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Support postsecondary education and address cost issues.

We need more support for U.S. postsecondary education. The main focus of both political parties is wrong. It's not about jobs; it's about education.

More than 47 million citizens (greater than 16 percent of the population) are high school dropouts. That means they do not have the skills to participate in the knowledge economy. Moreover, 40 percent of our students entering college do not know how to read or write at the freshman level. And, 57 percent graduation rates after six years of college are unacceptable.

Employer surveys find potential employees do not have required critical-thinking or problem-solving abilities.

If the skills that make up the concept "human capital" are the principal national and individual resource, education should be the top priority of all levels of government. However, in fact, education is not close to being the high priority logic dictates.

There is confusion regarding whether postsecondary education is a public or private good or both. Many believe only the individual attending college should pay for the cost of higher education. This has led to a net student loan debt of more than $1 trillion. Net tuition revenues outstrip local and state funding in over one-half of the states. Without more funding, we will see further significant decline in the postsecondary sector, and there will be no ability to address the issues listed above.

However, there is a hurdle to achieving agreement to again treat postsecondary education as a public good and provide more support. Unless cost increases are addressed, the resistance to increases in funding at local, state, and national levels is unlikely to be overcome.

From 1982 to 2010 the cost of tuition has increased 439 percent, while the average family income has increased 147 percent. Higher education leaders continue to assume their sources of revenues will produce enough each year to fund all the existing and new activities of their college. This assumption is no longer tenable.

Tuition increases will be resisted, and, increases in public funding are problematic without a compelling case. This reality means choices will have to be made. Further, recent advances in technology must be leveraged to cut costs of a range of activities at colleges, including, for example, student admissions, libraries, and print text materials.

Higher education leaders who demonstrate a commitment to reduce costs should be the lead candidates to implement programs that provide skill training for high school dropouts, more instructors in the classroom, and new strategies that blend online and traditional classroom-based education. Such leaders can begin the process that will rebalance public and private support for colleges and make U.S. postsecondary education the envy of the world again.

Roger Benjamin is president of the Council for Aid to Education in New York City.
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Title Annotation:EDUCATION
Author:Benjamin, Roger
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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