The current unemployment crisis, income disparity, outsourcing of skilled jobs overseas have common causes, the deterioration of education standards in the US, a shift in demographics and ultimately a shift in the global competitive environment.
Lee D. Lambert, the new Chancellor of Pima Community College (PCC), addressed these issues during a workshop for the community to collaborate with PCC in establishing its future direction, this past February.
“In the 21st century, as globalization and technology accelerate change in higher education, we need to build a strategic plan that can yield measurable benefits for the community and our students”, Chancellor Lambert said. “We know that such a plan cannot be formulated without incorporating the insights of the community we serve”.
“Certainly, PCC is overdue for change. To take a phrase from Intel Corp. founder Andy Grove, the College and the nation are at a "strategic inc inflection point,” a time when major shifts are taking place in the competitive environment. Though the United States remains the greatest nation on Earth, there are cracks in the foundation. The American Dream – the inter-generational covenant that children, with hard work, can be more successful than their parents – is in peril.
Demographic shifts are compelling new directions in higher education, especially at community colleges such as PCC. In the U.S., 78 million Baby Boomers are heading toward retirement. Their replacements in the current and future workforce are some 48 million Americans ages 14-24. Compare that with 450 million young people in India and 420 million in China, two nations whose young people are overtaking young Americans educationally. The U.S. cannot remain competitive if our children cannot succeed in school and the workplace. Jobs will go where the best employees are.
The education gap has been well documented. U.S. 15-year-olds are falling behind the rest of the world: We are 26th in mathematics, 21st in science and 17th in reading. For adults, the numbers are equally bleak: 21st in numeracy and 15th in literacy, including digital literacy, the ability to use online resources information gathering and problem solving. This is especially important because 77 percent of U.S. corporations use online resources to train workers, and one-third of U.S. college students are taking at least one online course.
Globalization is also forcing major change. Ninety-five percent of U.S. companies’ potential consumers live outside the U.S. One in six U.S. jobs is tied to trade; in some states, 40 percent of jobs are trade-connected. Americans need to be aware of other societies, for the simple reason it’s smart to know what your competitors are up to. Yet, as has been documented by the Abraham Lincoln Commission for Study Abroad, only 20 percent of Americans hold passports.
These factors are behind the inability to fill some 4 million jobs in the U.S., with the problem particularly acute in manufacturing: Sixty-seven percent of the National Association of Manufacturers report shortages of qualified workers. The American Society for Training and Development reports that 84 percent of its members say they have difficulty finding work-ready employees, who often lack the so-called “soft” skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving. The mismatch also is evident in that only 27 percent of college graduates are hired for a job related to their major.
Community colleges are uniquely positioned to train the workforce for middle-skill, living-wage manufacturing jobs that can form the core of stable, prosperous communities. But they need to do better. Pima Community College needs to do better. Tucsonans are acutely aware of the consequences of living in the sixth-most impoverished city of its size in the U.S. I repeat: We need to do better.”
These comments Chancellor Lambert are echoed by the Voice of the Poor position paper on “Education”:
“We must rethink the objectives of America’s educational system. Practical training programs that put people back to work and educational fundamentals leading youth on the path to gainful employment after graduation are critical.
America must invest in the education of its least. It is a matter of investing now or paying much more later” (http://www.svdpusa.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=TDoKaMqLW-o%3d&tabid=236)
David W. Barringer, National CEO of the Society, adds, “As Vincentians we understand that much of poverty is multi-generational. Thus to break the cycle of poverty, sometimes we need to focus on the children and their education, their choices and their decisions.”
It all makes logical sense, yet, here in Arizona and in other states as well, for the sake of reducing taxes, we have cut funding of education, which resulted in crowded classes, underpaid teachers, limited educational equipment and closing of schools,. State funding of education in Arizona went from 6,165 million in 2007-2008 to 4,407 million in 2012-2013, a decrease of almost 30%. What outcomes do we expect from this type of policy decisions?
Furthermore, all of this is happening in a period when demographics are not in our favor.
Children now are a smaller proportion than ever of America’s population (24% now, 26% in 1990 and 40% in 1900), even with a boost from immigrant families. This trend will continue, and the share of population over age 65 will increase from 13% today to about 20% by 2050. The increasing cost of caring for an aging population will reduce even further the resources available to care and educate children.
Add to that our archaic immigration system, which discourage needed legal immigration, exacerbating the situation further. These are the demographic facts:
The U.S. birth rate is declining: Western nations have not been replacing themselves through births. Among the US born population the fertility rate is 1.93 babies per woman of childbearing age. When immigrants and naturalized citizens are factored in, the rate goes up to 2.1. But, 2.2 babies per woman of childbearing age is the rate considered necessary for a sustaining population.
Mexico’s demographics are also changing: As Mexican population shifted from rural to urban areas in the last 3 decades, the fertility rate dropped from six to 2.5 children per childbearing woman. We are already feeling a large drop in the supply of low-skill labor from Mexico (T-bird, 2008), not because border enforcement, but because of demographics.
According to the Pew Foundation: when the US economy grows at 3% per year, it creates around 500,000 new jobs. The U.S. population will not meet this need. Over the past periods of growth: legal and illegal immigration helped providing both workers and consumers to drive the service economy and helped supporting the Social Security system. Now, US and Mexico demographics, border enforcement and lack of reform facilitating immigration, will prevent the worker supply to be there, if new growth occurs.
In conclusion, the future of the US will be bleak, unless dramatic changes take place, including generous funding of education and a sensible immigration reform.