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Tools for Tomorrow

The governors of Virginia and Washington define their commitment to improved technology for education and economic development

By Gov. James S. Gilmore &
Gov. Gary Locke

Illustration by Rob CollinetThe changing nature of our economy reflects a significant shift from an industrial economy to a "knowledge" economy, a shift that characterizes the transition from the 20th to the 21st century. As governors of two leading technology states, we recognize that technology also continues to transform the higher education experience. In addition to improving the quality of education in the classroom, technology can help institutions of higher learning prepare the educated workforce required by the science and technology industry in this new economy.

The Wired World

Advances in information technology, in particular, are redefining the U.S. economy and workplace. According to a Department of Commerce report, the information technology industry alone accounts for more than one-third of the nation's total economic growth. With technology-related industries providing a driving force in our economy, universities must adapt by providing growing numbers of technology-savvy workers committed to life-long learning.Illustration by Rob Collinet

Our two states, Virginia and Washington, are among the most technology-intensive in the nation. Washington, two-time winner of the National Digital State Award for innovative use of technology in education and state government, continues to blaze the trail in technological workforce development. An aggressive plan will establish a K-20 electronic network, linking all of Washington state's educational institutions via the Internet and videoconferencing. The plan also expands access to education by creating the Washington Online College-providing a straightforward way for any student to find, register for, and take courses over the Internet-and by forging a partnership with private sector companies to provide relevant workforce training, with an emphasis on areas such as information technology, where skilled workers are in the greatest demand.

To meet the challenges that an exploding technology business base poses to Virginia government, this past May the commonwealth established the nation's first cabinet-level secretary of technology. Charged with ensuring Virginia government is a "best practice" state in its own use of computing and communications technologies, the post also links Virginia's renowned public university system with a spectrum of technology companies and industries.

Education Innovation

As governors, we see firsthand how higher education directly affects a state's economic infrastructure. In trying to attract new businesses to our states, we often find that strong higher education institutions influence business and industry leaders making location decisions.

Washington's proposed budget includes $8.1 million in higher education funding that encourages institutions to target high-demand fields of study for new enrollment. Washington colleges and universities are already experimenting with the use of technology to increase access and improve the quality of student learning. Washington State University has developed the state's first bachelor's degree program delivered through distance learning. Community and technical colleges in the state already offer telecourses, as well as an associate of arts degree via distance learning.

Virginia currently has 25,000 more job openings than qualified employees. To meet Virginia's Information Age workforce requirements, state educational institutions are using an advanced distance learning infrastructure to tailor and deliver technology curriculum not only across our university and community college system, but also directly to corporate environments.

Further, Virginia has two commissions-the Blue Ribbon Commission of Higher Education and the Governor's Commission of Information Technology-that are working with the business community to determine precise workforce requirements, and to then link with our educational infrastructure to satisfy those requirements, both immediate and into the new millennium.

Great White-Collar Hope

Science and technology will continue to dominate in the next century. Shortages of a qualified workforce have led to urgent calls for institutions of higher education to improve the quality and quantity of people being readied for employment in the technology industry. Indeed, technology holds the best real promise for providing jobs and opportunity for well-qualified, well-educated, and highly motivated workers. All states and their institutions of higher education must prepare themselves to meet the challenges of our growing, technology-driven economy.

James S. Gilmore (R) is the governor of Virginia.
Gary Locke (D) is the governor of Washington.

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