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Interview: Dr. Bradford L. Sims, President

Dr. Bradford L. Sims became the eighth president of Capitol Technology University on June 1, 2017. His extensive academic career has included executive, administrative and faculty positions at several institutions; most recently, he was at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he served as chief academic officer and interim chancellor. Dr. Sims also brings with him a background in industry, having started his professional life as a construction project manager before transitioning to academia.

In the following interview, Dr. Sims outlines his priorities as Capitol’s president and discusses some of the long term trends that are reshaping higher education.

 What have you found most rewarding about the higher education arena?

I value being able to be around and develop programs that I feel will provide good careers for students, whether they’re undergraduates or adult learners, including active and retired military. I want somebody to take an educational program, whether it’s for credit or not credit, and be able to utilize that to build a good career, one that enables them to take care of themselves and their families.

That to me is the most rewarding aspect of higher education: that you can build an opportunity for somebody who may not otherwise had such an opportunity.

What appealed to you about Capitol?

It’s a technical university, and I come from a technical background. It offers career-driven programming that helps students and meets the needs of industry, which drives the economy. Capitol is in a market area between DC and Baltimore that has lots of industries and opportunities to work closely with them, whereas if you’re in a remote location it’s much more difficult to build that kind of relationship. The university also has tremendous potential for growth; I’m excited about what we can do here.

What are your key priorities as president?

Increasing enrollment, branding us so we have higher visibility in the marketplace, and adding new programs that are what industry needs and that will help us grow in enrollment. We’re committed to growth. At the same time, we want to take the money that we gain from growth and reinvest it in the university, improve the labs, and further cultivate our connections with industry, so that industry keeps coming back. We want to maintain high placement rates for our graduates; I think that’s a key component of our success.

What long-term trends have you observed in higher education, and how can Capitol best position itself with regard to these trends?

One of the most significant programming trends that I’ve seen is the renewed focus on engineering and technology programs. After 2008, when the market declined and it became harder to get jobs, career anxieties seemed to push engineering and technology into a brighter spotlight of importance. Students began to take a closer look at the value of a college degree, and at the return on investment.

A second important trend is the boom in online education. This has been a major area of growth since the early 2000s. It’s really exploded, and there’s tremendous potential for further development. Here at Capitol, we have an opportunity to transform online education into a fully virtual type of environment, thus making our programs accessible to more and more students, while also keeping the quality of their educational experience high.

Higher education in general is going through a transitional era. All the projections show that undergraduate enrollment, the traditional mainstay of colleges and universities, has flattened out. In the future, growth will be the adult learner market, particularly among those who do not have degrees currently. Universities have to find effective ways of reaching that market if they want to remain viable. In addition, we have to be responsive to the needs of industry.

What are those needs?

Whenever I talk with industry, one thing that comes up is the gap between a high school education and the requirements of an entry level job. There are lots of jobs in manufacturing, for instance. But because manufacturing now involves technology to a greater degree than ever before, you need to have technical skills to be fully functional when you start the job. Factories are computer-driven. Entry level management positions require a base knowledge of automation and controls technology with a very elaborate computerized system. Students graduating from high school often don’t have the needed technical skills, and that’s one area where higher education can play a role.

The second most important need in industry is soft skills.  Employers put great value on students being proficient in writing and communication skills and collaborating in a team environment.  Employers want students to be comfortable standing up in front of a live audience explaining their product, company or giving a sales presentation while also understanding how to write effectively in an email, memo or letter.  These soft skills transfer across all industry segments and provide for a well rounded employee.

What is the value of higher education? Why is a university degree worth the cost and commitment, and what can students expect it to deliver?

For many positions, it’s not enough to have a high school degree. Forty years ago, graduating from high school would get you in the door. A company would hire you and then train you on the job. Nowadays, though, they really want to see that college degree. For an employer, it’s evidence that you understand the fundamentals of the field, and that you’re familiar with the terminology. Also, completing a degree shows motivation and persistence; it shows you were focused enough to work through it.

That said, the return on investment really depends on the choice of degree. Not all degrees are alike when it comes to career prospects. That’s what students – and their parents – have to understand. They need to do the research and ask themselves ‘will this degree pay me back when I get out of school?’ Do the research, look at the job statistics and the employment rates, and then decide if it’s something you want to pursue. In the past, students and parents have sometimes shied away from technical and engineering degrees, yet these have often proven to be the most resilient in terms of career prospects.

At one of my former institutions, for instance, we had bachelor’s programs in automation control engineering technology and in manufacturing engineering technology. Enrollment in those programs were small; we couldn’t convince many students to get their degrees in those fields. Yet the ones who did were practically untouched by the 2008 recession. At a time when many people were struggling to find jobs, they were walking out the door with a 100% placement rate, making $60K a year.

There are many good choices out there, and sometimes you need to think out of the box.

Monday, June 5, 2017