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Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Expert urges
innovation in
higher education

Isle educators must 'find
a way around 40 years of barnacles
on the bureaucratic ship'

By Susan Kreifels


The higher-education expert spoke about the urgent need to change a culture afraid of change.

To buck the bureaucracy.

To provide qualified workers and create jobs by developing competency-based education in consultation with business.

And he said it had to start happening in three or four years, or Hawaii would miss the boat.

"You need to find a way around 40 years of collective barnacles on the bureaucratic ship," Dennis Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, told an estimated 800 faculty and administrators with the University of Hawaii community colleges last week at Leeward Community College.

"What is in your way, and what will it take to blow it up? Nothing else will matter if you can't make the process work."

The tough words appeared to strike a chord among the Hawaii educators, with groups of them gathering around Jones to share their frustrations with bureaucratic bogs and an environment among colleagues and students that stifled innovation.

Community Colleges Chancellor Joyce Tsunoda was fired up. "It may be considered civil disobedience, something totally out of established behavior. But if it's consequential enough, we may want to try it," Tsunoda said about the need to innovate.

"We're team players, but if you can't get bureaucratic changes, you get around it or do it in spite."

Payback: Jobs, faculty, equipment

Susan Moore, a math teacher at Kapiolani Community College, has tried different teaching techniques despite discouragement from colleagues. "Innovate and die," Moore said. "You have to innovate. But if there is great personal risk, people don't want do it."

John Morton, Kapiolani provost, said the challenge was "not about discipline or math. It's creating an environment where you can fail, then go back to the well. You work till you get success or feedback that says change."

Jones has delivered his wake-up message in Hawaii before, and is familiar with a local history that he says has stifled the change and risk-taking that the state needs to pull ahead -- a mantra among many in the business and education communities seeking to diversify and grow Hawaii's economy.

"There is a very long tradition of creating an environment that you do not make mistakes. You're perfectly able to spend $1 million if you don't make a $500 mistake."

He also said education must become more competency- and certification-based to fill the needs of employers. Most important, businesses must be involved in helping define the needed skills as well as assessing them.

The payback will not be funding -- business already pays corporate taxes -- but instead, in-kind contributions: jobs, internships, faculty and equipment. Jones also said he had spoken with Silicon Valley retirees on the Big Island who would link up with local entrepreneurs.

'This is a cultural change'

"The name of the game is create the jobs for the people you educate. Get them through the system. Create your own entrepreneurial system. Find risk-takers and then help them be successful."

Michael Rota, vice chancellor for academic affairs, said major companies such as AT&T and United Airlines want to open call centers here but fall far short of finding enough applicants who pass their competency requirements. American Hawaii Cruises also needs 3,000 trained workers to fill two new ships.

The companies need short-term training that community colleges can provide. For example, companies hoping to open call centers are working with Honolulu Community College to develop a short certification program.

While Jones complimented the community colleges as the most flexible within the UH system and said UH does well in research and access to post-secondary education, fewer students are finishing their education compared to the Western states, excluding California.

He warned that Hawaii cannot wait to make changes. "This is not a technical solution; this is a cultural change. It's slow and very different. Start now. Get a program up in three days, not three semesters."

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