America must spend more money on education or the nation will find itself ousted from its cozy seat as a world power, a new group warns.
According to the Coalition for Solutions Through Higher Education, Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation for the percentage of high school graduates that go to college, and 49th in state and local per capita spending on K-12 education.
Susan Johnstad, a coalition representative, addressed Star Valley Town Council last Tuesday. It was one stop on a statewide pilgrimage to alert citizens to an ever-worsening education drought.
"We call it a quiet crisis," Johnstad said. "We call it that because the public doesn't fully perceive the threat."
Educated people get good jobs and pay more taxes, which when funneled back into society, further it, Johnstad said.
With fewer people graduating college, and subsequently finding fewer high-paying jobs, fewer tax dollars accumulate to fund education, the group says.
Between 1978 and 2005, the median worker's salary, adjusted for inflation, rose just $433, from $37,004 to $37,447.
Johnstad attributed the stagnation to the nation's declining investment in education and said the desultory cycle feeds itself.
"I put a lot of work into breaking the cycle and it's a humbling experience. That's why I'm out here on the grassroots level."
Johnstad is assistant dean of distance learning at Northern Arizona University. Two NAU foundation members sit on the board, as does a foundation member from Arizona State University.
Innovation is this nation's strong suit, Johnstad said. And innovation is the only way the country can continue to compete in a global economy with lower wage nations like China and India entering the game, she adds.
"Innovation is where this country has been strongest, can continue to be strong, and is where we should put our resources."
Public schools, from secondary schools through colleges, contribute billions of dollars to the state's economy through educational capital, Johnstad said.
But in Arizona, for every 100 high school freshmen, only 64 graduate in four years. Eighteen enter a four-year program within one year, and nine earn a bachelor's degree within six years, according to the group's statistics.
"We have talent that we're wasting," Johnstad said.
Johnstad didn't talk solutions in front of the Star Valley council. But she later said the group's grassroots effort is focusing, for now, on raising awareness.
"That's a hard thing to quantify," she acknowledged. "It's hard to see progress."
Mayor Chuck Heron seemed perplexed as to why the group approached them, wanting to present.
"I felt that presentation would have fit better with a fraternal organization," he said Wednesday, noting that Star Valley can do little about the problems addressed.
"We don't have a school," Heron said. "We're in the Payson Unified School District. They need to see the presentation."
Heron's wife, however, took notes. "She said to the woman afterwards, ‘As long as they teach to the lowest common denominator student, which is getting lower every year, we'll never gain any ground,' " Heron said.
And it sounds like conversation will, for now, satisfy Johnstad. "We weren't asking for specific funding or anything last night, we were asking for general support in spreading awareness."
The organization has started a Listserv with action alerts for issues like funding.
Johnstad said the capital investments Arizona's three public universities have made, such as building new dorms, resulted in "dramatic" enrollment growth.
"We're wanting to make sure we don't lose that momentum."
More information: www.highereducationsolution.com.