Building a Qualified Workforce for the Future: New Trends in Higher Education

Building a Qualified Workforce for the Future: New Trends in Higher Education

Comparing private, public and for-profit colleges in the U.S.: how they stack up on affordability, access, and preparing American students for the workplace.

The many months of discouraging joblessness figures highlight an important factor: education. Last year the unemployment rate for people with a college degree was 5.4%. For those with only a high school diploma the rate was nearly double. In addition, an untold number of jobs go unfilled because there are not enough qualified applicants. Critics charge that institutions of higher education today which include, public, private, community and for-profit colleges fail to meet the needs of students, especially economically disadvantaged students, and face serious challenges with regard to affordability, access and quality: Join us to talk about higher education in the U.S. today.


Andrew Rosen

chair and CEO, Kaplan,Inc

Josh Wyner

executive director, College Excellence Program, Aspen Institute

Claudia Goldin

economic historian, labor economist, and professor of economics, Harvard University

Barmak Nassirian

associate executive director,American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

Program Highlights

The U.S. suffers from what's been called an education deficit. A surprising number of jobs go unfilled because there's a shortage of qualified candidates. Many say our higher ed system is to blame, and that too few students are able to get the education these jobs require.

Spending The Most On Educating The Few

Only about 30 to 32 percent of the U.S. population above the age of 25 has a bachelor's degree, Kaplan's Andrew Rosen points out. But currently, 60 percent of the jobs in the U.S. require at least some college. The real challenge, Rosen said, is getting what he calls the "second third" access to higher education. "Even though we as a society spend more on education per capita than any other country in the world, by far, we keep on falling further back in that attainment challenge," Rosen said."And it is driven by the fact that we spend more and more money on the most advantaged students in our country."

The Quality Of Public Education

In spite all the money we spend on higher education, though, employers often complain that college graduate job applicants are inadequately prepared for the working world. Some college professors blame the nation's faltering public education system. "What's happened is now 60 percent of students who enter community college need remedial education," The Aspen Institute's Josh Wyner said, with 25 percent of those going to four-year colleges requiring the same. Even if students struggle, though, Wyner said those with associate's degrees earn an average of about $400,000 more over a lifetime than those with a high school diploma, and those with a four-year degree earn about twice that.

The College Affordability Factor

Several listeners called in to speak about the difficulty of obtaining affordable student loans with reasonable interest rates, and the panelists agreed that college needs to be more affordable in the U.S. Harvard University's Claudia Goldin said that although high interest rates are discouraging, she doesn't believe that the cost of college education is something that the public should be paying for. In her view, the capital market should be much better at providing affordable loans, but she looks at the cost of a college education as "individuals investing in themselves" and said that "they should be getting a high return for it."

Could Online Education Help?

One caller lamented about what he sees as the lost potential of online education. The caller, Rick, believed that online higher education could drive costs down significantly and open up higher educational opportunities to many more people. Rosen said that online education is still in its infancy and may yet provide opportunities to people who haven't had them in the past because of prohibitively high costs.

You can read the full transcript here.

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The Diane Rehm Show is produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.