Milliken, who became the leader of the UT System of 14 institutions last fall, is far from being a prophet of the end of the world. He is just the opposite: a realistic and passionate advocate of the benefits of public higher education at a time when some question whether a four-year degree is worth the time. With a little irritation and a great deal of certainty in his voice, Milliken says: "I have little patience for that argument."
For him, the question itself poses a false choice. "The majority of new jobs created require education beyond high school, and soon a point is approaching when almost all newly created jobs will require education beyond high school." He said. In other words, we're not going back to a time when a high school diploma was enough.
Milliken's point is that Texas needs to produce more of everything from two-year certificates to four-year degrees to advanced graduate degrees. His opinion is supported by business leaders who say they have more vacancies in some fields than skilled workers to fill them.
Milliken is not territorial, as might be expected from someone whose UT institutions grant more than one. one third of all college degrees in Texas and nearly two-thirds of the state's health professional degrees. The UT System enrolls more than 235,000 students in eight academic universities and six health institutions and is one of the largest systems in the country. The demographics of the state require that all educators go in the same direction in the fastest and most efficient way possible.
A better alignment of the courses taught in the university classrooms with the skills required in the workplace is an important step, he says. This does not mean just producing graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A liberal arts education still has immense value, he says.
"We need engineers who understand the language, the history and the culture, and we need English students to lead our institutions with technological knowledge to be able to participate in the workforce," he says.
"Employers I speak with greatly value what we traditionally call 'soft' skills. They want a set of computational or coding skills, but they also want people who have the ability to work together, can communicate, can write. "
In its own way, Milliken himself represents the mixture of disciplines. A training lawyer, he has accumulated an impressive curriculum in the higher education administration that includes the rector of the City University of New York, the president of the University of Nebraska and a senior administrator of the University of North Carolina System.
In Texas, it happens to the former chancellor, Admiral Bill McRaven, who led the UT system for three and a half years after a prominent military career in organizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Milliken says public Colleges and universities should train students to learn and adapt constantly, "not for the first job they get when they walk out the door." Paraphrasing the professor at the Harvard Business School, Michael Porter, Milliken says that "there is no such thing as technology businesses and non-technological businesses … There are companies that use all available technologies to be competitive, and there are dying companies."
No institution wants to put a price on students out of opportunity. Across the country, the cost of higher education is increasing, and state allocations are not maintained, forcing schools to increase enrollment and become more aggressive fundraisers.
"I tell people in the university communities that I speak so that enrollment is not free," he says. However, "we should raise more private money and do everything possible to keep costs down."
Milliken points to the University of Texas at El Paso as an example of a new way of thinking about education. From preschool through high school, children, especially those whose parents never attended college, face obstacles that could derail their opportunity to access higher education. Milliken says that UTEP works closely with local community colleges and K-12 school districts to improve the chances of low-income students becoming the first in their families to graduate from college.
The importance of a working relationship with community colleges can not be overstated, he says. As more high school students take community college courses, it is increasingly important that those credits be transferred to four-year institutions. And for those who think that community colleges do not adequately prepare students for a four-year institution, Milliken says it's a fallacy.
"I think it will be very difficult to find evidence in the research that students do not do as well at community college as students who start as full-time freshmen at four-year institutions. the curriculum and the transfer of courses Our faculty is concerned with quality as I think it is in community colleges. "
He says:" If we did not have transfers from community universities to four-year institutions, we would have the ability to provide the same level of education we have today and we certainly will not have the capacity to do so as we continue to grow. "
That says a lot about how education, be it in the neighborhood school or in a high school. The university campus must be approached as part of a whole. Online education should be a more effective option for students who must maintain jobs or can not spend time in transit for courses that do not fit their lives conveniently.
"Where we need to obtain is online education that does not require physical presence, but that is of high quality and cost effective, a moderate cost for students," he said.
School districts also play a role in the emphasis on advanced placement, early college, or dual credit courses to provide high school students with a more secure path to college.
"We know … you're more likely to finish college if you have a college course before you attend, before you graduate from high school," says Milliken.
The goal of Texas lawmakers, he says, should ensure that all of these building blocks are in place, and that the end product is a workforce ready to fill current jobs and create the jobs of the future.
"I think we have a great opportunity that will define Texas success in the future, and investment in public higher education is essential to the future of Texas."
Jim Mitchell is an editorial writer and member of the Dallas Morning News editorial committee.