Education Key

Those who support the Holland/Zeeland Promise believe that in order to have a strong, vibrant, viable workforce a majority of the future generation will need post-high school education.   But more and more students lack the financial resources to do so.

The following excerpts are from an article written by the New York Times financial reporter David Leonhardt. He reviews the work of two labor economists who see education as the key for a vibrant American future:

The Big Fix

Two labor economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, published a book called The Race Between Education and Technology. It is as much a work of history – the history of education – as it is a work of economics.

Goldin and Katz set out to answer the question of how much an education really  matters. (They) explain that the original purpose of American education was political – to educate the citizens of a democracy.

By the start of the 20th century, though, the purpose had become blatantly economic. As parents saw that high-school graduates were getting most of the good jobs, they started a grass-roots movement, known as the high-school movement, to demand free, public high schools in their communities.

At the time, some European intellectuals dismissed the new American high schools as wasteful.  Instead of offering narrowly tailored apprentice programs, the United States was accused of over educating its masses (or at least its white masses). But Goldin and Katz, digging into old population surveys, show that the American system paid huge dividends.

High-school graduates filled the ranks of companies like General Electric and John Deere and used their broad base of skills to help their employers become global powers. And these new white-collar workers weren’t the only ones to benefit. A high-school education also paid off for blue – collar workers. Those with a diploma were far more likely to enter newer, better-paying, more technologically advanced industries. They became plumbers, jewelers, electricians, auto mechanics and railroad engineers.

Not only did mass education increase the size of the nation’s economic pie; it also evened out the distribution. Inequality fell rapidly in the middle decades of the 20th century.

But then the great education boom petered out in the late 1960’s. The country’s worst high schools never got their graduation rates close to 100 percent, while many of the fast-growing community colleges and public colleges, which were educating middle-class and poorer students, had low graduation rates.

Between the early 1950’s and early ’80’s, the share of young adults receiving a bachelor’s degree jumped to 24 percent, from 7 percent.  In the 30 years since, the share has only risen to 32 percent. Nearly all of the recent gains have come among women. For the first time on record, young men in the last couple of decades haven’t been more more educated than their fathers were.

Goldin and Katz are careful to say that economic growth is not simply a matter of investing in educations. Some college graduates struggle to make a good living, and many will lose their jobs in this recession.  But these are exceptions.

Goldin’s and Katz’ theisis is that the 20th century was the American century in large part because this country led the world in education. The last 30 years, when educational gains slowed markedly, have been years of slower growth and rising (economic) inequality.

Their argument happens to be supported by a rich body of economic literature that didn’t even make it into the book:

  • More-educated people are healthier, live longer  and of course, make more money.
  • Countries that educate more of their citizens tend to grow faster than similar countries that do not.
  • As educational attainment of men has stagnated, so have their wages.  The median male worker is roughly as educated as he was 30 years ago and makes roughly the same in hourly pay.
  • The median female worker is far more educated then she was 30 years ago and makes 30 percent more than she did then.

There really is no mystery about why education would be the lifeblood of economic growth. On the most basic level:

  • Education helps people figure out how to make objects and accomplish tasks more efficiently.
  • It allows companies to make complex products that the rest of the world wants to buy and thus creates high-wage jobs.

Education – educating more people and educating them better – appears to be the best single bet that a society can make.” (New York Times Magazine 2.1.09)