Cultivating Knowledgeable Resources

James C. Ross, President, Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities

The newly coined term knowledge worker is not yet generally used, but the economic and socially important change it represents will be a keynote of 21st-century life here in the Capital Region, and elsewhere.The concept of the knowledge worker comes alive for us when contrasted with the manual worker — with emphasis on quality rather than quantity of output, on the worker’s autonomy, on continuous learning, on his or her accountability as a capital asset rather than as a cost to be minimized.The noted analyst of trends, Peter F. Drucker, in arguing for recognition of a major shift occurring in productivity and the prosperity that rests on it, recently wrote that survival rests most significantly on “the ability to attract and hold the best of the knowledge workers.” The concept, in his view, is applicable to competitive businesses and other economic organizations, but also to nations. And, by extension, to regions such as ours.Early in the next century, according to his forecast, leadership will inevitably be claimed by industries and areas “that have most systematically and most successfully raised knowledge-worker productivity.” In understanding — and therefore in enhancing — that kind of productivity, we are now “roughly where we were in 1900” in understanding and increasing productivity by manual workers. Very fortunately for our own region, we are measurably — even distantly — ahead of most competing regions nationwide.Most regions are happy to have — or even merely to aspire to achieve — two academic institutions providing advanced studies leading to graduate degrees and professional careers.The Capital Region has no fewer than ten universities and specialized college programs creating knowledge worker opportunities. Heightening the impact of these institutions is the great diversity of the fields of study that are readily available on local campuses, as well as the extraordinarily large number of advanced programs — from many different specialties within technology and engineering to medicine, management, law or education. At present, 11,300 graduate students are enrolled in full- and part-time programs in the region. Their absorption into the creative, innovative bloodstream of a thriving regional economy assures the economic engine’s dynamic vitality both today and for the challenges we face in the new century. The impact is substantially greater than even the stuff of survival. On my desk is a report of a Long Island industry’s complaints of acute shortage of one category of knowledge workers. Let us heed the warning! Without the learning imparted to the region’s many thousands of graduate students — to say nothing of the creative insights and the can-do outlook that are fostered — no community or region can hope for success in developing and maintaining growth in its economy.Because of this diversity and also thanks to the strength of the numerous institutions in our region, we are able to look forward to a more viable and prosperous economic future.Statewide, New York’s economy is likewise bolstered by the colleges and universities offering unmatched opportunities for advanced studies beyond the bachelor’s degree level. I can provide personal testimony to the programs in the independent sector that regularly justify their earned reputation for excellence.The private colleges and universities throughout the state, comparable to those we are more familiar with locally, confer 71 percent of the master’s degrees in New York — and 78 percent of the doctoral and first-professional degrees.Behind these statistics are the students, the graduates, the employees and the entrepreneurs alike — the knowledge workers — who can show the way to a new eminence for the Empire State. Beyond them, of course, are the universities and colleges, with not only their proud history and prestige but, more importantly, their steadfast promise for serving the coming millennium as they have seeded the 20th century for greatness. They deserve our confidence and our support.