Despite their weaknesses, American schools still boast enviable achievements, the U.S. Secretary of Education told the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“The United States certainly does not have all the answers. But we have benefited tremendously from the insight of education stakeholders outside the government, especially from the business community,” Margaret Spellings told the OECD members gathered for their meeting in Athens. “The private sector has been a critical supporter of our nation’s universities—actively supporting education efforts as well as partnering with them on research, technology transfer, and other initiatives.”
“Companies within the private sector were instrumental in spotlighting that our secondary students were frequently graduating from college under-prepared or unprepared for the workforce—especially in the critical fields of math, science, and foreign language—the new currencies of our global economy.”
Secretary Spellings informed the audience that “earlier this year, President Bush outlined a plan aimed at increasing academic rigor in high school and strengthening math and science education.”
“More than 40 years ago, when the OECD was established, higher education was viewed as a luxury; in the 21st century it’s become a necessity.” Secretary Spellings explained that higher education has benefited from the advancements in society over the past four decades. “Recent technological advances that have improved the quality of life, revolutionized the means and speed in which we communicate, and opened new doors of opportunity have also redefined the skills all our citizens need to capitalize on these opportunities and thrive.”
Secretary Spellings told the audience that “In my country, in particular, 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs require some post-secondary education. Whether you want to be a cancer researcher or an auto mechanic, a college degree or certification is the ticket to success.”
She also mentioned the statistics involving OECD nations and higher education.
“Since the 1990s, OECD nations such as Australia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, and Korea have seen tremendous higher education growth with college access rates exceeding 60%. And by 2003, more than half of OECD member nations, including the U.S. had at least 25% of their adult population with a higher education degree—a near doubling in the number of nations with this level of education in the workforce.”
Secretary Spellings went on to urge teamwork between the private sector and the government to assist in strengthening higher education.
“A year ago, I established a Commission on the Future of Higher Education to examine these very issues. Our Commission is made up of university presidents, corporate leaders, philanthropists, policymakers and researchers. They’ve traveled around the country holding a series of public meetings to examine accessibility, accountability, affordability, and quality—similar to the themes we’ve talked about here.
“They will submit their final report in September with specific findings and recommendations, which will lay the groundwork and shape debate for our future work in higher education.”
Secretary Spellings praised America for having “an excellent system of higher education” that is a “decentralized system” which “has empowered students with a wide range of options, from large universities to community colleges to vocational and technical schools, from public institutions to private and religious ones.”
Matthew Murphy is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.