Access to higher education matters now in a way that it hasn’t mattered in the last 30 or 40 years.
That’s according to Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. He said while Americans have always been interested in access and quality of college education, the movement of baby boomers is really hitting home.
“We’re sort of the pig in the python,” Callan said during the Education Policy Task Force meeting Thursday.
Baby boomers have been not only the largest generation, but also the best educated. But now that generation is moving into retirement and out of the work force in the next 20 to 25 years.
“The question for our country is do we let the level of education and work force decline or should we replace those people?” he said.
Generations after the baby boomers, he said, are smaller and the U.S. will have to educate larger proportions of those generations to keep up with the retiring baby boomers.
That not only affects the communities in which they live, but individuals as well.
“The proportion of jobs that allow a person to have a middle class life without education or training beyond high school is diminishing,” he said.
That illustrates the basic economic necessity for states interested in ensuring their residents are well educated, and that’s a reason states need to take action now, according to Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the Association of State Colleges and Universities.
“A trend for better or worse is the income differential between those with just a high school degree and those with a college degree continues to get wider and wider,” he said.
That has long-ranging impacts, including the public benefits of increased tax revenues and decreased crime rates, to private benefits, including higher salaries and benefits and improved health/life expectancies.
Access to higher education, Callan and Hurley said, can be improved through state policies.
“States need to set real goals,” said Callan. That can include determining the number of graduates a state needs for the long-term and developing plans to educate those students.
“The greatest danger,” he said, “is the lack of a sense of urgency.”
Callan commended the CSG Education Policy Task Force for the adoption of a resolution to improve access to higher education.
—Mary Branham Dusenberry