America has fallen to 12th in the world in graduating students from college. Thirty years ago, we were number one.
Yet in today's world, a college education is perhaps more important than it ever has been in the past. The world is so complex, the jobs of tomorrow are requiring more and more knowledge and the pace of change is so fast that the skills learned in college will go a long way toward giving our children a chance at success. Perhaps they'll even solve the problems they're inheriting from us.
The problem arises from a number of sources. Government sector support for education is down, which drives up costs as the students (and their parents) are asked to pay for the difference. In Idaho, for example, the legislature last year actually cut funding for education -- at all levels -- for the first time in history, and the state's Republican Party has called for the abolition of public education. If you think public education is expensive, try private schools.
High school graduates are often entering college unprepared for the rigors of a college education. More and more students are requiring remediation programs in reading, writing and arithmetic before they can even begin to take college-level courses.
Parents play a role in that problem. They're all too often completely unaware of how their children are actually doing in school and they don't stress to their children the need to learn.
We need more teachers so class sizes will go down, allowing more one-on-one interaction between students and teachers. We need more technology in the classrooms to help those teachers and to better prepare students for the high-tech world of the future. We need continuing teacher education and improvement programs. We need more rigorous monitoring of individual student progress toward clearly defined goals. We need a greater awareness by the students themselves of the importance of learning what they are being taught.
We need to believe that education is important and not just give lip service to that goal, but to make it a point of emphasis in our children's lives, to monitor their progress and to put our money where our mouth is.
A highly educated population is part of the infrastructure of a great nation, but increasingly we are wasting our money on things that aren't important and allowing our infrastructure to fall apart.
We can't turn this around overnight. But we had better make this a priority now or we'll fall so far behind we'll drop to the level of a third-world country.