Continuing Education: More Black professionals are returning to school
In May, New York State Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who represents the 83rd district in the Bronx, received an M.B.A. from Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. Not only is Heastie yet another African-American professional who took up post-graduate studies, but he also is the first minority in the state legislature with an M.B.A. He went for the degree, he says, so that he could move successfully into another job when he is finished with politics. “Besides my love of numbers, I want to know that there can be some thing else for me as skills after a life in politics,” he says. “I think many new doors will be opened to me with an M.B.A. in finance.”
Heastie, a former budget analyst in the New York City comptroller’s office, is part of the growing trend of African-American professionals determined to secure their future by refining their current skills, or by equipping themselves for new careers through the myriad continuing education courses tied to developments in industry and to global economic trends that are influencing national economies worldwide.
According to the American Education Council, between 1993 and 2003, the number of African-Americans pursuing post-secondary schooling increased by 43 percent to more than 1.9 million students. The Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education, reports that in 2005, 1.2 million African-Americans students attended four-year, graduate and first-professional (offering doctorates) institutions. While many professionals remain in their jobs after completing continuing education courses, others are opting for entrepreneurship.
Keeping Up With Trends
To keep up with industry and economic developments and trends, many corporations now require their professional staff to participate in skills-enhancement programs. Some corporations provide enhancement courses themselves, either in partnership with local universities or by contracting consultants to teach them on or off site.
With employees having to adapt to an ever-changing and expanding work environment, continuing education and professional development are more important than ever. Susan Marshall, owner of Executive Advisor L.L.C. in Oconomowoc, Wisc., cites the following five reasons why people should develop their knowledge base:
• To stay current with technology, demography and market trends.
• To develop skills in communication, decision-making and collaboration.
• To understand the changing expectations of occupations.
• To learn how to influence without direct authority.
• To be aware of and to learn how to manage personal biases.
The advent and proliferation of the Internet and the efficiency of international travel have led to a greater exchange and sharing of information and knowledge across borders. Globalization, marked by the increasing mobility of goods, services, capital, labor and technology throughout the world, is a major force behind the “competitiveness” changes occurring in corporations. According to the Federation of International Trade Associations, known as FITA, 70 percent to 90 percent of U.S. corporations face foreign competition in their U.S. markets. It argues that business professionals at all levels and in all industries who prepare now will be well-positioned to achieve truly global success.
For busy professionals considering opportunities overseas, FITA recommends the Thunderbird School of Global Management’s online executive certificates in international management and marketing. Each executive certificate program is made up of three eight-week global certificate courses. The programs are 100 percent online, open enrollment programs.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States forced many U.S. companies to go global, increasing the demand for new skills. Following the attacks, companies saw that their technological systems for trade and banking, consolidated in one location, were extremely vulnerable to disruptions and destruction. Many decided to decentralize those systems among different countries, but maintenance of those systems called for qualified employees with knowledge of different cultures, languages, societies and laws and economies in the global market place.
“A college degree is an indispensable passport to the globalized knowledge economy of the twenty-first century. Higher education, once the rarified province of the elite, is now viewed by most nations as an indispensable strategic tool for shaping, directing and promoting economic growth,” William Brody, president of John Hopkins University, wrote in an article in the March/April 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs.
Although many opportunities exist for African-Americans to continue their education, still not enough of them are taking advantage of those opportunities, says David Carter, Ph.D., chancellor of the Connecticut State University System.
The same is true for a first go at higher education, Heastie contends. He notes that just 17.2 percent of the constituents in his blue-collar middle-class district are college graduates, some with post-graduate degrees, while the remaining 82.8 percent either did not complete the ninth grade, have only some high school education, simply graduated from high school, attended college but did not earn a degree, or had just an associate degree.
Those are dismal statistics for a 21st-century environment, he says. “We, as a people, have to be educated, financially empowered and not hope for laws to effect change for us,” Heastie says.
African-Americans are largely absent when it comes to a presence in the global market, where opportunities exist for import and export businesses with African countries and with Brazil, where there is a huge population of people of African descent, Carter says. Moreover, Africa, the Middle East and South America are ripe for African-American investment, he notes. “There is the potential of connecting at a level where we separate culture from politics.”