by Pamela Pritt
Dr. Nigel Clark, West Virginia University’s Provost at WVU Tech and the new WVU Beckley, spoke to the Beckley Rotary Club Tuesday, offering his “30,000 foot view” of education today.
Clark said education’s costs, which are “rising substantially and rapidly,” are higher than the national inflation rate. But, he said, those costs are based on expectations of higher graduation and retention rates, which mean more personal attention for students, hiring the best faculty to be nationally competitive, the need for safety and the need for facilities.
The high cost of education makes the Promise Scholarship and other aid very valuable to students, although the cost is beginning to push the Promise ceiling.
“Any kind of federal aid, any kind of philanthropy that leads to scholarships is truly valuable for those in need of aid,” he said.
Clark said the idea that a college education is all that is needed for success is outdated; a degree no longer equals employment.
“It is very nearly a necessity to have a college degree, so it’s necessary, but not sufficient,” he said. “And students really need to arm themselves to have a degree that is relevant, not merely a degree.”
Students need a skill set that will stand them in good stead over the course of a career that is likely to change many times.
“Very few people will end their careers, if they are students today, doing what they were precisely trained to do,” Clark said.
Higher education should be about training students to be able to train themselves for the future, he said.
While the traditional degree of 40 years ago was focused, today’s degrees must encompass more than the discipline and should teach students to think of all possibilities from repercussions to legal issues, Clark said.
Above all, each student should develop communications skills, he said.
“I think communication is a key part of any degree in any discipline,” he said.
On top of communication, the ability to analyze and problem solve are also in-demand skills, he continued.
Clark said most U.S. universities have a general education program and there is something new emerging in LEAP skills.
“Liberal Education and America’s Promise speaks exactly about introducing skills in conjunction with a liberal education,” he said. LEAP “is intended to build a new understanding of the aims of a contemporary liberal education and new capacity within the academy to help all students achieve these aims,” according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
But, he said, students must first have access to higher education, and WVU’s Beckley campus will grant that access to students from southern West Virginia.
Clark said he believes the campus here will also be attractive to out-of-state and international students.
“I believe it is essential that we have a campus where students from different walks of life meet one another,” Clark said. “I think that’s part of the innovation.”
Clark is the George Berry Chair of Engineering at WVU and conducts research within the WVU Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emission. He has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and is tenured in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. As associate vice president in the Provost’s Office, Clark leads WVU’s strategic planning effort for 2020, according to his biographical information.
Classes should begin on the WVU Beckley campus in Fall 2016. The state’s flagship university purchased the former Mountain State University campus this year. MSU lost its accreditation several years ago.