Spotlight On: Patricia Okker, President, New College of Florida

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What recent, significant transformations have you witnessed within the education sector?

Higher education is undergoing exciting changes. Some of the most significant transformations include widespread use of technology (within and outside the classroom), new areas of study that lead to careers that didn’t even exist five years ago, a more diverse student population, and dramatically different understandings of career education and the role of universities in meeting workforce needs.

What is the role of higher education in mitigating the labor shortage phenomenon?

As employers, higher education is experiencing the labor shortage, but we are also part of the solution. One specific intervention that we are excited about here at New College is providing customized services for our top employers. Rather than focusing on a career fair (which makes it difficult for students and employers to build strong relations), New College of Florida collaborates with employers to develop a strategy that is specific to their needs. We connect employers with students/prospective employees much earlier in the process so that students have meaningful job experiences while they are still in school (often through internships). At the same time employers can develop meaningful relationships with the talent they want to recruit. 

Higher education is also part of the solution by ensuring that our graduates have the higher-level skills that employers are desperate for, including complex problem-solving, creativity, even resilience and leadership skills. One reason these higher-level skills are so critical is that the most important skill is the ability to learn new skills. As the rate of change accelerates within industries, employees must continually be able to adapt and learn new skills.

What is the future of higher education?

The future of higher education will increasingly rely on stronger partnerships with the communities we serve. Thankfully, gone are the days when a college or university was seen as separate from our communities. These partnerships are a source of tremendous strength, as we share different expertise and work together to solve big challenges. The future of higher education must also include more diverse leadership. I am the first woman to serve as president of New College, which was founded in 1960. All colleges and universities must work together to ensure leadership pathways for people of all backgrounds and experiences. 

What are the unique characteristics of New College?

New College is in the top five nationally among public colleges of the liberal arts and sciences, and we are proud to be the designated honors college within Florida’s State University System, which is the top-ranked university system in the nation. New College of Florida has an innovative and effective curriculum that allows students to pursue their intellectual passions and to develop their full potential. With seminar-style classes, tutorials, internships, and independent studies, New College students focus on learning how to learn, and we have a nationally recognized approach to career education. Before they even arrive on campus as first-year students, they are paired with a career coach, and faculty in all disciplines integrate career exploration into the curriculum. Our focus is on students preparing for their future, whether that means a career in industry or nonprofit work, attending graduate school, or launching a new business. 

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