Remember when Americans led the world in college degrees?

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.

“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.”

While access to college has been the major concern in recent decades, over the last year, college completion, too, has become a leading item on the national agenda. Last July, President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative, calling for five million more college graduates by 2020, to help the United States again lead the world in educational attainment…

William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who hosted the Washington discussion along with Gaston Caperton, said…“We led the world in the 1980s, but we didn’t build from there,” he said. “If you look at people 60 and over, about 39-40 percent have college degrees, and if you look at young people, too, about 39-40 percent have college degrees. Meanwhile, other countries have passed us by.”

Canada now leads the world in educational attainment, with about 56 percent of its young adults having earned at least associate’s degrees…

You can’t address college completion if you don’t do something about K-12 education,” Mr. Kirwan said.

The group’s first five recommendations all concern K-12 education, calling for more state-financed preschool programs, better high school and middle school college counseling, dropout prevention programs, an alignment with international curricular standards and improved teacher quality. College costs were also implicated, with recommendations for more need-based financial aid, and further efforts to keep college affordable.

Aside from sound governance – which drained away down sewers of greed in the eight years preceding the present administration – the mediocre stimulus budget approved by Congress doesn’t even keep up with maintaining staff minimums for education around the country. While there are legitimate discussions about the ratios of administrators to students, quasi-pro sports budgets versus the broad range of intelligent curricula, the task still remains to equip the young people of the United States to build a nation that can grow beyond an economy based wholly on consumption and service.

Though I imagine little or no change would please the beancounter breed of reactionary.

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