Education: Why not be the model?Written by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
Full disclosure requires that I tell you upfront that I attended a private high school and earned two degrees from a private university. My first teaching jobs were also in private colleges and I have a deep respect and affection for the nonprofit private sector in education. I’ve also served on the board of a well-known local private school and currently serve as a trustee for a private university. Full disclosure also requires that I tell you that I am a strong advocate for public education, as well. Truth be told, I am an advocate for all education — public and private.
As good as it is, however, education in the U.S. has not maintained its global leadership position and has been slipping in comparison to education in other nations. For decades we proudly pointed to the fact that the U.S. was ranked No. 1 or 2 among nations in quality of education.
That is no longer the case. This is partly because other nations are putting a higher priority on education and supporting that priority with funding and higher standards.
Recently, I was stunned to see how far the U.S. has slipped in all major education categories including math, reading and science. Not only are we not among the higher ranked nations, the U.S. now ranks below average among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations.
Consider these facts provided by the National Center for Education Statistics: Between 2009 and 2013, among nations, U.S. students slipped from 25th to 31st in math, 20th to 24th in science, and 11th to 21st in reading.
In the global economy those nations that have the best education systems will, over time, outperform those nations with weaker education systems in science and technology, economic growth and standard of living. The larger question is why we have allowed our nation’s schools to fall so far behind and, more importantly, what are we doing about it?
An issue of equal concern is the rapidly rising cost of tuition in both public and private colleges and universities. I’ve spent the past several years gathering data and stories on the impact of rising tuition and it is not a pretty picture. Not only are we pricing many young people out of the higher education market, but those that do persevere increasingly do so with borrowed money and leave their university — with or without a degree — with a near insurmountable debt.
I’ve talked with students, many still working on their degrees, who have accumulated debts of $40,000, $50,000 and some much more. I know graduate students who have loans exceeding $100,000. While the cost of higher education is growing, the real culprit in public higher education debt is the continuing actions of our legislatures to shift ever increasing proportions of the cost to our students and their families.
Ironically, the ultimate losers are our state and local economies. Students who leave their universities with huge debts are unable to buy cars, appliances, houses or afford an occasional vacation.
I am convinced, however, that we can successfully address these concerns and reverse these trends with greater understanding, stronger commitment and enlightened leadership. I would like to see my own community and state seriously tackle the challenges of K-12 student outcomes in math, science and reading as well as the cost of public higher education.
What would happen in Toledo and Northwest Ohio if our public officials — mayors, city council members, county commissioners, school board members and university trustees — came together and agreed to work with our business and civic leaders in a collaborative, concerted, strategic manner to make our education institutions a priority and the region an education model for the state and nation? Why not?
Dan Johnson is president emeritus at the University of Toledo.
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