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Podcast: The Role of Higher Education in Leading Forward and Out of Crisis

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Podcast featuring Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D, J.D.Faculty Director, School of Business and
Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Dean, School of Business

Is a degree still necessary for today’s working professional? In this episode, Dr. Gary Deel talks to Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Dean of the School of Business at American Public University, about what institutions of higher learning can do to ensure their degree programs are successfully preparing students with the skills and knowledge necessary to help businesses adapt to the new economy. Learn about the importance of colleges and universities developing partnerships with organizations in order to keep a pulse on industry changes and to use that information to update curriculum that focuses on upskilling and reskilling.

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Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast, Intellectible. I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today we’re talking about the value of higher education in professional careers.

My guest today is Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Dean of the School of Business in American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Wellesley College, a Master’s Degree in Instructional Systems from Pennsylvania State University and a Doctorate in Business from Capella University.

She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources and organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. She has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker, an influential leader, manifesting people’s skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She’s committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders. Marie, welcome to Intellectible and thank you for being our guest today.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Thank you.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. We had chatted about this topic and with full disclosure, I have an article series in the works that is an adaptation of my dissertation work from UNLV on the value of higher education specific to the hospitality industry.

But today I wanted to chat with you about what value higher education brings more generically in professional careers. Obviously there’s a lot of nuance between different disciplines and fields, but there are competing schools of thought on this in terms of whether higher education is essential and if not essential, is it important or valuable in some ways? And if it is, how so?

You have a lot of experience in the higher education world and both as well as in organizational contexts of human resources and hiring and human capital management. What’s your take on the traditional value of higher education and whether or not that is changing.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Thank you, Gary. I wanted to say that’s a loaded question, but it’s an interesting question, timely for now, given our economic situation, experiencing the pandemic. I would say that higher education is still relevant, but not in the way of the past.

We are like any other industry. We will need to look at ourselves and reinvent ourselves to fit in with what’s going to happen post-pandemic. By that, even before the economic crisis that we’re experiencing right now, there were members of the private sector who questioned whether or not a bachelor’s degree was relevant.

I believe some of these conversations started as a result of some organizations continuing to be frustrated with the quality of graduates. They didn’t feel as though that graduates from higher education institutions had the proper skills to come in to their organizations and be ready to do the work required.

What has made the situation even more relevant is the fact the pandemic has forced a number of companies to rethink their way of business. What will that look like in the future? A part of that discussion is: What type of workforce will they need?

Dr. Gary Deel: When we talk about higher education and, as you mentioned, things have changed across the landscape. We’re recording this podcast in October 2020, we are still very much amidst the global COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, here in the US it seems to have lasted longer and had more pronounced effects in our society for a number of different reasons, but we are by no means out of the woods.

What’s interesting, I think is that higher education as an industry is inversely correlated with the economy. Right now economic times are quite difficult. A lot of people on unemployment and a lot of people struggling to find work and find ways to put food on the table and so on.

Enrollments, generally speaking, across higher education have seen a spike, which is not to be unexpected given what’s happened. Again, given that inverse correlation, but are people looking at, in your view, the approach to higher education during this time differently than they have in the past?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I would say, I think they are. Yesterday I attended a workshop that was sponsored by CNBC Evolve Spotlight, and it was dealing with the middle market.

Some of the things that were said as it relates to human capital was that many of the organizations are looking at this period of time. Some companies are referring to the next two to five years as the interim economy. Basically that’s a period of time that they will refocus on where they want to go, instead of looking to get things back to how things were.

[Podcast: Leading Forward — Adjusting to the New Normal]

And identifying areas that they need to change their business, whether it’s to go into a new line of business, whether they need different equipment in order to survive. Both of those factors will require them to also look at the workforce. One of the terms that I heard was pivot. The workforce has to be able to pivot, and I understand that. That was a concern even before the pandemic.

What that basically refers to is that, when you, and what we have tend to do in higher ed is we have a student who wants to go in a particular field of study. They study that particular field. But if you don’t prepare that student to be able to understand the other factors in the organization, if a change or a crisis such as the pandemic occurs, you have a workforce that can only do one thing.

Organizations have realized, through this crisis, that they need their employees to be able to be flexible and be able to pivot and change direction almost immediately, just how we see technology changes. It used to be every six months, some will say every three months, employees are going to have to be able to shift and change when things affect the market.

What these leaders were talking about was what was needed in terms of up-skilling and re-skilling the workforce. I personally believe that’s where higher ed can be relevant.

If I was the leader of a particular institution, I would want to focus on how do we help these companies, because we’re a part of the problem or we have to come up with a solution as well on meeting the needs of these organizations. I will focus on giving them what they want.

I think what they want is what is the best way and what type of learning and development program would fit in the short-term, which is, I believe the next two-to-five years, how do we assist these companies with retooling their employees, and that’s where up-skilling, and re-skilling comes into play.

I believe as institutions partner with certain corporations, for the short-term, once they get on their feet, then we can start talking about what degrees or what other certificate programs would make sense for those particular organizations.

I think it’s a partnership between higher ed and the other industries to find out what they need instead of telling them what they need. Then coming up with a short-term, as well as long-term plan on what does the new design of learning and development for organization looks like, and for us, what role do we play in that?

Dr. Gary Deel: One of the things that I focused on in my dissertation work that I’m curious to get your thoughts on is the difference between the idea that higher education serves a needed function in terms of imparting, for lack of a better term KSAs. Which the government would define as knowledge, skills and abilities. These things that employees must be able to understand and do and perform, that are essential to their future jobs and their future careers. That’s one school of thought.

The other school of thought is, and there’s more than two this isn’t a dichotomous scenario, but another popular school of thought is the credentialing theory and the idea that higher education may not be, strictly speaking, necessary to doing the jobs that need to be done. These are skills and abilities and knowledge that can be learned on the job.

There are alternatives in that fashion, but the credentials are necessary to get the job because of whatever hiring standards are present with respect to, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree for a certain position. Which seems to be more and more common these days in terms of creeping escalation of hiring standards especially in professional positions.

That’s not as common in operational business and industry roles, as it is in say, fields like law and medicine, where you can’t practice at all without having a degree and a license that go with it. But when you weigh those two, do we see a prevalence of one more than the other in today’s modern career landscape?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: My personal opinion, and I’m going to put on my HR hat and combine that with my time in higher ed, I would be in the middle of those two positions and here’s the reason: Looking at the history, based on my experience as an HR professional, how degrees come into an organization’s system is the classification and compensation structure.

When I was in school, how I was taught and in my first couple HR positions, we used to have specialists. That’s all they did. Look at the market to see what the going rates were for different positions, and you would come up with this family tree, where you would classify each of the positions and come up with salary bands, how much you would pay an individual.

Depending on the position, where did it fall in terms of level. That also not only determined what the salary would be, but what was the required education level? In my opinion, that’s an old model. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it doesn’t because there’s other factors that come into play so you can not go with a cookie cutter program.

Now, I would venture to say, and I have read and talked to certain individuals who subscribe fully with the credentialing perspective, and that is, it was thought that you would need a bachelor’s degree to do certain things, and those individuals are arguing, “No, you do not. You just need credentials to prove that you could do the job.” I understand their position.

In terms of the other side of the house, what would probably get those individuals in trouble is to think that only higher ed can do it. I think that’s what our particular industry has to deal with and come to terms with, is there are so many competitors in terms of new institutions being established as well as members from the private sector, coming into the learning and development phase that can meet the needs, especially that, employers have immediately.

Institutions such as ourself, APUS, I think we would benefit from being able to talk to any of the sectors that we partner with and customize something by asking, “But what does your organization need?” As we poll a number of our partners, we can see if there are some common threads and develop some type of action plan that would not only address the needs of our current partnerships, but some topics that could be a benefit to some future markets that we could explore and enter into.

Dr. Gary Deel: What do we say to, and I’ve encountered this question from students before, and I have my own answer, but I’m curious to hear what your philosophy is on this: What do we hear from, or what do we respond with to students who have a cynical view of what we offer?

The argument usually goes something like this, I mean there’s many different dimensions of this, but a popular one is to say, “Well, look at Steve jobs and look at Elon Musk and look at Bill Gates and look at Mark Zuckerberg, and some of the richest people in the world, arguably by that measure, the most successful people in the world, who have achieved these extraordinary levels of success, not because of a college education, but really in spite of it.” Most of the proceeding names having either some college or completing only an undergraduate or maybe no college at all.

From the standpoint, and I’m happy to admit myself that my perspective may be biased as a professional in higher education, a proponent of higher education, and a perpetual student in higher education. But what is our best argument or counter argument, if you will, from a higher education standpoint, for those who believe that we may not be offering something of value that really adds to their career potential?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I’ve had those questions as well. I think I take a different approach. Instead of defending higher ed. I asked that individual, but what do you want to do? What do you want to do in the short term? What do you want to do in the long term?

Without me saying anything, how do you think you should get from point A to point B? Then I would listen to what they had to say, jot down some notes as to whether or not it makes sense. What’s interesting is, self-disclosed that yes, I am in higher ed and I believe fully in what I’m doing, but at the same time I can pull from my past experience, which is an HR individual.

It gives the student a perspective of what I’m talking about in terms of what type of knowledge they need, but that also I can talk from the standpoint of what would an employer see as acceptable knowledge to do a particular position.

By presenting that information, I get them to listen to me. Then I may share my own history. Getting additional education helps with certification as well as getting promotions. But for someone that’s just entering in, they really do like someone that has some of the experience.

To those individuals, I usually talk about how getting the education will help them to get promoted because it puts them one step ahead of someone who is just doing the work and who may not have opportunities to explore diversity of thought.

By that, I think that’s what higher education provides. It puts individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives into one environment and they have to discuss the same concepts.

What I think they have the opportunity to do, is to hear some someone else’s perspective. And an example is one time I was teaching the human resource course, we were talking about a particular policy, the students were from different backgrounds and lived in different geographic locations.

One of the things that we found out, and has something to do with hiring and advertising, but depending where you are in terms of your geographic location, as well as which industry you’re in, how you would go about the process of advertising the job could be different.

It was interesting to hear that some students thought that the way that their organization did things was the only way. That was the learning moment. Without being, I’m not saying it had to be a classroom setting, but it was an academic institution that brought them together and it challenged them to think outside of the box for themselves, as well as to be open, to hear what other people do.

I don’t think training programs, the pure training programs, provide that opportunity because they just want to teach a skill. I think that’s how a higher ed can convince some organizations that they still are relevant because they can not only address the skill issue, but they can provide an environment that will allow people to explore, exercise, problem solving skills, as well as critical skills.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s interesting. I often tell students asking questions like that, I said, “Well, yeah. It’s not impossible to achieve tremendous success in spite of a college education or the lack of a college education.” I use an analogy if you’re bowling, but your bowling ball is only the size of imagine like a softball, is it possible to get a strike with a ball that small? The answer is yes, but your aim and your impact has to be perfect.

I mean, beyond the scope of just accuracy and just sheer luck and coincidence, you need a tremendous amount of luck on your side to make it big with that kind of tool. Yet, as you increase the size and weight of your ball, as I describe it to my students, getting a strike gets easier and easier to the point that eventually if you can imagine a ball like the size of a beach ball, you could almost close your eyes and kick it down the lane and it’s hard not to get a strike because you’re working with such a superior tool.

That’s what I describe as higher education for my students, both in undergrad and at the graduate level, because I’m a, I’m a big proponent of continuing education, not just in higher ed and not just for degree purposes, but for certifications and whatnot.

I explained to them that as you continue to ascend those ranks and you earn a degree and then a graduate degree, and even a doctorate degree, or what other goals you have, your bowling ball gets bigger and bigger and bigger until your odds of success increase exponentially with time that way.

That seems to be pretty compelling at making the argument that, it’s not to say that it can’t be done in the absence of a formal education, but it’s just much more difficult. You’re rolling the dice with much lower odds in your favor.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: It gets back to the practical comment that I made. That’s a philosophical conversation that you can have, and I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer. But then at the same time, what reality is, although there are people in all sectors talking about whether or not it is needed, I haven’t seen much transformation in an organization’s compensation and classification system. It’s not at the level that these conversations are had.

There are some organizations who have changed, but there are many more that have not. The way that those systems are set up in order to get promotions, it does tie to an education level. Even with me posing the question: “Where are you trying to go?” Unless you are about to start your own business, if you do have to go into some type of company during this period of your life, you may have to deal with an organization’s compensation and classification system. Many of them still highlight the need for education, formal, as a tool to get promoted to the next level. In some cases to even get hired into the company.

Dr. Gary Deel: I think you just raised a good point which is, for those that are self-employed or aspiring to be self-employed and to own your own business, that’s really something that you have to look at in terms of timeframe of how long you intend to do that and if you ever intend to venture into the world of working for somebody else, because I know I have my own consulting firm as a self-owned business, and I think you’ve done that before as well. The challenge that I see for that, for someone who has never had the benefit of experience on one’s resume of working for some other company, and a reputable company at that, is that you really don’t have any credible testimony as to your experience beyond your own work.

I joke about it and I say, if you’re going to use your self-employment as your testament to your work history and your experience and the prospective employer that wants to hire you asks you, “Can I call your boss?” You say, “Yeah, here’s my cell number. I’ll be happy to give myself a wonderful review.”

They know that that’s coming with a healthy dose of bias that isn’t really helpful. Versus if you’re working for a very large well-known credible company, Microsoft, Apple, Chevrolet, whatever it is, then you have name recognition associated with your employer and some third party to vouch for you.

I think that that’s, at least in my view, what students often miss about the higher education experience. I had a student in a law class way back when I was in Las Vegas, who would later become a good friend of mine, but during the course of the class, he came up to me as almost a total stranger, this was before we knew each other and he said, “Everything that you know about the law, I could learn on Google.”

My first reaction was that narcissistic arrogance of, “How dare you?” But I bit my tongue and I thought about it for a moment. My response was, “Actually you’re right.” Because there’s nothing secret about law school or college in general for that matter, you can buy the textbooks and if you have the discipline to self-teach and to self-govern your learning process then have at it.

But the problem is at the end of that process, who will take that experience seriously, because there’s no one to accredit the experience that you’ve had, the learning that has been imparted and the skills that you now have versus when you graduate with a degree or even a certification that university, college, institution, what have you, literally says on your diploma, “We impart all of the liberties, rights and privileges there unto, for the holder of a bachelor’s of arts and in whatever discipline.” They’re literally vouching for your knowledge in that sense. That adds credibility to what you’ve done.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I totally agree. I think one of the factors that we haven’t touched and that involves: Why does this topic seem more relevant now? I’m of the position that it’s a result of our societies disgust with student loan debt.

The fact that some type of entity has allowed our future generations to get to the point that they cannot dream about the future, because they’re heavily in debt. I think that’s where some of the arguments are also common. Why don’t you just self-teach? Why do you have to go to someone who, now on the public sentiment, is not looking totally for the benefit of you, especially if they’re putting you in debt?

I think those institutions who may have built a system that encouraged that, those are going to be the ones that may not be around this time next year. I don’t think the value of higher education is really in question in some circles. I think it’s a matter of: How is higher education being delivered?

Dr. Gary Deel: I’m curious to ask you, because we’re recording this in October of 2020 amidst the pandemic, and my suspicion is that a lot of today’s employers that are being forced into a more remote paradigm due to the social distancing mandates and the need to separate people during the situation may retain some of that on their way back may find that this isn’t such a bad situation to be in, to have employees working from home and working remotely to the extent that they can.

I wonder what your thoughts are in terms of whether higher education’s value in the workplace will change as a result of the advent of technology and the push to remote working environments, where more people are working in a telecommuting environment or working from home.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes. I personally do not believe that everyone’s going back to the office. I know there are a number of people who are hoping they do not have to return to the office and what I’m seeing as the plans that are coming out from some organizations who do plan, they’re not going to have everybody at the same time.

They’re coming up with schedules where, group A may be going on Monday and Wednesday, group B going on Tuesday and Thursday, and those type of arrangements in terms of the day-to-day operations. Before the pandemic there, just like everything else, there were two camps of thought.

Some people believe that remote working could be beneficial, and it was something that an organization was capable of doing. But then you also had individuals who thought that you have to be in the office for social interaction, collaboration on different ideas, but the pandemic allowed some organizations to use their technology.

Some organizations have found that their employees are more productive when they are working from home. I recently wrote a blog on that type of topic, and I just talked about my own experience because I’ve had remote status for the last 15 years working in three different organizations and know that it can be successful.

I think some of the workers who were forced into this type of situations are seeing the value. What I think is also important is that the leaders are seeing how this particular format is valuable. What we call returning back that could be many different things, but a business in the business of online learning.

I think in addition to organizations seeing that working from home is valuable with utilizing the right technology when they get to the learning and development functions, I think they’re naturally going want to explore online learning more so than they have in the past, and look at it as an option, whether it’s for skills training or it is to partner with higher education institution that is skilled in the process so that their employees can continue to pursue degrees.

Dr. Gary Deel: Well, I would definitely agree. Marie, I must confess to you as my supervisor, that when this pandemic is over, I sure hope I don’t have to return to the office. I’m liking this work from home thing.

For those listeners who don’t know, here at American Public University, most of our faculty and staff are remote. We rarely see each other in person, but for maybe once or twice a year at our large-scale faculty meetings. This pandemic for us has been more or less business as usual. It hasn’t changed much about what we do with the exception that, of course, our on ground staff at our campus locations have been for the most part, moved home to work remotely.

So far, I think, speaking from my own perspective, that’s worked pretty well. I think that’s just more evidence of what we were just discussing that a lot of employers will probably see that this is a viable model and something that will likely continue at least in some capacity after the pandemic ends.

As we move into just beyond even the scope of this pandemic, as we all hope that moving forward, we’ll have either the emergence of herd immunity or the development of a vaccine that will inoculate us from this problem altogether and we can get back to some sense of societal normalcy.

We still have the issue that technologization in mass across all industries is completely revolutionizing the workforce and that the workforce of tomorrow into the mid- and later parts of the 21st century, will probably look very different from what it is today. I use the example of transportation workers.

I had a podcast, just about this with Dr. Larry Parker, our Program Director for our Transportation and Logistics program. We were discussing specifically that I think the figure is roughly one in 10 people worldwide are employed in some form of logistics and transportation, whether it’s driving trucks or limos or cabs or boats or planes or trains, there’s so much in that, but we can see already the signs that technology will soon take over most of those jobs in terms of automated vehicles and automated conveyances around the world. No longer having a need for drivers and conductors in these various capacities.

We will have to retool that workforce lest they not have a way to feed their families. That makes me wonder if the higher education industry will have a capacity problem in the future with just meeting the needs of people who have to find more advanced skills for careers that require specific knowledge in computer hardware, in computer software and the kinds of careers that will be more prevalent in the decades to come. Do you see that as a major challenge for us?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I don’t see it as a challenge. I think the reason why I don’t see it as a challenge, in my perfect world, and it ties into what I have shared as what I believe the theme should be for our School of Business is, “Leading Forward.”

One, I do not believe we’re going back to the way of doing business. For a couple of reasons, one, I don’t think it’s healthy to ever go back. You should always strive to move forward because time continuously changes. Even if you put a product into play, it doesn’t always last forever. It will reach a maturity phase and you have to move to the next step.

If you look at that type of cycle and apply it to what we are experiencing now, some would argue it only makes sense is to look at where we are today and come up with the steps that we should take to at least move forward.

As we progress, depending on external factors, things may change again. We can’t develop a plan and saying, “we’re literally going to see ourself at this point in five years.” Because a lot of things can happen. Just think if we made that statement in 2018, it’s two years into the five-year plan and we’re hit with a pandemic. What do you do? You rise to the occasion, which is the sub theme of how we’re trying to even transform our programs is what caught everyone off guard was a crisis management situation that happened quick. No one thought because they had not experienced what to do next.

I believe as higher education institutions, as we’re teaching different subjects, we have to address the “what if.” There has to be more than one option, because we have experienced how you can not depend on a perceived outcome. You have to have different options.

I think once you take that approach, you start to take one day, one week, one year at a time because you never know what’s going to happen. Getting back to the term that was used in the workshop yesterday, when you have to pivot.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s an interesting question to me as we move forward because I think about the different paths that people might take as we approach that. The parts of our future that I think are relatively certain, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of unpredictability right now.

We have the pandemic that we have no end in sight to at least in the immediate term. We’re all hoping for a quick resolution, but we’re now somewhere on the order of eight to 10 months into this depending on where you look at the starting point, for the US at least. It doesn’t seem to be getting better. In fact, I was just watching the morning news and some states are hitting records in terms of new cases, diagnoses and issues. We don’t seem to have flattened the curve the way we had hoped. We don’t have any definite horizon for a vaccine at this moment.

But even beyond that, we look at the forces of technologization and automation that are poised to hit industries everywhere. I think, regardless of whether or not we have these other forces or they ameliorate themselves somehow. I use the example of Disney, for example, I live here in Orlando and I’m literally a mile away from the Magic Kingdom where I live.

The parks are now open at limited capacity, but Disney has gone out of its way even before the pandemic, of course, to reduce its overhead, its labor, because this is the number one cost for any business and particularly for theme parks, heavy on staffing.

Now more than ever, there’s a pressure for them to do more in terms of operations with fewer people. They’re employing to the fullest extent possible, technology and automation available in their parks to make the experience as fulfilling for their guests as possible, without detracting from that, and of course, reducing the head count and the amount of exposure, human contact that’s required.

As I think about that future playing out in all industries, I think there will be some who look to higher education to retool them for skills that they didn’t need before, because maybe they were doing fine as, again, either a truck driver or a restaurant server, or what have you, but we just don’t have those positions the way that we do now.

But the other piece of it is of course, some experts are projecting that the end game for this automation revolution will be unemployment on the order of like 40%, 50%, which means that even if we could retool everybody, there just wouldn’t be enough jobs for everyone.

I wonder if that will dissuade some in the workforce from even looking at higher education as valuable and saying, well, this is a rigged game for me, I might as well just sit back and wait for some form of say, universal basic income or other proposals that have come on the table for that. But I wonder how the higher education role will evolve as these forces play out in the next 10 to 20 years even.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Well, as a leader in higher ed, I personally think we have to be able to look to the future to see what will be needed because that’s what organizations are doing. That’s what the executives are doing. Some of them are already changing what they do.

I’ve seen a number of restaurants as well as manufacturers, they have basically taken what they had and reused their, or relocated their resources to go into different lines of business.

As a higher education institution, we need to track and keep a pulse on that because we have to see where they’re going in order to come up with curriculum that addresses where people are going. Because that’s what they say they want anyway. That’s how they define their retooling and re-skilling, and up-skilling individuals. The up-skilling part is directed towards what they see as their future. The rescaling I believe is to help them in the short term. If they’re coming up with those types of plans, they’re looking at what is needed for that. It’s in our best interest to follow those trends.

Then as we assist them with these new opportunities, and I think that’s where the jobs are going to come from, there may be a lot of people losing their jobs right now, but there are losing certain positions with specific skill sets that are required. They’re no longer needed, so what are they supposed to do? What do the organizations need? What would those positions be called and what type of skillset and education level is needed to do those jobs? It’s almost how we say the new norm. It’ll be the new economy.

It’s going to be a shift. I think the learning lesson, we never had a name for it, and we never used to say pivot, but I think what organizations are looking for are individuals who have the capacity to learn. That regardless of what the situation is, they will be able to shift and transform themselves in terms of adapting the skills that are needed to do whatever particular jobs are needed at the time.

I believe this whole pandemic situation has taught a number of individuals that you can’t rely on the old way of doing business, because it may become obsolete before you’re ready for it to become obsolete. If you want to continue in your business, what will you need to do? I look at the restaurants, especially the ones in my area.

I live in an area where people love to go out to dine. When the pandemic hit, we very easily and very quickly adopted the new norm. The new norm, for my area, was we don’t have to go to the restaurants. That’s when Uber Eats and DoorDash became very popular, whereas it has become an acceptable way of getting your meals.

I have seen so many restaurants who immediately came up, you have three choices: You can have it delivered by one of the services, you can come and pick it up, or you can come to the restaurant and order it and just wait. That may not be ideal for a lot of people, but I saw how many communities adopted and adapted to the new standards of eating and dining out.

Now, even though some of the restaurants are now having guests in-restaurant dining, it’s very limited and they’ve made the social distance acceptable, but you see those as the individuals who are like, I just need to be in the location that’s preparing my food, but the restaurants have created four options for people depending on their preference.

One of the newest options that I’ve seen, one restaurant I know has created a store, an Italian store, it’s an Italian restaurant. Now not only do they prepare the food, but they sell the food for people who may want to prepare the meals at home.

Then I’ve also seen some restaurants who will have their menu reflect what is called a bundle meal. It’s a meal for maybe four to five people. They are preparing meals for households, the whole household, and have priced it to the point that an individual can call and have dinner for a family of five and it’s seen as the norm now.

Dr. Gary Deel: There’s definitely a lot of innovation and improvisation taking place right now to try to make the most of what is obviously a difficult situation for the service industry among many others. Most of my career was spent years ago in hospitality so I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are actively looking for work now and finding ways to make the best lemonade out of these lemons that we’ve been given with the pandemic.

I know we’re out of time and I wanted to try to ask just one more question, if I could, with regard to our overarching topic, which is the value of higher education. I wanted to get your thoughts on where the value lies, because whenever we talk about the value of something, we have to obviously assess input and output. Output for higher education is the end product, the degree or the diploma, the accreditation that affords you opportunities that you might not have otherwise.

But the input, of course, in addition to a student’s time and effort is their tuition. We know it’s no secret that tuition rates in colleges and universities have far exceeded the pace of inflation since three, four decades ago.

It’s much more expensive relative to the average income today for students to earn a degree than it was in say the 1970s. Now speaking for APUS, I know that our rates are competitive, and I think we have affordable programs and products here. Absolutely.

We have the unique circumstance, of course, where a significant portion of our student population are either active duty or veteran military. They have the benefit of the GI bill that helps to ameliorate a lot of the out-of-pocket costs that other students might face.

But I’m curious to hear your thoughts in terms of the future for higher education, in general. Does a major reassessment need to take place of the fees and assessments being offered or being proffered, put forth by the industry, or does the government need to step in, in sort of a Bernie Sanders-style plan to subsidize education for people, to make it accessible on the scale that will be needed in the future?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I have two thoughts. First of all, I believe that higher education will still be around for the sole reason that I don’t think skills training is going to be enough. That’s because most skills training, you do not get the critical thinking and problem solving exposure. That’s the main reason why I think that higher ed will still be around.

However, we’re seeing it in other industries, the consumers are going to shape whether or not some businesses will still be in business. I don’t believe government is going to have to step in because if the situation with tuition doesn’t get under control: Who’s going to want it? That’s another thing that lies in the hands of higher ed. What are you going to do to survive?

Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah, it would seem there’s two options either to self-regulate and allow capitalism to work itself out there where we compete and again, I think APUS is highly competitive in terms of the rates offered. But the other option, of course, is that the government steps in and provide some subsidy to allow people to access the education that used to be historically speaking, more affordable, relative to income than it is today.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I would look and get a pulse on what is occurring in our society to see what are the consumers, potential students, what are they willing to accept and what are they not willing to accept? I think that’s going to be a driving force.

In terms of the regulation, I personally don’t think we will get to that point where we have to force, because those who don’t abide will disappear. But I also think that in addition to having education in terms of gainful employment, I think people look at education as a way to just keep abreast of new knowledge, new ideas.

They see the value of education from an arts perspective, and not only from a science perspective. I still want to hope that people love the idea of learning new things. I think there’s a role for a number of different types of entity, but I think higher ed will always be the leader of the pack. When I say higher ed, I mean, the institutions that are able to reinvent themselves.

Dr. Gary Deel: I think that’s a great point I think another piece that people often forget in the pursuit of their own personal ambitions is that, a functioning society like ours only works if people understand key issues and are educated at a minimal level to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, and I’m going to butcher the quote exactly, but it was something like, “an informed citizenry is essential to a functioning democracy.”

The idea being that if the people aren’t educated enough to understand what they’re voting on and what’s important that society in a democracy doesn’t work. These are all compelling reasons why higher education I think has a vital role to play.

Hopefully we’ll see that serve a more helpful function in the years ahead in addition to what we’ve already done and are continuing to do. I want to thank you, Marie, for sharing your expertise and perspectives with us on these topics. Thanks for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: It was a pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

Dr. Gary Deel: Likewise, and thank you to our listeners for joining us. Be well and stay safe everyone.

About the Speakers:

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

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