U.S. must focus on education

August 14, 2010


When is enough, enough?

Some say now, and I wholeheartedly agree.

At a time when the Congress passes a bill providing $37 billion to continue financing two wars with limited discussion, the American masses need to pause, think, and consider the future and its daunting priorities. More than a few legislators were, by the way, in a rush to leave the Capitol and head home to campaign for their re-election.

Clearly, it is time to assess our dwindling intellectual seed corn and realize what made the United States of America an international power on most economic fronts, a country that showed the way in providing social progress and justice.

Our economic plight is precarious and real, to say the least. And generations of leaders, Democrats and Republicans, have credited our educational system as the principal reason that we have prospered.

And what about that educational system today?

The College Board has released a stunning report that says the United States, which once led the world in the proportion of young people with college degrees, has dropped to 12th.

Specifically, the U.S. is 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25-to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Even more disturbing is the realization that young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to regain our international footing.

The U.S. continues to lag in the all-important areas of mathematics and science.

In the race for college graduates, we are behind Canada, Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium, and Australia. And China and India are making real inroads. To say this picture is pathetic is a gross understatement.

Too many foreign students are beginning to look for their higher education futures elsewhere.

“While the nation struggles to strengthen the economy, the educational capacity of our country continues to decline,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board.

As the former president of three large state universities, I want to know where the public concern is today. Have we lost our determination to be first on something other than a college football field?

At this time of proven peril, the states have savaged budgets for colleges and universities, refusing to reallocate resources in their direction. Most everything else seems more important than higher education to the states. More state reductions seem likely and too many legislators remain oblivious.

The United States needs able and articulate men and women to stand up tall and reintroduce the American Dream, a dream that is predicated on quality education and professional opportunity. What we cannot do is be indifferent any longer, “putting our brains on hold,” as The New York Times warned in a recent headline on the troubling study.

Gene A. Budig is a distinguished professor at the College Board in New York City. He is a former chancellor of Kansas University and former president of Major League Baseball’s American League.


bondmen 7 years, 9 months ago

The education establishment union, in particular the NEA, exists solely to benefit the teachers and administrators - NOT the children. The so called teachers union must be busted in America before students begin to perform on an international level and the classroom begins to get better!

voevoda 7 years, 9 months ago

I don't think that it's teachers who are at fault, or teachers' unions. Unions protect teachers against interfering parents, principals, school boards, politicians, and pundits, who would prevent them from being able to teach anything without risking their livelihoods. There are a number of reasons why the US has dropped in the number of college graduates compared to other countries. Let's start with three: 1) Too many American children drop out of school, never earning even a high school diploma. 2) Too many American college students drop out, because they aren't prepared for the coursework, or because they are too tempted by recreational opportunities, or because they can't afford the cost. 3) A college education has become more expensive, because government subsidies have dwindled while technology costs has skyrocketed. If Russia and Israel can afford to underwrite the costs of college education for their citizens, should the US be able to do the same?

Graczyk 7 years, 9 months ago

I think that it is a cultural problem rather than an structural problem. The strongest messages in the U.S. is that consumption creates identity and that the certainty of rigid ideology is safe. Both messages minimize the importance of education and critical thinking.

seriouscat 7 years, 9 months ago

A huge part of the problem is that we have been steadily increasing the dollar to student ratio for decades now, under the thinking that funding will fix things....and the precipitous decline in the quality of K-12 has continued.

Yes we need to improve our education system, but more money isn't the solution.

voevoda 7 years, 9 months ago

Which of the countries that now surpass the US in the number of college graduates has more of a free market and less of a social safety-net?

citizen0123 7 years, 9 months ago

throwing more money at the teachers union isnt the answer. if the teachers were doing their jobs in the first place the students wouldnt be dropping out. teachers these days,like everyone else,are only after a pay check.no one takes pride in their work anymore. its not about education,its about money.

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