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Opinion

A partnership to boost the US economy: business and higher education

With college tuition costs skyrocketing, and a dearth of skilled workers, American businesses worry they won't have enough educated employees to power their companies – and fuel economic recovery. Companies have begun to partner with colleges to meet a mutual demand.

By Jamie Merisotis and Charles Kolb / October 6, 2011



Indianapolis and Washington

By 2018, 63 percent of all of US jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training, according to estimates by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. But the United States is only on track to deliver a fraction of this education. Currently, only 38 percent of America’s young adults have a college degree, compared to 58 percent in South Korea.

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In fact, the current generation of college-age Americans is on its way to being less educated than their parents – a shameful first in America’s history.

With college tuition costs rising at double the rate of health-care costs, and a dearth of skilled workers, American businesses are increasingly worried about having enough educated employees to power their companies – and fuel economic recovery. Many businesses are beginning to understand the economic and competitive imperative to reverse these trends. They know higher education needs their help – and that they need better-educated workers.

In fact, if the US could better match skills with today’s jobs, unemployment would be at 6.5 percent instead of 9.1 percent, according to estimates from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. In that light, some companies have begun to partner with colleges to meet a mutual demand.

For example, Rio Salado College in Tempe, Ariz. works closely with corporations, government agencies, and other educational institutions to provide online classes that are convenient to students’ schedules and prepare them to succeed in well-paying careers.

The college and its business partners, ranging from airlines and banks to insurers, recognize that half of those who enroll in college are dropping out, citing costs and the demands of juggling work and family. A majority of today’s students work at least part-time and are raising families. Students at Rio Salado can choose from more than 600 online classes and more than 60 certificates and degrees, as well as in-person and hybrid classes (on-line and in-person) at college locations and workplaces.

One of Rio Salado College’s corporate partners, The United Services Automobile Association (USAA), has increased its workforce nearly ten-fold in recent years, due in large part to the kind of skills training and college credits completed at Rio Salado by more than 3,000 of its employees.

Large technology-intensive employers like Fortune 100 company Northrop Grumman drive America’s economic future and can represent a critical tipping point in education and training. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding spin-off Huntington Ingalls relies on a highly skilled workforce equipped to handle the escalating challenges of nuclear-powered shipbuilding.

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