With school just around the corner education has been on my mind. Back-to-school drives, summer job and internships ending, tuition payments due and college visitation trips are rumbling through my head. I have two children in college and one 24 months away from going to college. With school age children you are always thinking “are my children making the right decisions to prepare for tomorrow”. My dad, his dad and my dad’s grandfather always said the same thing to their children – “I’ll raise you, feed you, put a roof over your head and provide you with a good education, but the rest is up to you.” It was simple Midwestern thinking.
With our world’s global economy evolving, the race for getting an education is growing immensely. Today, more and more money is being spent on higher education than ever before. The share of the student-age population at university grew from 14% in 1992 to 32% in 2012. In that same period the number of countries with a ratio of more than 50% rose from 5 to 54 countries, proof the world is modernizing and seeking higher learning. It has been said that once a country’s GDP per person rises above $3,000 the demand for education escalates. As noted in the chart below university enrollment is growing faster than demand for a car.
In fact, it was recently reported in the Economist that OECD countries spend 1.6% of GDP on higher education, compared with 1.3% back in 2000. In contrast, America spends 2.7% of its GDP on higher education. All of this appetite for advancement is understandable in our “knowledge economy” – the requirement for a decent job and an entry ticket to the middle class.
America was an early leader in advanced learning back in the 18th and 19th century and still leads the world in creating a mass higher education. Higher education in America started to spread from the elite to the masses in the 19th century with the establishment of land-grant universities in 1862 and 1890, but the biggest boost came in 1944 with the GI bill that paid servicemen to go to college. The Times Higher Education ranks global universities across teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook using 13 performance indicators. In 2014-2015 28 of the Top 50 universities were US based institutions. Second in line was England with 7, Continental Europe with 4, Canada with 3, China with 2 and Japan with 1 university ranked in THE’s Top 50. I suspect Japan’s low figures are primarily due to the country’s focus on rebuilding its economic engine after WW2 and corporate development on low-cost manufacturing in the 60s and 70s. Today, China is playing catch-up, investing vast amounts into their universities and trying to woo accomplished professors and scholars away from the global brand universities.
Getting a shot at a higher education is tough if you can’t see. For some time I’ve been focused with my Atlanta Lions Club on vision screening Atlanta’s low-income kids for low visual acuity. 8-10% of preschool age children nationwide (3-6 years) suffer from poor vision health. At our Lion screenings we are finding in certain populations of Hispanic and African American demographics that the figures are sadly, double the national rates. Imagine trying to learn and not being able to see the blackboard. Helping bring the world into focus in the youngest ages is a challenge Lions are greatly passionate about so that our younger children can have a fair shot at a good education. Otherwise, these low-income children risk being disenfranchised from the work force due to a lack of education. The good news is the medical solution for a child with poor vision is an eye exam and a pair of glasses.
Job training and the demand for higher education are the drivers moving our world economy forward. In thirty years I can imagine a much smarter, better educated world than the world I was born into in the 60s.