Roadmap for Growth - Education | Business Roundtable


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Fast Facts

The U.S. has dropped from 1st to 14th in the world in the share of adults aged 25-34 who have a postsecondary degree2

  • The U.S. ranked 52nd out of 139 countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on math and science education3
  • Half of U.S. employers report a sizeable gap between their current needs and the skills of their employees4
  • By 2018, nearly two-thirds (63%) of new and replacement jobs will require at least some post-secondary education. More than half of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher5
  • Educational quality relates directly to GDP: If the U.S. became a top performing nation by 2025, our 2037 GDP would be 5% higher; and by 2080 it would be 36% higher6
  • More foreign-born students pursue advanced degrees in engineering and physical science in U.S. graduate schools than do U.S. students7

Source: OECD, 2009

The Issue

Today, workers without a college education experience an unemployment rate that is nearly 6 percentage points higher than workers who have earned a bachelor’s degree.8 Further, undereducated and under-skilled workers, particularly those who lack proficiency in STEM, will not be qualified for the new jobs that America’s modern economy will create. Even in the current state of weak economic expansion, the contours of the problem are visible. Employers report having difficulty finding qualified employees for some open positions, despite a high national unemployment rate. A survey conducted for Business Roundtable revealed that half of U.S. employers see a sizeable gap between their needs and the skills of their employees, and 65 percent anticipate requiring “all,” “most” or “some” new employees to have earned an associates degree or higher.

While education reform in the United States has improved student achievement over the last 10 years, the rest of the world has not stood still. According to the most recent international comparisons, U.S. K-12 students rank 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries scored by the OECD. In higher education, the number of foreign students studying physical sciences and engineering in U.S. grad schools is greater than the number of American students.

For nearly a century, superior U.S. economic performance rested on the strong foundation of a well-educated population. American employers had ready access to the most highly educated workforce in the world. It is important to note that the U.S. education system has not actually decreased its performance. By some measures it has improved. The problem is that the U.S. education system has not kept pace with the economy’s growing requirement for increased educational attainment or with the increased educational performance of our economic competitors.

As other nations recognize the importance of education to their prosperity, America has slipped from first to 14th in the world in the share of adults ages 25–34 with post-secondary degrees. Only 69 percent of American teenagers complete high school in four years and only slightly more than 40 percent of U.S. young adults hold an associates or higher college degree.9 The high school graduation10 and college completion11 rates are particularly troubling for African-American (54 and 42 percent) and Hispanic (56 and 48 percent) students.

Without accelerated reform to boost U.S. student achievement and increase college completion rates for students and workers of all ages, particularly in STEM, American students and workers will fall further behind, and future U.S. economic competitiveness will be placed at risk.

The Solution

The federal government’s responsibility and accountability for education is limited but influential. Business Roundtable recommends the following actions:

  • Improve Math and Science Education. Sustained investment in basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, paired with focused attention to improving STEM education, are essential to ensuring continued U.S. scientific and technological leadership and to developing the next generation of scientists, engineers and STEM-literate Americans.
  • Improve K-12 Education. Modernize and strengthen the key elements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including internationally benchmarked standards and assessments; better measures of performance, particularly for teachers and administrators; and a greater focus on K-12 STEM education.
  • Expand incentives both for innovation and for scaling up proven programs in K-12 education. Continue to invest in competitive programs that focus on performance and encourage innovation such as Race to the Top, Teacher Incentive Fund, Investing in Innovation and expansion of high-quality charter schools. Race to the Top, in particular, promotes promising policy changes long advocated by the business community.
  • Promote a Race to the Top competition for two- and four-year colleges that focuses on completion rates and attainment of credentials valued by employers. Increasingly, education is synonymous with workforce development for Americans who are currently employed as well as for Americans who have lost jobs in shrinking occupations. Incentives at community college and four-year institutions need to shift from rewarding enrollment to rewarding completion.


2 Education at a Glance 2010. http://www.oecd guest&checksum=F419ED8C3186CA8682C7B2D1D64F6962.


4 The Springboard Project American Workforce Survey, Business Roundtable, July 2009.

5 Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018,” The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010.

6 Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, 2008, p. 10

7 National Center for Education Statistics (2007). Computation by DAS-T Online Version 5.0 on 10/29/2007 using U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003-2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:04).

8 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, October 8, 2010, Table A-4 “Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment,”

9 National Center for Education Statistics (2007). Computation by DAS-T Online Version 5.0 on 10/29/2007 using U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003-2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:04).

10 Editorial Projects in Education, “Diplomas Count 2010: Graduating by the Number: Putting Data to Work for Student Success,” special issue, Education Week 29, no. 34 (2010).

11 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2008, Graduation Rates component (data is percent of students enrolled full-time who complete a bachelor’s degree within six years).