Industry Connections, STEM Skill Development Opportunities Likely to Attract Prospective Students

GW President Thomas LeBlanc said students and parents want colleges to prepare them for the job market.

DePauw University President Mark McCoy, Thomas LeBlanc and New England College President Michelle Perkins at the NAICU panel.
DePauw University President Mark McCoy, GW President Thomas LeBlanc and New England College President Michelle Perkins at the NAICU panel. (William Atkins/GW Today)
February 10, 2020

By Ruth Steinhardt

George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc pointed to strong industry partnerships and opportunities for acquiring digital competency as key to attracting prospective college students during a panel at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) Monday afternoon.

“I’m very conscious that parents send their children to us to live a life worth living, but also to make a living,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

The panel, “Attracting New Prospective Students: Aligning Workforce and Education,” was moderated by New England College President Michelle Perkins and also included DePauw University President Mark McCoy.

Dr. LeBlanc said GW’s participation in the Greater Washington Partnership’s Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business (Capital CoLab) exemplifies the school’s commitment to preparing students for the job market in ways that align with their academic goals.

“The skills that are needed in the new economy are moving so quickly that companies have a better feel for them than many of the universities do,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

The CoLab’s generalist and specialist tech certificates for undergraduates integrate employer-demanded digital tech skills into the higher education curriculum, Dr. LeBlanc said. Paid internships will be available to students who complete the certificates, meaning that students unable to sustain a summer of unpaid labor can also have the access an internship provides.

“The CoLab is solving one of the biggest problems we have, which is that too many of our students are being asked to get work experience through unpaid internships, and only wealthy students can afford to do that,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

A similar approach to the CoLab certificates is emerging in GW’s School of Business, where the traditional MBA is gradually being replaced with what Dr. LeBlanc called “stackable certificates” that professionals can earn while working. The 24 certificates may be combined into an MBA or any of 12 other master’s degrees.

Dr. LeBlanc said GW also has integrated into its curriculum and advising frameworks the “career readiness” competencies developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). These include critical thinking, collaboration, digital technology and intercultural fluency.

He pointed to the changing industrial landscape of the Washington, D.C., area as shaping GW’s increased focus on making STEM accessible to students across every field of study.

“When I look at the history of our university, we’ve got extraordinary strength in political science, international relations, public policy and law—fields that naturally benefit from being in D.C.,” he said. “But D.C. is no longer that town that we grew those strengths around. With the formal recognition by Amazon, we became a tech town.”

Amazon’s second headquarters will be located in Arlington, Va., two Metro stops from GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus.

“We’re trying to build a curriculum at GW that will dramatically expand options for our students to become better versed in digital technology,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

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