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.

Psst! Wanna buy a degree?

With competition still fierce in the jobs market, some people might be tempted to beef up their resume by buying a fake degree.

The problem of fake degrees is nothing new, but the Internet has made it easier than ever to obtain a bogus qualification.

George Gollin, a board member of the U.S.-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation, told CNN he estimates that more than 100,000 fake degrees are sold each year in the U.S. alone. Of those, around one third are postgraduate degrees. He added that a bogus degree will typically cost $1,000…

Some degree mills award degrees on the basis of the buyer’s supposed “life experience,” while others require a small amount of coursework. One degree mill required about a week’s worth of coursework to earn a masters degree…

While some people might be duped into believing they are obtaining a legitimate qualification, Gollin said that almost everyone buying from a degree mill knows they are getting a fake…

Those people come from all walks of life. Gollin gave the example of one American who bought a Bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering, and who’s now working in the control room of a nuclear power plant.

People who rely on phony credentials truly are specially demented. Worse – they devalue the work of those who acquired knowledge and experience legitimately.