2 min read March 2022 — Institutions of higher education are facilitators in the process of developing well-rounded individuals who can enter the talent pipeline with relevant skills that bolster the local business community and economy. Vice Provost Charles Iacovou of Wake Forest University’s Charlotte Programs and Dean for the School of Professional Studies spoke with Invest: and discussed how the university promotes and encourages an inclusive and impactful environment for life-long learning.
What were the major highlights and takeaways from the past year?
We managed to mitigate the challenges of the pandemic extremely well, delivering a full educational experience to our students. We had a record number of applications across our programs in this past year. We also established Wake Forest’s newest school, the School of Professional Studies in Charlotte (SPS). SPS offers degrees and certificates that specifically address the talent needs and skill gaps of our local professional community. We have launched programs in digital marketing and project management, and soon will be launching programs in healthcare and fintech. Our program roadmap is based on thorough assessments of what Charlotte-based organizations will need in the future. Finally, in collaboration with Atrium Health civic leaders, and other partners, we made significant progress toward establishing an innovation district that will bring together several different organizations to accelerate healthcare innovation and support the needs of the whole community.
How are you balancing excellence with affordability?
To achieve academic excellence, a university must invest a significant level of resources to offer cutting-edge education with effective student support. At SPS, our goal is to provide a professional development experience that marries academic excellence with current industry experience. At the same time, we work to make our school and the programs we provide accessible to underserved populations. We do this with an established set of scholarship funds to assist people who need financial support. We’re also pricing our new programs and certificates at more affordable levels. We want to provide a high-quality education to a range of students, not only those who are affluent. We are also building our programs in modular ways so that the students can take what they need without having to pay for longer programs. For example, ’s degree at any time if they choose, or just get the knowledge they need through a certificate today, and apply it at their work immediately. In our view, excellence and inclusion go together and richer, more accessible classrooms make for a better education.
What mechanisms have been established to update and upgrade the curriculum?
We always look to the current and future talent needs of the community as we shape our programs. That is an important aspiration as we seek to provide our students with a relevant and well-rounded education. We have an advisory board for each of our programs; the boards comprise a number of professionals within different industries who review our programs on an ongoing basis. And our new program design teams are made up of both expert faculty and thought leaders from industry. This level of stewardship from the professional community helps create the best and most relevant programs for our students. Also, we have a thriving research enterprise at Wake Forest University and that provides constant inspiration for innovation in our programs. Finally, we employ a mix of faculty from academia and current industry practitioners so that our students have the most well-rounded experience in their coursework.
What is the role of higher education in mitigating the labor shortage?
Higher education is a valuable platform that allows students to transition into the workforce and accelerate their careers as shifts take place. There are challenges in the talent marketplace today, especially as it relates to having a sufficient number of professionals with skills that are relevant to the future. We are helping address that gap by providing market-focused programs that develop the needed skills. The mission of the School of Professional Services is to address these challenges that businesses face by keeping our curriculum innovative, our tuition affordable and our programs accessible. We also directly work with companies to create customized talent development programs that build upon the values of their company and its business needs. We have great faculty and deep partnerships within companies to guide these efforts.
What professional skills are in high demand in Charlotte?
Charlotte has a diverse economy made up of many sectors and professions, which makes it difficult to identify a few common skills that are needed across the whole community. If I was to select just two, I would choose technology acumen and leadership capabilities. Both skill sets will remain relevant toward the future. Because of that, we embed educational experiences in our programs that make our students avid users of emerging technologies while also developing their leadership skills. It’s difficult to have an effective organization without a thriving talent base who can leverage technology and can communicate, negotiate, and lead others effectively. We’re able to leverage our resources and strengths across Wake Forest University to create a powerful educational experience that enhances these important skills.
How do you envision the future of education?
Education will continue to evolve for many reasons including technological, demographic, social and other shifts. At Wake Forest, we’ll continue to work toward offering the best residential experience to undergraduate and other younger students who can benefit from holistic and immersive experiences. Simultaneously, we’ll refine how we support our adult learners as they work through their careers and find ways to enrich their lives in flexible ways. We’ll be working with corporations and other educational institutions to innovate our programs, responding to the evolving needs of our partners and our communities.
We will also provide more flexible, shorter offerings. There are several new opportunities available to learners to help them develop their professional trajectory, with certifications being one such example. Certifications tend to be shorter in duration while remaining immensely impactful in the knowledge students gain. They are inexpensive in comparison to a degree, so we consider certifications an important element of our portfolio.
What is your near-term outlook and what are your priorities?
I’m excited for what lies ahead for Charlotte, our university, and higher education. I believe our community will continue to thrive and contribute to the economic development of the region. I anticipate that new innovative programs will be added to our portfolio while also maintaining our current high-quality and relevant programs. We’ll continue building upon our relationships with the community. The quality of education we deliver, along with the impact of our research, will remain at high levels moving forward. Our aim is to help develop a more inclusive and effective economy for the community through relevant programs and impactful research.
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