The ability of American firms and workers to compete successfully in a globalized economy is directly dependent upon the quality of education our students receive. American Competitiveness is therefore linked with the success of the U.S. primary, secondary, and higher education systems. As the U.S. has declined in competitiveness rankings, both the American Security Project and Harvard Business School have cited education reform as a necessary step to enhance the ability of the U.S. to compete abroad. Additionally, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the importance of improving American education for U.S. competitiveness and national security imperatives. She discussed the national security threats created by a weak education system’s effect on the quality of the Foreign Service, military command, critical technology, and intelligence gathering.
The root of America’s “education problem” lies within the standard K-12 school system. The decreasing quality of schools, teachers, and curricula has led to a lack of skilled laborers. The education problem is exacerbated by the growing disparity of “quality” amongst schools across the country. Students whom come from families of higher socio-economic standing are more likely to live in areas with strong tax bases to support high-quality public schools. Further, students from these backgrounds are much more likely to attend private school alternatives. In contrast, students in poorer areas are less able to afford private schooling and thus are more likely to be trapped in school systems that lack resources. In order to develop the large number of skilled students demanded by private firms such as defense contractors, all children in the United States need universal access to high quality K-12 education and curricula that prepares them for productive work upon graduation.
Large scale education reform is impossible without strong investment for the provision of resources to create quality facilities, attract effective teachers, and provide beneficial curricula/programs. Ultimately, public-private cooperative partnerships must be fostered to aid in education reform. Effective forms of private participation in public education include formal apprenticeships, partnerships with local community colleges and technical schools, and investment in local, regional, and national education initiatives that promote excellence and growth via scholarships, competitions, and school grants.
Students and schools in the state of Maryland have been able to experience the benefits of such investment as businesses have begun funding STEM education courses and activities across the state. Much needed education advances have been made as activities such as Howard County’s STEM Festival promote exciting learning and skill-building amongst students. Additionally, organizations such as the NSA, US Naval Academy, and CDC attend such events along with private firms like Northrop Grumman. The involvement of defense, Foreign Service, and intelligence organizations help to create a strong link between a greater focus on education and the need for students with critical skills to keep America atop research, development, and technological national security imperatives. Private enterprise will see the benefit of investment in education as there demand for skilled laborers is more readily met.
In addition to the problems within the K-12 education system, America faces constraints created by the extremely fast-paced rise of college tuition. The continued push for all students to complete some form of higher-education has resulted in record numbers of students going on to colleges and universities. Large applicant pools combined with drastic drops in state funding have led such institutions to push tuition higher and higher each year. The importance of a college education has pushed students to continue going to school at very high costs, thus providing no incentive for schools not to raise prices. Throughout his time in office, President Obama has attempted to combat the high student debts and barriers to college entry that high tuitions present. He has warned that schools that drive up costs will be striped of federal aid as those that show restraint and value will be rewarded. These threats must carry weight should we hope to curb the financial behavior of colleges and universities.
The increasing availability of student loans is merely treatment for the symptoms of the problem, not the root cause. An arrangement similar to that advocated for public-private partnerships in K-12 education may assist in preventing continued high-rising college tuitions. As state governments need to recognize the need for investment in education even in times of fiscal austerity, so too do the firms that require the high-quality skill sets that institutions of higher education build in students.
Education is the key to our future. This view, although, at this point possibly cliché, rings true across all sectors that comprise American Competitiveness and national security. A strong United States of America requires quality and affordable education to be accessible for all. Smarter and more skilled students on the whole will drive a strong economy and defense industrial base through higher productivity and innovation.