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Everyone’s Saying It: Higher Education is not serving the economy—Jobs Edition

Last week, the Education and Workforce Committee introduced the PROSPER Act — the much-needed reform of the Higher Education Act. It’s a big bill with a lot of great ideas, but one of the reasons it’s been introduced now is simple: there are six million unfilled jobs in this country.

A postsecondary degree has long provided students with a reliable pathway to greater career opportunities, but a large number of students who enter college fail to complete their education, leaving them unable to secure in-demand jobs that require a baccalaureate degree. Improving student retention and program completion is imperative to close the existing skills gap and to ensure that more Americans are able to graduate on-time and earn the job opportunities they have worked towards.

Both sides of the aisle agree that higher education needs to once again serve the needs of students preparing to enter the workforce:

  • “More than 90 percent of high school seniors aspire to postsecondary education, and about 80 percent try it out within two years of graduating from high school, but only about 40 percent successfully earn a degree. That leaves too many young Americans with unfulfilled dreams, college debt, and no credentials or marketable skills—an outcome that could be avoided if they pursued a more practical direction.”
    Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute

  • "Even these top universities often only have a 60 percent completion rate. And the average university will have something like a 30 percent completion rate. So you have an immense amount of wasted resource, and students who end up with a big loan and sort of a negative experience in terms of their own self-confidence. And so that failing student is a disaster for everyone.”
    Bill Gates

  • “America has a college-completion crisis. Among traditionally aged bachelor’s degree students, the U.S. Department of Education reports that only 59 percent graduate within six years, never mind four. For students in two-year institutions, completion rates are even lower. Put those numbers together and a majority of American students who enter college do not complete their degrees in the time allotted, or indeed ever … The abysmal national graduation rate is more than just a student problem. Institutions are failing to help their students successfully navigate the path to a degree. Yet because college students are presumed to be adults and because college is an expensive personal investment, the public and the government typically begin from the presumption that students are solely responsible for their own success or failure.”
    Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America

  • “This biggest issue facing higher education today? … Return on investment. Higher education is becoming increasingly more expensive and it’s not getting results; it doesn’t lead to graduates getting jobs that allow them to pay off the debts they’ve accrued from that education.”
    Adam Enbar, Cofounder and CEO of the Flatiron School

  • “In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults. Think about that. In one generation we went from number one to number 12. Over a third of America’s college students and over half of our minority students don’t earn a degree, even after six years.  So we don’t just need to open the doors of college to more Americans; we need to make sure they stick with it through graduation. That is critical.”
    President Barack Obama

  • “Right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline. We have to make the same commitment to getting folks across the graduation stage that we did to getting them into the registrar’s office. The dreams and skills of our college graduates will pave the way to a bright economic future for our nation.”
    Vice President Joe Biden

  • “ Our current higher education system is outdated and fundamentally broken. It is too expensive, too time consuming, and too difficult to access … While higher education was merely an option for most Americans in the last century, today it is a necessity for nearly everyone. This is because our economy has fundamentally changed. Technology has replaced many low-skilled jobs, and the higher-paying jobs of tomorrow require more advanced skills than ever before. To make the 21st century an American century, we must bring higher education within reach of all.”
    Senator Marco Rubio

  • "The reality is: there is a growing disconnect between what the labor market is telling us on the one hand and what college enrollments are on the other. By one way of measuring things, using U.S. Government Bureau of Labor statistics data, as much as one out of three college graduates today are in jobs that previously or historically have been filled by people with lesser educations, jobs that do not require higher-level learning skills, critical thinking skills, or writing skills or anything of that nature."
    Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University


To learn more about the PROSPER Act, click here.