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Solutions for our Future is an effort to raise awareness that higher education is one of America's greatest resources

Toolkit: Op-Eds

America�s World Class Educational System
Katherine Will
President of Gettysburg College
November 2007

In spite of some vocal critics, American higher education continues to be the envy of the world. In an international survey of higher education conducted by The Economist, 17 American institutions were included among the world�s top 20 universities.

America�s highly diverse network of more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions�public and private, research and liberal arts, community and land grant�may be untidy, but 70 percent of the world�s Nobel Prize winners have chosen to pursue their scholarship and conduct their research within American institutions. These same institutions are responsible for discoveries that have led directly to the multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry and digital computer technology. Much of the world�s groundbreaking medical research and creative innovation in the arts and sciences have their genesis in U.S. higher education.

Academic power is only part of the picture. A 2006 report by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education finds that the United States has the highest proportion of citizens between the ages of 35 and 64 with a college degree. A larger proportion of the U.S. population goes on to higher education than almost anywhere else in the world. One area of vulnerability: The United States ranks 16th among 27 countries in the proportion of students who complete their degrees. This disparity is most probably explained by the many countries in which higher education consists of a small system of elite institutions whose doors are open to only the most privileged. Most potential students are weeded out long before the postsecondary level.

In contrast, the vast network of U.S. colleges and universities provides remarkable access to a growing population of students who come to higher education with widely divergent goals and levels of preparation. The diversity and independence of American higher education contributes to society in many ways: educating citizens, preparing a workforce, increasing scientific and technical knowledge, and enhancing economic productivity.

The skills and active citizenship of college-educated individuals benefit our communities and our country significantly. Considered simply as an economic force, higher education institutions improve our local and national economies. In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for example, the total annual economic influence of Gettysburg College on the local economy exceeds $150 million.

These benefits are important to our nation�s economic vitality. The most important beneficiaries of all are the 15 million students who enroll in college each year - some young, some old, some residential, some commuter, some full-time, some part-time. For them, our country�s diverse colleges and universities provide an opportunity to improve their skills, their knowledge, their lives, and their communities.

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