a more inclusive talent pipeline to dismantling tech privilege and bridging the opportunity gaps. It all begins with an equitable educational playing field. So, thanks to our guests today, Katherine Newman, Lee Pelton, Secretary Peyser, Josh Ness, Kathleen Mitford, Art Papas and Liz Reynolds, for sharing with us their vision of the future and how we as a community can get there together.

Tom Hopcroft:

And, thank you listeners for joining us today. Follow us on our journey this season as we investigate Boston's challenges as a microcosm for bigger issues of access and equity. Through topics like access to technology, health care innovations, the future of education and forward-thinking DE&I strategies, we take Boston's history and brand problem out of the shadows and onto the tech trail.

Beth York:

On The Tech Trail is a joint effort by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council and Matter, a brand elevation agency, and is made in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland. Our host is Tom Hopcroft. Special thanks to Kristen Keane and Mackenzie LeBert from MassTLC for booking our incredible guests. Our producers are Gabe Gerzon, David Riemer and me, Beth York. Without our editors, David Riemer and Mandy Lawson, each episode would have been three hours long at least. Our graphic designer, Tanner Bjorlie, makes us look good, and writer Shaw Flick makes sense of it all. Our executive producer is Tim Bradley, who works inside a closet. Our theme music is by Mikey Geiger.

Beth York:

Thanks to everyone involved for contributing, collaborating and bringing Season Two to life. If you loved it, too, keep the conversation going by sharing on social or by leaving us a rating or review in your podcast app. It makes a huge difference. And, if you've got an idea for a pod, let us know at [email protected] And, maybe I'll be reading your name in the credits one of these days. Until then, see you next time on the tech trail.