Lifelong learning is essential for today's workers
Archived article from Nov 12, 1999
By Douglas Frank
Strong employment growth in science-based and high-technology sectors combined with the rapid pace of technological change have created a broad-based need for lifelong learning, President Francis L. Lawrence said Nov. 10, speaking to a special session of the annual meeting of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) in San Francisco.
"A versatile and capable workforce that has the skills necessary to perform competitively in an information-based world will have needs very different from that of the 1980s," Lawrence said. "Employment will depend on recertification over the worker's entire career, a career that will devel-op differently and last longer than in the past."
Lawrence reminded the group that the recently released report "The Learning Society" urged land-grant presidents to answer a call to serve the nation in a new, expanded mission.
That report was compiled by a subcommittee of the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities that was chaired by Lawrence. It was issued in September as an open letter to the chief executives of the nation's state and land-grant universities.
"The original Morrill Act called upon land-grant institutions to democratize education, apply research and make public service a guiding principle of our mission," Lawrence told the NASULGC forum. "Today we are asked to broaden our mandate for equal access and opportunity, to equip learners to keep pace with continuous change, to diversify and intensify our research agenda and to be at the leading edge of the communications revolution."
Lawrence cited a recent national study by Rutgers' Eagleton Institute and another survey by the Education Commission of the States, both of which revealed a strong consensus among decision makers on the importance of lifelong learning and on the means to meet the greatly expanded need for education.
Universities themselves need to encourage new ways of teaching and learning, the president said. "Distance education supported by Internet communication may become one of the most important means for bringing about a learning society, but we need further research on the effects of this new medium for learning and mentoring," he added.
Lawrence pointed to several examples of learning initiatives at Rutgers, including:
n Cooperating with Brookdale Community College to bring courses and degree programs to Monmouth County, an underserved region of New Jersey;
n Helping develop programs for nearly 50,000 3- and 4-year-olds in 22 school districts ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court to provide preschool education in the fall of 1999;
n Offering online courses to community-college students in a dynamic, collaborative learning environment that develops the students' team skills and improves their transfer to Rutgers;
n Incorporating Internet and related technologies into 17 courses offered to 8,200 undergraduates by five academic departments on the New Brunswick campus.
"With the necessary public support and the rich technological means now possible, we have an historic opportunity to bring an enriched lifetime of learning to those we serve," Lawrence concluded. "We cannot accomplish it without public support, but with it, we can offer every American the opportunity to succeed in a new, more prosperous and more satisfying life in the learning society."
Earlier this fall, Lawrence touched on related themes during an Oct. 6 address in Manitoba before the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, when he discussed Rutgers' strategic plan and its call for increased public service by members of the higher-education community.
Citing a long list of service activities within each of the university's strategic-planning growth areas, he concluded: "Our commitment to productive engagement in response to societal needs is an essential element of Rutgers' mission. It is being actively enhanced by our work to advance our strategic-planning goals. From our successes and failures, we draw inspiration for our future work, as we strive to serve the public good."