Study predicts stronger need for higher education

By Max Calloway

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Despite recent economic woes, a new Georgetown University study suggests greener employment pastures if the nation can meet President Barack Obama’s goals for higher education.

President Obama, at an Aug. 9 appearance at the University of Texas, outlined his education agenda for the coming decade hoping to add an additional 8.2 million college graduates by 2020, placing the U.S. at the top of global higher-education standards.

The president’s speech was delivered a month after the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce’s (GUCEW) Jun. 2010 study, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018.” The study predicts a shortage of qualified workers in a shifting economic landscape.

The study projects the creation of 46.3 million new jobs by the end of 2018, with 63 percent requiring a post-secondary degree or certificate. The “Information Services, Private Education Services, Government and Public Education Services, Financial Services, Professional and Business Services and Healthcare Services” industries will account for a majority of this new growth. According to the study, “75-90 percent of [these] jobs… will require post-secondary education or training.” This translates into roughly 30 million new jobs for those with a post-secondary education.

While these figures sound great for students currently enrolled in degree and certificate programs, the report, along with the date from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forecasts increasing trouble for high school graduates not planning on attending a post-secondary program and a looming education deficit if the nation cannot increase overall post-secondary graduation rates.

According to BLS data, the unemployment rate among young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 4.7 percent. That figure doubles and triples respectively for those with a high-school diploma and those without. With over 600,000 manufacturing and natural resource jobs forecast by the study to never return, fixing the national higher education system is a vital factor for America’s continuing economic recovery.

According to a Jun. 15 press release from the GUCEW, “Employers will need 22 million new workers with A.A.’s, B.A.’s or better – and we will fall 3 million short.” Employers will also need 4.7 million workers with post-secondary certificates.

For Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the GUCEW, the only way to bridge the education-employment gap is for the country to change its views and expectations of higher education. In a Jun. 15 report from Inside Higher Ed, Carnevale concludes, “[t]he key psychological change that is needed … is to move away from ‘the old model, where you go to college and then go out and find a job’ to one in which the college years are explicitly ‘preparing for an occupation.’”

Laura Meyer, Program Coordinator for GUCEW, echoes Carnevale’s sentiment, believing that career oriented programs at the state level are essential to closing the education-employment gap. She and the rest of GUCEW see community colleges and smaller state universities as future well-springs for a qualified workforce of graduates holding “applied baccalaureates.”

The report has also drawn attention from the United States Student Association (USSA).

In a phone interview, current USSA president and recent University of Massachusetts alum, Linsdey McClusky praised the study saying that it, “actually supports work the USSA is doing.”

McClusky and the USSA have known that the “move has been gradual to a higher-educated workforce” for some time but are frustrated that national and federal funding for higher-education has been systematically cut while enrollment steadily increases.

McClusky hopes that the Georgetown data will help put education back “in the spotlight,” but acknowledged that it would take a “huge investment” in order to reach President Obama’s goals.

That “huge investment” would add up to $158 billion in additional funding for higher education, said former USSA president Gregory Cendana in a Jun. 21 Huffington Post report. And while the recently enacted Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act invested about $40 billion into federal aid programs over the next 10 years, that still leaves a $100 billion gap in the laps of state governments, “not the most friendly of places for college spending,” Cendana said.

In his own article from the Huffington Post, Carnevale sums up the dilemma, saying, “Instead of asking whether everyone needs to go to college, we should be asking if we can produce enough workers with degrees that meet the demands of the 21st century economy.”

Max Calloway can be reached at [email protected]