Challenges Ahead for the Business of Education

The elections are over, and in January we will welcome one of the largest classes of new governors. Gubernatorial elections were held in 37 states and two territories. The results: 29 new governors. The message sent was loud and clear… downsize and redesign government to meet the new economic reality facing states. According to John Thomasian, director of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, “State budgets have not yet recovered from the Great Recession. In fact, total state revenues probably will not return to pre-recession levels until sometime around 2013.” The new class of governors will be asked to take the necessary steps to create a smaller, leaner government — and this includes redesigning both the K–12 and higher education systems.

The current governors have tried not to reduce funding for K–12 education, instead urging greater efficiency with existing resources. In some states this included encouraging district consolidation, increasing class size and cutting non-core programs — to the dismay of many. In higher education, funds have been cut and university systems have been encouraged to become more efficient. When it comes to graduation rates the focus has changed from getting “to” college to getting “through” college.

There is no question that the completion rate for both K–12 and college students is a serious concern. More than a fifth of the U.S. population ages 18-24 have neither a high school diploma nor a GED. Many of those who attend classes in our colleges and universities fail to complete the program and earn a certificate or degree — a dismal 27 percent for community colleges and 55 percent for four-year institutions. Unless we correct this problem, for the first time in history we will be faced with a generation of young adults with a lower educational attainment rate than their parents.

The timing could not be worse. Limited state funds are available for education. The dropout/non-completion rate is soaring. The current workforce is retiring and by 2018 two-thirds of jobs will require a higher level of education. The American education system, once touted as producing the highest proportion of college-educated citizens, has slipped from number one to number 12, and global competition is heating up for our students and our jobs.

In the next few years, the work of the governors, our K–12 school systems, and our institutions of higher education will be a challenge. Funding may be limited, but not American ingenuity or our desire to once again be number one in education.