Where Public Safety Policy Meets Higher Education

Younes Mourchid discusses the influence of higher education on public policy and whether the reverse is true.


American higher education has been recently in the midst of one of the most exciting and yet challenging periods in its history. Earning a college degree is climbing toward a universal expectation. At the same time, post-secondary education faces serious fiscal constraints and the urgency to...


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American higher education has been recently in the midst of one of the most exciting and yet challenging periods in its history. Earning a college degree is climbing toward a universal expectation. At the same time, post-secondary education faces serious fiscal constraints and the urgency to reform its curricula and approach to learning and teaching. All of this is happening at a time of unprecedented international competition in knowledge-based economies increasingly focused on intellectual capital.

According to data recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States has slipped from first to seventh among industrialized nations in postsecondary attainment among 25 to 34 year olds. If there was ever a time for elected officials, educators, and the public to be focused on education beyond high school, it is now.

The history of the United States provides for ample evidence that the federal and state governments recognized they have a stake in public higher education. The government recognized that learning how to do things in engineering, in agriculture and in other areas in public institutions of higher education and the passing of this knowledge along to the public deserved federal financial and policy support. The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 and other subsequent legislation such as the Smith-Lever Act and the Land-grant Act are convincing evidence of more than one hundred years of federal interest in cooperative efforts with the individual states in public higher education. Sometimes these have been combined efforts, sometimes unilateral. The idea that the benefits of education do not accrue solely to the individual recipient but to society as well is generally accepted, certainly by institutions of public higher education. The idea that democracy thrives in the environment of an enlightened electorate has been part of our heritage.

With that as a background we can now proceed from the philosophical discussion of the symbiotic relationship between higher education and public policy to the discussion of a concrete case where such relationship plays out. It might be profitable to ask ourselves two elemental questions as a starting point of discussion:

  1. Can higher education institutions influence public policy?
  2. How does public policy in-kind influence higher education?

The Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Consortium (FESHE) is a nascent body in the field of higher education; a field deemed the catalyst for moving the fire service from an occupation to a profession by operating on the basis of an elaborate National Professional Development Model which combines parallel and balanced tracks of training and higher education to live up to the primary mission of the fire and emergency services.

The FESHE National Professional Development Model has been borrowed and even copied by many state fire marshal offices and institutions of higher education around the country for the purpose of reforming and revamping their training and education plans. As a case in point, the California State Fire Marshal Office recently completed its Strategic Plan known as Blue Print 2020, California State Fire Training and Education Plan 2008. The FESHE National Professional Development Model is incorporated in the plan as an elemental strategic goal and action item.

The plan Blue Print 2020 is a major shift in planning, as retired State Fire Marshal and chair of the State Training and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) Ronny Coleman comments, "The plan is a stop to master planning and the start of strategic planning." Chief Coleman continues, "The first attempt to create a plan for the training and education for fire protection in California was during the 1930s and various individuals and groups created plans in the intervening years. The current State Fire Training model dates back to 1971."

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