Last week, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released a report, Graduate Education: The Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation, at a forum held at the Library of Congress in Washington. CGS is an organization of over 450 institutions of higher education in the US, - plus a small number in Canada and across the globe, - whose mission is to improve and advance graduate education. I was a member of the report's Advisory Committee and participated in the Washington forum.
Why is graduate education particularly important in today's world? I think it is primarily due to the changing nature of innovation in the 21st century. "Interdisciplinary research preparation and education are central to future competitiveness, because knowledge creation and innovation frequently occur at the interface of disciplines," says the CGS report (p18). In such a world, the ability to analyze and solve problems, even ones you never saw before is particularly important, as is the ability to quickly bring to market new products, services and integrated solutions of all kinds. This kind of talent is more important than ever, given the increasingly complex, fast changing, competitive world we live in. These are the kinds of skills that require solid preparation as well as a certain degree of maturity, and that therefore are difficult to acquire in college. This is what graduate education and advanced degrees are all about.
For decades, the US higher education system has been the envy of the world, attracting a steady supply of the nation's and the world's most talented students. Their work has contributed directly to sustained economic growth and prosperity. As the CGS report observes: "A highly skilled workforce operating at the frontiers of knowledge creation and professional practice is key to America's competitiveness and national security. Universities, government and private industry each play an essential role in providing the expertise and resources necessary to achieve this objective."