Are We Preparing Our Students for the Right Future?

Are We Preparing Our Students for the Right Future?

I recently returned from a trip to Vancouver where I attended the 51st International SCUP Conference. I miss Vancouver… I also miss hanging out with fellow “education enthusiasts” – the people who view education as more than a job, but rather a life-long passion.

While “Integrated Planning” was one of the major themes at the conference, there was another underlying theme emerging, which poses a quandary for many: the “inertia” of our current education model, and the difficulty it creates for education planners who want to move innovative academic planning forward.  This also happens to be the third overarching topic in education design that we filtered out of the recent LSC Round Table series, which I’ve been unraveling in my latest series of blog posts.

Our SCUP presentation “MIC – The Country’s Most Accelerated Degree Program” – examining the case study of the Missouri Innovation Campus – was very well-received. MIC, designed by Gould Evans in collaboration with DLR Group (Architect of Record), offers the most accelerated degree program in the country, and has partnership agreements with 35 businesses in the Kansas City region, all of whom offer three-year internships for students once they’ve completed their junior year of high school. It draws students from over 25 schools and is continually evolving its program offerings based on industry demands. This innovative program sets new benchmarks for partnering.

View the full presentation on MIC below.

Among those who commented on the presentation, MIC’s ability to listen to the needs of its business partners seemed most refreshing, especially when you consider the following statistics:

  • Only 11% of employers – compared to the 96% of academic provosts – believe colleges are effective in preparing graduates for the workplace (1)
  • Engagement in school plummets as students get to higher grade levels – from 80% in elementary school, to just 40% by the beginning of high school (2)
  • 65% of today’s grade school students will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet (3)
  • 53% of recent college graduates are under – or unemployed (4)
  • 72% of today’s high school students want to start their own business (5)
  • 40 million students (current and former) hold federally secured student loans – one in seven of these students will default within two years of graduation (6)
MIC's open, flex-use learning studios foster interactions between faculty and students and support 21st century learning principles.

At MIC, open, flexible-use learning studios foster interactions between faculty and students and provide a palette of spaces to support 21st century learning (image credit: Gould Evans).

Now, back to the LSC Roundtable Series. The central goal of all LSC Round Tables is to arrive at new questions to address in the effective and innovative planning of future learning spaces. So, what questions emerged relating to this topic of workplace readiness and the alignment of higher education outcomes with the needs of businesses? Following are a few highlights:

  • How does research on learning—as social, contextual, real-world experience—inform the design of spaces in which students prepare for life and work beyond the campus?
  • How can we ensure students have an appropriate palette of spaces to support the iterative process of Design Thinking, including individual creativity, contemplation, collaboration, prototyping, testing, and presentation?
  • Are we leaning too far toward with “all things collaboration”, when research reveals that collaboration is only a part of the innovation process? Researcher Gerhard Fischer argues for a model integrating individual and social creativity.
  • How do expectations of students’ abilities upon graduation (as articulated by national associations such as AAC&U & BHEF) influence how we think about the experience of learning?
  • In our planning, how do we capitalize on the unique potential of new kinds of collaborations across the educational pipeline (middle school through baccalaureate), and with the community and regional stakeholders?
  • How do we create an environment that fosters entrepreneurial thinking, akin to the start-ups of Silicon Valley? How can the facility communicate that it’s OK to spill paint on the floor and cut a hole in the wall? Do we make new academic buildings too precious?
  • How do we shift teaching paradigms and train faculty to effectively teach in these new environments?

So how can design begin to address some of these big questions? Well, the MIC project is a perfect example, as it is an incubator for such strategies and driven by visionary leaders including Stan Elliott, Director of the Missouri Innovation Campus; Elaine Metcalf, Director of Summit Technology Academy; and Dr. Charles Ambrose, President of University of Central Missouri.  The layout of the new facility is derived from a hybrid of contemporary workplace and learning models.

The design process for the Missouri Innovation Campus started from the end-goal; the contemporary workplace.

The design process for the Missouri Innovation Campus started from the end-goal; the contemporary workplace, which was used as an informant to guide the planning of innovative learning space intended to help teach workplace readiness skills (image credit: Gould Evans).

Our goal was to replicate the active workplace environment that the students would experience in their internships, reinforcing the competency-based educational program. The idea throughout the facility is that learning can happen anywhere, and students can work however and wherever they’re most productive, with limited time tied to a bell schedule.

The Missouri Innovation Campus is designed to emulate the workplace, offering students real-world experience.

The Missouri Innovation Campus is designed to emulate the workplace, offering students real-world experience (image credit: Gould Evans).

We developed a taxonomy of space types, from individual work zones, to small group team rooms, to dedicated labs and maker studios. The flexible learning spaces flatten the hierarchy between faculty and students, allowing the faculty to assume the role of coach and work shoulder to shoulder with students throughout the room.

“Many grads have only experienced a replica of real-life, without the organic back and forth with professionals that ensures relevancy.” 

– Laura Evans, Director of Talent Development, Cerner Corporation

“Extreme flipped classrooms” allow self-directed students to work on projects alone or in teams, multiple flex-hybrid spaces support a range of work modes and learning modes. In addition, each department is provided with its own “Ideation Commons” to foster entrepreneurial exchange of ideas.

A maker ethos defines the culture of the MIC. It’s conceived as an incubator for entrepreneurs, and nothing is deemed precious, which is difficult when designing a new building that will be a national showcase. The design strives to be as “real” as possible – a resultant “low-res” aesthetic helps the facility feel more student-owned, which is an important ingredient for students’ ability to take risks and experiment with new ideas.  Faculty work space is clustered and integrated with learning space, making the teaching culture extremely collaborative, and opportunities are created for students to present to authentic audiences. For example, the lobby hosts a pitch space where students can share their ideas with fellow students, business partners, and the faculty community.

The lobby provides a place where students are encouraged to come together, collaborate and share ideas.

The lobby provides a place where students are encouraged to come together, collaborate and share ideas (image credit: Gould Evans).

Overall, there are terrific opportunities to set up learning environments that reinforce entrepreneurial mindsets and better prepare students for the workforce. These environments come with new pedagogical approaches as well, so a design process for change management is an important counterpart to designing new and innovative facilities.  If our education model isn’t able to address the needs of today’s progressive businesses, then we’ve failed our own future.

Where are you seeing successes in developing career readiness skills in our next generation of workers? Let us know! We welcome the opportunity to expand the dialogue.

(1) Inside Higher Ed 2014 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers (

(2) The 2013 Gallup Student Poll (

(3) U.S. Department of Labor report titled “Future Work Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century,” 1999

(4) Based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Department of Labor, published in The Atlantic, April 23, 2012

(5) Elmore, Tim. 2015. “Six Defining Characteristics of Generation Z.” Growing Leaders. September 3. Accessed February 16, 2016.

(6) McCrindle, Mark. n.d. “Generation Z Characteristics.” Generation Z. Accessed February 16, 2016.