As The Wonk Room pointed out last week, “since the 1970s, the U.S. educational system has rested on its laurels, and we are losing ground” to the rest of the world. In a new report, the College Board notes that there has been an “alarming decline of U.S. educational attainment among 25- to 34-year-olds.”
This reiterates an analysis from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which found that “educational achievement among young workers [in America] has slipped to tenth in the world.” As Matthew Yglesias wrote, “the slippage tends to be masked by the fact that, for now, our substantial lead in those older cohorts [over age 55] outweighs our smallish disadvantage in the youngest cohort, but obviously that’s not going to last forever.”
In its report, the College Board noted that, “A torrent of American talent and human potential entering the educational pipeline is reduced to a trickle 16 years later as it moves through the K-16 system”:
Merely to reclaim our position in the front rank of international educational leadership, many experts say that the United States must establish and reach a goal of ensuring that by the year 2025 fully 55 percent of young Americans are completing their schooling with a community college degree or higher.
As Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said, “We once put our faith in creating an educated citizenry, and we have enjoyed the benefits…Without well-educated citizens, we will struggle economically and socially.”
Of course, these revelations come at a time when the economic crisis is causing states to severely scale back their education budgets. In the last few days, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Ohio announced cuts to education funding, which will further clog the educational pipeline. To ensure that states don’t continue making cuts in order to achieve constitutionally mandated balanced budgets, an economic stimulus package should be enacted that provides funding to state and local governments.
Furthermore, public investments in education can and should be made, since research suggests such investments “would grow the economy and earn the government significant positive returns.” Potential measures include:
- Expanding the Federal Work-Study program to enable low-income college students to earn the funds they need to pay for postsecondary education.
- Expanding existing programs funded by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act that integrate basic skills, English language proficiency, and occupational training, and focus on transitioning to postsecondary education and job training.
- Providing funding to summer school programs to prevent cutbacks.
- Increasing Pell grants by $500 a piece and close the current funding shortfall.
With these measures in place, the whole of society could see the benefits of that “torrent of American talent.”