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Future Shock

Sitting back in our local air-conditioned movie theater, on a sweltering hot summer day watching Andrew Garfield scale a sky-scraper in 3D, we are reminded of a recent graduate fast-forwarding from the world of for-profit animation education to the emergent career field of game design.

As we prepare for the Games of XXX across the pond, nestled in the Adirondack Mountains is a quiet Olympic engine fueled by the hopes of tomorrow’s great athletes.  Nowhere is this Olympic ethos more evident than the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics amid the lakes and mountains of Northern New York.

Here we are at Sox Spring Training, listening to fans complain about tuition debt, a burden for which the promise of spring baseball brings little comfort. States are rethinking their higher education systems—unifying control of what some see as unwieldy public systems. Restructurings can result in non-duplication of programs, cost avoidance, and profit improvement­.

Here we are at a coffee shop in South Boston, commiserating over the latest higher education buzz. Boston, a place that hosts 50 colleges and universities, is the kind of college town that often drives national higher learning megatrends. The talk here is about President Obama taking aim at at student debt load, gainful employment, and health care.  For Obama, “The question isn’t how we can afford to focus on healthcare. The question is how we can afford not to…because in order to fix our economic crisis and rebuild our middle class, we need to fix our healthcare system, too.”

artist painting

Futurist Richard Florida moved the needle with his book The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books, 2002)—establishing creativity as a 21st century learning and earning skill, and a driving force of economic growth, jobs creation, and cultural enrichment in today’s competitive global society.

When asked to reflect on the role of higher education in preparing future workers, Bill Gates replied: “Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself...At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas but the image is that they all come from the top—I’m afraid that’s not quite right.” Gates reminds us of the importance of practical, real-world, learning by doing for tomorrow’s Smartcollar science and technology workers.

Last November, Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg paid a visit to Harvard for the first time since dropping out of sight in 2004. In his address to students, the social media guru proclaimed that Facebook “is just getting started.” Remarkably, social networking has, in the past five years, forever changed the higher learning landscape. It will profoundly shape the higher ed marketplace in the next decade. Today, it’s estimated that more than 800 million people around the world depend on Facebook.

Steve Jobs once opined, “It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy.” Today, this classic metaphor provides us with a cogent expression of Jobs’ counter-intuitive resistance to the temptation of conformity, and his passionate desire to explore uncharted territory and discover unfound treasures.

For many years, Mississippi ranked near the bottom in higher learning aspiration, academic attainment, and state support—but times have changed. Today, the state's economic and workforce development organizations are teaming up to launch a new collaboration between southern business, industry, and the Mississippi public system of higher education—a dynamic plan aptly named Blueprint Mississippi 2011. And who better to serve as Blueprint's Chair and chief spokesperson than Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education.