Q&A: Business takes interest in bridging gap with higher ed through innovation awards

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(Photo Credit: Jacob Bøtter/Flickr)

More than 200 education, business and civic leaders from across California will gather in Sacramento on March 9 for the California Awards for Innovation in Higher Education Showcase. The Showcase will highlight campuses that have innovated to significantly increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees within four years, and ease transfer throughout the state’s education system.

One of the panel discussions will include the president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Robert Linscheid, who will give some business perspective on why innovation in higher education is important for the state’s economy. He agreed to share some thoughts with us before the event:

Bob, why is the business community–particularly you, as head of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce–interested in the Innovation in Higher Education Showcase?

If we as a state are going to succeed, it’s crucial that students in higher education learn the skills they need to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century. Today, innovation is what drives the success of businesses large or small. Our institutions of higher learning must also be constantly innovating and looking for ways to both improve and be relevant if they are going to continue to prepare students for meaningful careers.

The applications received from around California are centered around three main themes: Supporting Students, Transforming Colleges and Collaborating Across Sectors. Do you think they are identifying the right issues to innovate and improve efficiencies in California higher education?

Absolutely. All three are important but what I see as the most intriguing is collaborating across sectors. I think there is a greater understanding today that collaboration is the key to success in any endeavor. Our institutions must be out talking with employers to discover what are the skills needed in not only today’s industries but in tomorrow’s as well.

Our work with the California Economic Summit has revealed that workforce preparation is a major, if not THE major, issue facing California’s economy. When you talk with higher education leaders–be they at Community College, CSU or UC–what are you encouraging them to do to meet that challenge?

Be open to ideas and take a cue from the business community to collaborate and innovate, just as we have been discussing. This week (March 4) our Chamber is hosting our largest annual event that brings together 1,000 leaders from across San Francisco. The theme this year is, “It’s All About Talent.” Because no matter the size of the business or the industry, everyone needs a talented workforce. We invited Bay Area institutions of higher learning to the event to showcase their programs in front of employers large and small. As the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, we see it as one of our key roles is to bridge that gap between education and business.

The Innovation Showcase is at this point a one-time idea. Do you think it should expanded to say, an annual event, to promote more innovation and efficiency in higher ed or be expanded to other parts of state and even local government?

Yes, and in the future I could certainly see a showcase to highlight the ways our state and local governments are meeting the challenges of today. Again, it’s all about bringing people together to discuss today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.

Robert Linscheid is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.


Ed Coghlan

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