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Shields: Always be a Beta: Adapt to changing environment 
Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Jan. 18, 2015
By Chancellor Dennis J. Shields

"If we make money the object of (educational training) we shall develop money makers but not necessarily men (and women) ...intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and the relation of men [and women] to it -- ...this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life."

-- W.E.B. Du Bois

Today's college graduates will likely change jobs more than seven times in the 15 years immediately following graduation. Some of the jobs that they will eventually have do not even exist today. To be successful in the modern economic environment requires the ability to adapt. Graduates today must constantly acquire new knowledge, retool their skills and apply them to different circumstances.

This means our colleges and universities must prepare students not just by teaching them a specific skill or body of knowledge, but by training them to think critically, be analytical, self-motivated and self-disciplined. Our graduates need to know how to teach themselves.

"Always be a Beta," Paul Krugman advises. A century apart, Du Bois and Krugman both make the point that we live in a rapidly changing global environment that requires us to adapt to change if we are to succeed. Like modern corporations, we need to have a new version in the wings, a "beta," if you will, like the next iPhone or version of the Windows operating system.

UW-Platteville and the other area colleges and universities also have to adapt. In today's changing funding landscape and in the face of increased demands from an array of stakeholders -- i.e., students, parents, business and industry, and elected officials -- we have had to adapt to diminishing state funding while keeping education affordable. We have had to reduce administrative costs, develop and implement innovative teaching and learning methods and find new ways to support our educational mission. By taking this action, we are able to successfully deliver both the pragmatic technical skills and the critical and analytical thinking abilities that enable graduates to adapt to the rapidly changing demands on their time and energy.

How do schools do this? By combining our tradition of strong classroom teaching with new technologies, by engaging our students in high-impact practices that build on the knowledge they garner in classroom settings. High-impact practices include: undergraduate research, study abroad, courses that teach entrepreneurial skills, living and learning communities, capstone courses and papers, flipped classrooms, collaborative learning experiences, co-ops and internship experiences.

Local colleges and universities need elected officials, parents, business and industry, and students to adapt, too. To adapt to the idea that colleges and universities do provide high-quality preparation for future leaders, and to adapt to the idea that local colleges and universities need political and public support. To deliver the talented and engaged graduates you have come to expect from us, we need the public to understand the importance and work of higher education in today's economy and to make a commitment to higher education.

Vocal and fiscal support helps colleges and universities to obtain needed resources and equipment, hire good faculty and maintain institutional infrastructure, all of which are critical to the achievement of our educational missions.

Graduates of local universities like UW-Platteville will be affected not just by what happens down the street but also by what happens on the other side of the world. Key to maintaining strong local communities is adjusting to the challenges associated with delivering liberal education so that we can "always be a beta" and succeed at adapting to the changing global environment.

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