THE No. 1 issue facing the United States today is job readiness, says Richard Berendzen, president of American University. ``The US faces an utterly staggering problem as we enter the next century.'' Solving that problem requires a renewed national emphasis on education, Dr. Berendzen says. Additional funds will be required, but they should be looked on as a necessary investment, with the funds transferred from other areas of the budget, he says.
According to Berendzen, America must act now to ensure that minority youth, upon which the US economy will largely depend in the 21st century, obtain the quality of education required in the economy of the future. Otherwise the US will not be able to compete in the world economy, he adds.
Step by step, Berendzen built his case before a small group of reporters. By the year 2000, between 5 million and 15 million low-skill jobs will disappear from the US economy, he said. An additional 5 million to 16 million jobs will require ``vastly more education than they do today.''
One-fourth of all US students today drop out before completing high school; the percentage is higher in some cities.
One-quarter of all American children now live in poverty; they are disproportionately black and Hispanic.
In keeping with demographic trends, the American work force will be increasingly minority and female, Berendzen says. By the year 2,000, ``less than 15 percent of all new jobs in the US will be taken by white males.''
In the face of these trends, US education is sharply split in quality, Berendzen points out. ``The top 10 to 20 percent are as well prepared for colleges as any in the world today'' or in the US in the past, he says.
``But 30 to 40 percent of our students in the bottom academic rung are probably the least prepared of any in the industrialized world.'' These are disproportionately minority youth.