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Four Southern Oregon higher education institutions are banding together to streamline credit transfers and boost access to grant money, among other goals.

The presidents of Rogue Community College, Klamath Community College, Oregon Institute of Technology and Southern Oregon University will sign an agreement Thursday to enter into the Southern Oregon Higher Education Consortium in an invitation-only event at the SOU/RCC Higher Education Center in downtown Medford.

Spokespeople for RCC and SOU declined to discuss many details of the contract in advance, saying that the agreement was embargoed until Thursday morning.

Grant Walker, spokesman for RCC, said the consortium will allow students at each institution to transfer credits more seamlessly between schools. The four schools, meanwhile, will partner in efforts to secure grant funding and will coordinate their lobbying efforts in Salem, he said.

“The idea is to really pool resources,” Walker said.

Invitations to attend the event went out to leaders in business, government and other fields. It will begin at 2 p.m. with a signing by all the presidents.

John Tapogna, president of economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, will present findings at the event from a talent assessment released in early fall, commissioned by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

The report used economic data on wages and the workforce as well as survey responses from hundreds of employers to determine the needs and opportunities in the Oregon labor market throughout this year.

Tapogna said he thinks the partnership between the four higher education institutions will help fill crucial gaps contributing to unemployment and skills mismatches. One example of where students lose ground is when they transfer to a new school.

He compared it to the way electrical systems lose power as they transport energy from Bonneville Dam.

“I think the (Southern Oregon Higher Education Consortium) is trying to capture and make sure that energy isn’t wasted as students move from Institution A to Institution B and eventually an employer,” he said.

ECONorthwest’s assessment includes several takeaways about the trajectory of the job market in Oregon and nationwide, which Tapogna will highlight.

One takeaway is that human skills are more highly in demand in the job market, even as technology encroaches on some skilled jobs.

ECONorthwest cites findings from a 2017 study it helped prepare showing that the job market is “rewarding humans for being human.” The study found that jobs requiring both high social skills and high math skills have experienced the most growth since 1980; the next highest growth was among jobs that require high social skills and low math skills.

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“As much as we think of technology and robots coming for us, we’ve been living it for 35 years already,” Tapogna said. “That is your last comparative advantage compared to artificial intelligence or robots.”

Encouraging students in those human skills, from communication to critical thinking or clerical and service work, could pay off in the long run, ECONorthwest found.

Oregon also had a high rate of skill mismatch — when skills among the workforce are poorly timed with the current needs of the economy. This, too, presents an opportunity for higher education institutions, Tapogna said.

“Who isn’t working, who is near poor or poor, and what can the education system do on their behalf?” he asked.

Internships, apprenticeships and other real-world experiences through partnerships with employers will aid in that effort, he said.

After Tapogna’s presentation, the four presidents will participate in a panel discussion about the new partnership and other educational and training opportunities.

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