SAN FRANCISCO — America’s higher educational system is in “Code Red.”

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt that the current system of higher education is not scaleable and needs to adapt to our rapidly changing world.

“The Labor Department came out with a report suggesting that 65 percent of grade-school kids will have a job that hasn’t even been invented yet,” Newsom said. “Are we as a system of higher learning prepared to advance workforce development — the human capital for the workforce of today, let alone for the future? The skills gap is winding in real time, and we can’t afford to fail. We have to do something dramatic, disruptive, and make the case that there is an alternative pedagogy of learning.

Newsome spoke onstage with Sebastian Thrun, the founder of online education portal Udacity. Thrun announced that Udacity and a cohort of other online-education companies as well as corporations are forming the Open Education Alliance. It’s purpose is to provide people with the skills to thrive in today’s workforce and stay up-to-date on technology.

“There is a huge vacuum in the industry,” Thrun said. “The U.S. graduates more bachelors in psychology than engineering, when companies need technical talent. And in five-to-10 years, education expires, and everything is new again. There can’t be a single stage of education anymore. Learning should happen over the course of your life. The alliance is a platform to think of education in the 21st century and what’s really needed in the workforce.”

Fifty percent of young people are not sure that their post-secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job, and almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. Traditional higher education focuses more on theoretical learning than practical, hands-on learning, which Newsom said has created an environment that breeds high rates of unemployment at the same time hundreds of job lie vacant.

“If you went back in time 200 years ago, the classroom then looks a lot like contemporary classroom today, in terms of student and professor relationships,” Newsom said.” That broadcast model is still at work today in some of finest universities in the world. This is comedic. We need a whole new model of education that takes the latest in terms of how we learn and incorporates it into a new platform of engagement that makes learning more interesting, meaningful, and life long.”

The Open Education Alliance will foster collaboration between businesses that need technical employees and/or need to retrain their current employees. It will “reverse engineer” curricula, so to speak, from job postings to parse out exactly what skills people need to know. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), like Udacity and partner Khan Academy, will then design course content around those skills. Fellow participants include AT&T, Autodesk, Cloudera, Cadence, Georgia Tech, Google, Intuit, Nvidia, and 23andMe.

Newsom and Thrun both emphasized that their goal is not to eradicate or even replace higher education. Traditional institutions of learning and online education can work in tandem, and each model appeals to different groups of people. Newsom said he is extremely proud of the University of California system, but for international students, people without financial resources, or those looking to gain specific skills (rather than get a whole new degree), online education is a more accessible option. Furthermore students learn in different ways and at different paces.

“The system of higher learning was designed over half a century ago for a world that no longer exists,” Newsom said. “You can’t educate my three-year old daughter like I was educated. We need a radical new view of higher education.”

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