How can the nation’s higher education be restored to preeminence?
U.S. students are not completing high school and college at a productive level to fuel our economy. In fact, the gap between what students need to know in high school versus college is widening. This is disturbing when you consider the highest paying jobs require rigorous training or a college education. It is also disturbing when you consider the unemployment figure is 8.9 percent for college graduates with bachelor degrees, 22.9 percent for high school graduates and 31.5 percent for high school dropouts according to a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce. In reviewing this dilemma, the critical questions to be asked are: How can the nation’s higher education be restored to preeminence? What is the blueprint to improve retention and completion for postsecondary educational attainment?
In 2011, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment was created to chart a course for greatly improving college retention and attainment and, in turn, restore the nation’s higher education to preeminence. Through the appointment of six presidential higher education associations, the commission is comprised of 18 members including presidents from community colleges, research institutions, state and independent colleges and universities, as well as public and land grant institutions. The commission is led by president E. Gordon Gee of The Ohio State University, president Andrew K. Benton of Pepperdine University, president Gail Mellow of LaGuardia Community College, president George Pruitt of Thomas Edison State College and president Molly Corbett Broad of the American Council on Education.
On January 23, the commission released an open letter to college and university leaders indicating that college completion must be our priority and for the leaders to call upon their colleagues to make retention and completion a critical priority to stem the unacceptable loss of human potential represented by the number of students who never make it to graduation. With the U.S. goal to have the highest proportion of postsecondary educational attainment in the world by 2020, the commission’s open letter discussed a blueprint for a campus-level college completion campaign designed to prevent students from failing to obtain a college degree.
For college and university leaders, the commission urged them to consider changing the campus culture, improve cost-effectiveness and quality and make better use of data. The commission open letter also included possible strategies to advance the goal of increased attainment by assigning responsibility to specific senior administrators at our nation’s colleges and universities to improve retention and graduation rates, improve remedial services, pinpoint weaknesses in preparation, expand the use of assessments that measure learning acquired outside the traditional classroom and harness information technology to identify at-risk students.
Commission Chair E. Gordon Gee said, “While America boasts an unequaled system of higher education, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity it represents to millions of Americans. We must broaden the national conversation about higher education. It is incumbent upon campus leaders to ensure that completion is as much of an institutional priority as access.”
Similar to the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were adopted in 2009 and 2010 by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers for elementary and secondary schools. Forty-eight states, two territories and the District of Columbia are participating in the program. Through the input of teachers, school administrators and other stakeholders across the political spectrum, the CCSS were developed to provide a clear and concise framework to prepare students in the K-12 environment for college and careers.
In a 2012 statement to support the importance of students being prepared for the workforce, Robert Corcoran, Vice President of GE Corporate Citizenship and President and Chair of GE Foundation said, “our economy is facing an undeniable challenge—good paying jobs are going unfilled because U.S. workers don’t have the skills to fill the positions.” To illustrate the point, Corcoran noted that its GE Transportation plant in Erie, Penn. posted 25 jobs in manufacturing and engineering, received thousands of applications for people seeking the manufacturing jobs such as making parts but only a hand full of people applied for the engineering jobs. Thus, Corcoran concluded, “We must cultivate a highly educated workforce, and we see the Common Core State Standards as a key component to answering this challenge.”
The economy is in demand of a competent and competitive workforce and American schools, colleges and universities must rise to the standards. The National Commission on Higher Education Attainment has created a course to greatly improve the college retention and attainment to restore the nation’s higher education to preeminence. Just like any monumental challenge, there can be no one-size-fits-all method of operation. Whatever methods are chosen, it will require the schools, colleges and universities to work hand in hand to create workable solutions for educating our students for a challenging workforce environment.
Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of three books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education” and “How to Eradicate Hazing.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]