Once upon a time, this nation understood that economic success lay in an educated citizenry. That’s why Congress passed the GI bill, which paid college tuition for veterans returning from World War II. Their post-secondary studies (and their home ownership, also boosted by the GI bill) laid the foundation for the growth of the middle class.
But we’ve grown stingy, soured on the idea that government ought to give a hand up to students who need help to pay for college. Many students drop out because they can’t pay for tuition, books and fees. State legislatures find it only too easy to cut funding for public colleges and universities at the first sign of budget distress. (Tuition doesn’t cover the cost of a college education, so public colleges always depend on taxpayer funds to make up the difference.)
We’ve also grown complacent as a culture, distracted by celebrity and consumerism. Let’s face it: Many American students aren’t prepared for the rigors of college. And it’s not just kids from poor homes or those who drop out of high school well before 12th grade. Too many middle-class kids get A’s for classroom work that wouldn’t merit a passing grade in a country such as South Korea or India, where students are more driven to succeed academically.
I often wondered how the Science and Engineering indicator survey would have looked like if it were taken during the height of the space race during the late 60's and early 70's. Were the population generally more educated than now?