Opinion: U.S. neglecting schools, colleges

July 30, 2013


By Gene A. Budig and Alan Heaps

School is out. No one wants to think about serious issues including the quality of American education. After all, it’s summer. It’s a time of carefree optimism and joy. As the American poet William Carlos William said, “In summer, the song sings itself.”

Unfortunately, in this increasingly connected world, reality has a way of coming to the fore regardless of the season. Through the Internet, television, radio and our social circles, we are sent constant reminders of the daily individual and social challenges we face.

One such intrusion happened last month with the publication of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual Education At A Glance Report. (OECD is a coalition of 34 countries — including the United States and most of the developed nations — created to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.”)

Here are three of their findings.

l Education is a critical factor in determining individual and collective success: The unemployment rate is nearly three times higher for people without a high school degree than for those with a college education; the earnings of college educated adults is, on average, more than 1.5 times that of adults with a high school education; those with higher levels of education are far less likely to smoke or suffer from obesity.

l The worldwide economic crisis has exacerbated these differences: Between 2008 and 2011, the unemployment rate for low-educated individuals increased by approximately 4 percent while it increased by only 1.5 percent for highly educated individuals. Between 2008 and 2011, the difference in earnings from employment between low and the highly educated rose from 75 percent to 90 percent.

l The United States is doing poorly in education relative to other countries: We rank 12th in terms of young people who complete a higher education degree, 10th in percentage of young people who have graduated from high school education, and 22nd in the number of people who enter into higher education and then graduate.

As if the data themselves were not depressing enough, there is one other tragedy embedded in the report. We have heard it all before but have refused to heed the warning. For more than 30 years, since the publication of the groundbreaking report, “A Nation At Risk,” we have been told time and again about our neglected schools and colleges.

Look at the following facts. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education in 2013 than they did in 2008; all but two states are spending less per student on higher education than they did prior to the recession; and 11 states have cut funding by more than one-third per student, and two states have cut their higher education spending per student in half.

You wouldn’t know about these trends by looking at some of our politicians. Governors love their state colleges and universities, especially in the fall when they buddy up to the mass of voters at collegiate football games on Saturday afternoons.

Too many of them say the right things about the need for higher education, but too few go to battle for it; when it comes to action, their words too often have the impact of a falling feather

But this story has one last twist. It is we the people who elect the governors and many of their fellow politicians. To shift the full burden of blame onto them is both unproductive and immature. Ultimately, it is each of us who must take on the responsibility of spreading the word about what this nation needs to do and where we spend our precious dollars. That is what responsible citizens and grownups do.

We ignore the data on education at our own risk. The clock is ticking. As Eddard “Ned” Stark says in “A Game of Thrones,” “Summer will end soon enough, and childhood will end.”

— Gene Budig is past president or chancellor of three major state universities, including Kansas University. Alan Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board in New York City.


frank regnier 4 years, 10 months ago

I believe education is very important to the current problems our nation is now suffering from. I also believe that the majority of Americans are being "misled" through our nation's media. As many are aware that the media is "bought and paid for" by corporate America. Most Americans are disgusted with the politicians who "promise" to protect education and the environment. Seriously, why? I feel many are just disgusted with our nations leaders and those who "swear" to do better. They get elected and find out they cannot or will not change the system because it is "Broken". Just ask ten people on the street, " what do they know about the politicians who they vote for or endorse". See how much they really know about the people who they vote for. I agree with the article but something has to change in our "system". How is it that former politicians become CEO's? or former CEO's become politicians? Our system is broken and until that is fixed or improved, education and environment will continue to suffer!

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 10 months ago

You are completely wrong.

Start by reading, "Betrayal of the American Dream", and stop getting all your information from conservative news outlets.

The middle class is evaporating in this country and it is not because we are lazy it is because we let a bunch of greedy people steal our country away from us.

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