For the first time in decades, global power systems and structures are shifting and timeless hegemonies are being questioned. American students, once praised around the world, are now falling behind as Swiss students outstrip their language capabilities, in many cases not needing nearly the same amount of instruction to complete the same task, and international students dominate many engineering departments. This post, written by Valerie Harris, a researcher and writer for http://www.mastersdegreeonline.org/, an online resource for students looking to navigate the complicated university system in the United States, looks to shed some light on this disheartening phenomenon.
From Kindergarten to Masters Degree Programs: American Students Falling Behind
Going to college has long been part of the so-called “American Dream,” but rising education costs—as well as declining student achievement rates—have in many ways cast a pall over whether the endeavor is attainable at all, not to mention a sound financial decision. Americans spend more on K-12 education than most industrialized countries, yet students’ test scores and performance rankings are nowhere near the top, or even the top ten. And, as the world becomes increasingly global community rife with competition, these shortcomings are likely to prove more and more problematic. Coveted U.S. jobs are likely to go to the most qualified candidate, even if he or she is coming from abroad. This is particularly true for jobs that can easily be outsourced, or completed remotely.
The changing job market means that fighting for a cutting-edge education and pursuing graduate studies has never been more important.
Many of the education system’s critics are quick to point fingers at finances. Schools are strapped for cash, they argue, and cannot possibly provide a quality education without more budgetary control. However, the situation is much more complex than simple dollars and cents. More money than ever before is being funneled into public schools, and schools are still coming up short when it comes time to actually perform and improve.
“It might be difficult to believe, but school spending has risen every year,” The New York Times’ “SchoolBook” site said in 2012. Costs are rising, too, however. More students than ever before are enrolling, and many have needs—ESL, learning disabilities, or disciplinary issues—that require additional specialists and instructors.
“To make ends meet, city officials have set a less ambitious agenda for school construction projects, eliminated planned raises of four percent for teachers, and reduced individual schools’ budgets as many as five times over the last several years,” SchoolBook reported. This has often meant that the education offered to any one student is nowhere near the value suggested by its price tag.
Years ago, money allocated to education actually went to classrooms. Today, it funds a number of programs that may or may not impact the overall quality of student learning. Teacher pensions, specialist salaries, and administrative costs have meant that class sizes are bigger than ever, buildings are crumbling, and curriculum materials are woefully dated. Even very talented teachers are hard pressed to provide a robust and meaningful education to each and every student that sit in their constantly growing classrooms.
This can—and does—have a lasting impact on Americans’ overall marketability on the world’s landscape. A weakened educational system means that fewer students graduate ready to go to college, and of those that do pursue higher learning, only a percentage are actually equipped to do well.
“The United States must recognize that its long-term growth depends on dramatically increasing the quality of its K-12 public education system,” Stacy Childress, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning group, wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “By 2018, if today’s college graduation rates hold as steady as they have for decades, the U.S. will be short at least 3 million college-educated workers for the projected 101 million jobs that will require a degree.”
One result is that American jobs are being filled by graduates hailing from other countries who were trained abroad in countries with stronger, more robust education systems and who may have attended an American university.
However, bleak prospects do not necessarily denote a hopeless situation. Pursuing an advanced degree is one of the best ways for U.S. students to remain competitive. This often entails great cost, as graduate education tends to be quite expensive. It is time-intensive, as well. That said, these costs usually have a high payout as it means that Americans can maintain their marketability as some studies have shown that rigorous college learning can counteract some of the failings of primary education. The decision is one that must be carefully weighed in terms of cost and potential benefit, but most find that the end benefits of better job security and increased marketability are well worth it.
Americans, for all of their usual resilience and bootstrap pulling mentality, have acted in a very defeated manner regarding their education system and job prospects. The best way to for students to remain competitive is to work harder and, if necessary, outside of the classroom using the growing number of online resources that are often free to access. Students need to take charge of their future and apply some elbow grease that their ancestors were famous for.