A glance at the latest US employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals sharp differences in unemployment rates by educational attainment: college degree or higher: 4.3%; associate degree or some college: 8.2%; high school graduates, no college: 9.6%; and no high school diploma: 14.3%. Moreover, while the overall unemployment rate remains over 9 percent, a recent McKinsey report found that employers are having trouble filling specific positions because they could not find applicants with the right skills. The report projects that if economic conditions improve, there will be a shortage of 1.5 million workers with college degrees by 2020, but a surplus of almost 6 million of workers with no high school degree. It also projects a continuing shortage of workers with technical and health care skills not necessarily requiring a college degree.
Just about every such study points to a similar trend: for the foreseeable future, the US economy will need better educated workers with specific skill requirements. Workers without a post-secondary education face a contracting set of job opportunities. Those with higher educational attainments will be in the best position to obtain good jobs with good pay.
Thus, we need to significantly increase the number of students receiving post-secondary education. However, our colleges and universities, the very institutions to which the country should turn to help us address these increased educational demands, are facing problems of their own. Tuition costs have risen much faster than the rate of inflation and keep going up, thus making it harder for them to serve the students most in need of their services. Many educational institutions are facing financial difficulties. The financial crisis has been aggravating the situation, at both public and private institutions. Government education budgets are under huge pressure at all levels, - local, state and national.
Incremental steps will not make much of a dent on the problem. We need to look at higher education through the lens of disruptive innovation, argues a report published last February, - Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education. The report is written by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, Louis Caldera and Louis Soares.