Recent Republican Presidential debates provided candidates with yet another opportunity to weigh in on issues concerning jobs and the economy. However, let’s not sleep on education, another hot topic that was just as front and center and is very much alive and well in the national conversation.
Undoubtedly, job creation is and will remain the number one priority at the moment. However, ensuring that we continue to build an educated and diverse workforce is also important. That alone enables stronger U.S. competition while maintaining current advances in job creation efforts – now and well into the future.
If there is one thing that most GOP candidates can agree with, it’s that states need to play a more crucial role in the delivery of education services – if true education reform should ever occur. During one Florida debate, GOP candidates expressed strong concerns over the federal government’s role in the national education system. Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, rejected the idea that a “one size fits all” approach to education works, citing President Obama and his plan to provide schools with waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act – a policy originally implemented by Former President George W. Bush.
Candidates agree that more power should be shifted to the states. The idea is that each state, individually, can determine the necessary policy solutions for their unique education challenges.
While many Americans are rightfully concerned about what the next President will do to create jobs and stir economic growth, it is also critical that Americans are prepared for the jobs of the future – many of which will require unique and specific skill sets as we continue to move into important high growth sectors such as technology and energy.
Minority communities are particularly sensitive to this issue since Hispanics and African Americans hold the lowest high school and college graduation rates compared to the general population. According to The Department of Education’s 2010 Digest of Education Statistics, White students earned 71 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded from 2008-2009. Black and Hispanic students earned 10 percent and 8 percent respectively. As for high school dropout rates, Black and Hispanic student dropout rates of 9.3 and 17.6 percent respectively should be cause for concern since these rates remain much higher than the 5.2 percent dropout rate for Whites (based on 2009 data).
Currently, Hispanics and Blacks hold the highest unemployment rates in the country – a trend that is particularly troubling for Hispanics since the U.S. Hispanic population is rapidly growing and their academic achievements have important implications for America’s economic future. White House hopefuls, including President Obama, would be well advised to integrate strong education reform policies into their campaign platform if they want to improve appeal to the Hispanic vote.
The Hispanic community is well aware of the fact that they are underrepresented in many sectors and it is no secret that current disparities in education are exacerbating the problem. Efforts by any Presidential hopeful to help bridge the current educational divide will certainly be well received, particularly when factoring in a dismal jobs forecast that shows little – if any – signs of recovery in the near future. Americans know that education opens the door to opportunity. Without it, securing work is increasingly challenging.
So, as Presidential contenders continue to grapple with the issue of creating more jobs and rebuilding the economy, plans for improving a broken education system should also remain a priority. Not only is an educated workforce important, but a workforce that is reflective of what America is, is essential. As America continues to grow, evolve, and diversify so should its workforce. It is, after all, a reflection of our nation as a whole. As the most diverse and advanced country in the world, our next President must ensure that diversity is reflected at all levels and education is key to achieving this goal.