Jamie P. Merisotis, President, Lumina Foundation
State of the Union address, 2012
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, President Barack Obama took note of the need to reduce the cost of higher education to assure that Americans continue to have access to the educational opportunities they need to succeed and contribute to the strengthening of our nation. As the President indicated, higher education is an economic imperative. Jobs that require skills and knowledge that can only be obtained through postsecondary education, including a growing number of advanced manufacturing jobs, are growing much faster than those that don’t.
The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2018 more than 60% of American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, including a growing number of jobs demanding skills and knowledge that can best be developed in community colleges. This trend toward increasing skills is worldwide, and many of our economic competitors are responding by increasing higher education attainment rates to levels well above ours. Lumina Foundation believes that 60% of Americans will need a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2025 for the U.S. to remain economically competitive. Yet the current economic climate has made the growing cost of college a significant barrier for many Americans. The future of our economy depends on finding ways to make higher education accessible and affordable.
The only real way to increase the numbers of highly qualified college graduates to the levels we need is to redesign key components of our higher education system to make it more productive.
The nation must both reduce the cost of college and increase the number of students who succeed in postsecondary education. The only real way to increase the numbers of highly qualified college graduates to the levels we need is to redesign key components of our higher education system to make it more productive. As the President noted, there is much that can be done to lower costs while maintaining or improving quality. For example, Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative offers redesigned general education courses which can be completed much faster than traditional courses, with the same or better student performance. We are finding that more and more state and campus leaders are willing to confront the core assumptions of how higher education is structured, funded, and delivered. But we are on the cusp of a fundamental change—the shift away from a system based on time to one based on learning. In a knowledge-based economy, degrees and other credentials must represent real skills and knowledge, not the amount of time a student has spent sitting in a classroom. Degrees and credentials should also recognize skills and knowledge however or wherever they are obtained, including through workforce development programs and higher education. A new partnership including the public, private and social sectors is required to build a system of higher education capable of meeting the growing need for skills and knowledge to lead in the 21st century. We at Lumina are committed to enabling this critical shift to a learning-centered system. Our country’s future depends on it.