During a radio appearance Saturday, CU Regent Heidi Ganahl opposed Joe Biden’s proposal to expand access to higher education for millions of Americans by offering tuition-free community college.
While Ganahl expressed support for junior and community colleges, and vocational training programs — many of which are publicly funded at the state level — she suggested that private industry should have more influence in designing and delivering educational programs to create “the workforce of the future.”
Dismissing Biden’s idea, announced by Biden during his state of the union address last week, Ganahl on KNUS’ Jimmy Sengenberger Show said, “I just don’t think they’ve thought it through,” but the ideas she favored in her interview are subject to that same criticism.
She summarized her opposition to Biden’s plan, saying:
“So, you know, I don’t think that any of the solutions I’m seeing on the table right now from our current government or leadership are the right ones from my perspective as a regent at CU. I think it’s more important to work with industry, partner with them to create the workforce of the future and figure out exactly what students need to get great jobs when they graduate and to make a good salary and make a good living and do something that they’re passionate about. […] So I think we’re leaving a lot on the table if we just focus on providing more money from the government to fund degrees that are not tied to what our workforce needs and what our kids need to get great jobs.” [Listen below.]
Ganahl cited three of America’s largest and wealthiest corporations –Google, Apple, and Amazon — as successfully implementing in-house training and employee development.
She suggested that public institutions of higher educations should “partner” with businesses such as these three and local companies to figure out how students can gain the skills needed for “great jobs,” in fields they’re passionate about.
Ganahl’s leading criticism of Biden’s idea for expanding access to higher education was centered around the affordability of the plan, focusing on the presumed debt it could incur instead of the investment in economic engines and increased economic stimulus from an expanded skilled workforce.
She did not elaborate on how partnerships with private industry would be funded, nor on the structure of those agreements, how the financial responsibilities and benefits would be shared between public entities and partners of varying wealth, size, mission, and corporate organization.
Another criticism from Ganahl, whose term on CU’s governing board ends next year, rested on how to “differentiate” between students if all would have access to higher education. She seemed to ignore the breadth of vocational tracks, programming and curriculum, and certification programs offered by these institutions generally:
“So, I think we’ve got to really figure out how to navigate education or reimagine school first. And then I think it’s basically just going to extend the idea of a high school diploma, right? Because if everybody has two years, in addition to the high school, the 12 years that we traditionally do, then I don’t think that’s going to differentiate people if they do go get an additional community college education.”
And while Ganahl, a Republican, says she supports people working in fields they’re passionate about, she seems to purport that a person’s passion should be based on employment prospects and corporate viability, before accounting for academic interest and personal pursuits of enrichment.
Ganahl, who’s seen as possibly gearing up for a run for statewide office in Colorado, points to innovations in higher education that were spawned from COVID public-health restrictions placed on educational institutions as prologues to our education future. Specifically, she mentions online learning, virtual training, and “digital badging” — all of which have dubious cost-benefit outcomes when implemented widely and by mandate.
Expanding internship and apprenticeship programs, which Ganahl also attributes to partner relationships between higher ed and industry, have an established history in post-secondary training and education, with demonstrated success in securing employment for participants but disputed success in terms of payoffs to the businesses from these investments.
While Ganahl favors reopening economies and letting people return to normal lives, that consideration does not seem to extend to students pursuing higher education. She wants to “trust the consumer,” yet opposes expanding educational opportunities and access to those same consumers.