Higher education machine

Benjamin Franklin declared that “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Martin Luther King, Jr. offered “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

While I wholeheartedly concur with these sentiments, I question whether it makes sense for an individual to pursue a college or university degree if the result is a heavy debt load and a transcript that does little to help the graduate find a job. This assumes that high school seniors are prepared. Regrettably, many are not. A review of the Nation’s Report Card is truly shocking. In 2015, only 37 percent of grade 12 students performed at or above a proficient level of reading. Seventy-five percent of grade 12 students were not proficient in mathematics. Whether you are a parent, taxpayer and/or hiring manager, you should be demanding to know how $620+ billion is being spent on public elementary and secondary schools. It is no less tragic for the young people who are ill-equipped to fend for themselves.

According to the Association of Colleges & Universities website, surveys show that employers “give students very low grades on nearly all of the 17 learning outcomes explored.” Companies require prospective employees to demonstrate the ability to communicate clearly, work in teams, think critically about an issue, behave ethically and “apply knowledge in real-world settings.” For those planning to rely on generous grades from professors, think again. Companies are getting wise to the notion that “everyone gets a trophy” and discounting the usefulness of grades.

Poor hiring decisions are risky for any employer. Someone without adequate skills could make a costly mistake that destroys enterprise value or, worse yet, leads to bodily harm or a fatality. Organizations already spend huge amounts on training. The 2015 Training Industry Report cites $70.6 billion as the amount spent by U.S. based companies and educational groups that year, up 14.2 percent from 2014. Is it fair to ask shareholders to pick up the bill to teach individuals the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) and other fundamentals they should have acquired in high school or college?

I am a big believer in lifetime learning. I understand the advantages of combining academics with experiential opportunities. I also know, as do many others, that we can do better when it comes to preparing the younger generation to live as independent adults. Closing the skills gap should be a priority for everyone. We all pay for deficiencies in one way or another.