|| The New Economic Imperative
In the new global economy, prosperity for nations and states requires significantly more workers with higher levels of knowledge and skills. In May 2002, Business Week warned employers of an impending "wrenching manpower and skills shortage," especially of college-educated workers, as labor force growth slows and baby boomers retire, even assuming the current high pace of immigration of recent years (Bernstein 2002). Large proportions of the young Americans available to enter the workforce will come from the low-income and demographic groups that are least well served by American education at all levels-those who have the lowest rates of completing high school and enrolling and persisting in college, including students of color, first generation college-goers, and English language learners.
A recent analysis of U.S. Census data by Graham Toft of the Hudson Institute projects a net increase of people with less than a high school education through 2020 (Toft 2002).3 Although Toft projects modest increases in the numbers of those who are college-educated, his major finding predicts a severe mismatch between educational attainment of young workers and the escalating knowledge and skill requirements of the new economy. According to the 2000 census data, of the 34.6 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the labor force, 47 percent were enrolled in neither high school nor college (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2001). Clearly, these young people represent a reservoir of workforce knowledge and skills-but only if states and educational institutions see it as their mission to ensure "no child (or adult) left behind."
Throughout the world, the pressure to develop human talent by raising educational levels extends to higher education-that is, to education and training beyond high school. The most successful nations in developing human talent through the postsecondary levels will have enormous competitive advantages over those that do not. For the half century that followed World War II, the United States was the leader in extending educational opportunity beyond high school and in raising educational achievement levels. However, despite modest improvements in the 1990s, America's leadership in higher education has eroded; several Western European nations have emulated, pursued, and surpassed the United States in college access and college attainment (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001).
According to Roberts Jones, president of the National Alliance of Business, between 1980 and 1997 American postsecondary enrollment grew by an average annual rate of 1.1 percent, while average annual enrollment in China grew by 15.6 percent and in Indonesia by 19.1 percent. If these and other countries sustain such rates, it will take only a few decades for their higher education enrollment rates to surpass those of the United States (Jones 2002).
3See also, U.S. Census Bureau 2000.