Where will good jobs come from in our emerging digital economy? This is a really important question given the dramatic changes taking place in the economy, mostly driven by the continuing advances in technology and the forces of globalization. Unfortunately, we don’t have very good answers.
But, just about every study on the subject points to a similar trend: for the foreseeable future, the US economy will need better educated workers. 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.
Moreover, while the overall unemployment/underemployment rates remain persistently high, a 2011 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 shortage of workers with technical, health care, and other skills requiring a post-secondary education but not necessarily a college degree.
This is not surprising given the central role of information and knowledge in our increasingly digital economy. However, our colleges and universities, the very institutions to which the country should turn to help us address these growing educational demands, are facing problems of their own. Tuition costs have been rising faster than the rate of inflation, 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 pressure at all levels, - local, state and national.