While much of the country is focused on the state of the economy this election year, many experts contend that it’s education that should be of primary concern. If the United States is going to maintain an impactful role in the global marketplace, a new generation of highly-educated young people must constantly be joining the workforce. And though rising tuition rates are making it more difficult than ever to afford college, there seems to be some hope that things are moving in the right direction. According to data released this week by the United States Department of Education, the amount of adults receiving a college degree is on the rise. The question remains, will it be enough to meet our goals?
According to the Education Department’s study, which pulled numbers from 2010, just over 39% of students from 25 to 34 years old are receiving some sort of secondary degree, whether from a graduate, bachelor’s or associates program. That’s an increase of approximately half a percentage point over the previous year. Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, acknowledged the progress in remarks given to the National Governors Association this week, but also said much more needs to be done. While students continue to push for higher education, forty states have cut down their spending on education during the last year. Add that to the fact that tuition has risen 15% from 2008 to 2010, and you have a situation where less and less Americans are able to afford the cost of a four-year university degree.
This is an issue that has global implications. America is 16th in the world in the amount of adults who are earning degrees, behind countries such as Canada, South Korea, Russia and Japan. Right now, 41% of Americans between 25 and 34 have college degrees, while that number jumps to 63% in South Korea. And with more college graduates inching towards retirement, the US is not prepared to replace their numbers in the workforce fast enough. If you look at the entire number of college graduates in the world, over 35% of them are Americans nearing retirement. Only 20% of them are Americans just at the beginnings of their careers.
The world has gained on our educational standards, and we don’t seem to be doing much about it. Of course, President Obama addressed this issue when he entered office, declaring that he wanted the US to be the world leader in college graduates by the end of 2020. If that’s going to happen, more than ten million additional young Americans will need to earn their degree. On the state level, we’re nowhere near that benchmark. Florida, for example, graduated approximately 816,000 young-adult students in 2010. That yearly number would have to reach 1.48 million to keep up with Obama’s declaration. New York would need to graduate almost 400,000 additional students a year. Montana and North Dakota are beating the national standard, but they are also much less populated than the majority of other states.
With tuition costs what they are, some students may have to settle for an online masters degree in health care administration to meet their career goals. But if the country as a whole is going to do better, it’s going to take better access to college all across the board.