My guest on this episode of Work in Progress is Ryan Stowers, the executive director of the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), a philanthropy whose mission is to remove barriers that prevent people from reaching their potential. One of their key focus areas is education and their role in preparing us for the workforce.

Stowers cites cost and inflexibility as two of the biggest barriers standing in the way of Americans getting the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their careers. He says given the dynamic nature of the economy—and our potential to be lifelong learners and to quickly pivot to new career opportunities—postsecondary education needs to adjust.

Yet, he says, “Most of the conversation when it comes to innovation and trying to drive change focuses on 18-to-22 year olds, the current system, and the status quo. We think that that needs to fundamentally change,” says Stowers. “It needs to innovate in a way where all learners have the opportunity to engage within a system in a highly individualized way, (one) that allows them to discover, develop, and deploy knowledge and skills based on who they are.”

Stowers adds he thinks the learner’s voice isn’t taken into account enough and offers up a couple examples from a Charles Koch Foundation survey released in September. Seventy-two percent of the people surveyed express a preference for an option other than a four-year college or university. Sixty-two percent say they believe there will be heightened demand for online classes because they are cheaper and offer more flexibility.

CKF is hoping to drive the change in higher education by supporting social change entrepreneurs that are coming up with those solutions which will expand pathways that are “high-quality, individualized, and relevant to opportunities of the 21st century.”

Stowers and I also spoke about the ultimate goal of the philanthropy: unlocking a person’s potential which also allows them to find purpose in their lives. “We think that the best way to find purpose in work is what we call mutual benefit. If people can figure out a way to add value in people’s lives—including their own—by creating products and services that make people’s lives better, or doing work that makes someone else’s life better, then that is mutual benefit. That relationship can give significant purpose and meaning to a person’s life.”

There is so much more on rethinking postsecondary education, programs CKF are funding, and finding purpose in work during our conversation. You can listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 206: Ryan Stowers, Executive Director, Charles Koch Foundation
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts