Editorial: State colleges best in U.S. at only C-

The good news is that California tied with Utah for No. 1 in U.S. college affordability. The bad news is that our state’s college affordability was only good enough to earn a mediocre “C-” grade in last Thursday’s report from the nonpartisan National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. This means California is in danger of losing its edge in the international work force.

Our “C-” made California No. 1 in America this year only because 43 states flunked out with an “F” and the other five got a “D.” The central message in the biennial “Measuring Up 2006” study is that the United States “has fallen behind other nations in the race to educate its young adults and workers. Moreover, college affordability continues to deteriorate for most Americans.”

The study’s most disturbing statistic is that America has fallen from first place to seventh in the proportion of 25-to-34-year-olds enrolling in and completing college. In contrast, the U.S. baby boom generation aged 35 to 64 was ranked first in the world for higher education degrees.

“The knowledge-based global economy has stimulated an intense international competition for college-educated and trained workers,” said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center. “Other nations have approached the need for higher rates of college participation and completion with a real sense of urgency we haven’t yet seen in the U.S.”

Callan warned that as the generally well-schooled baby boomers retire, America could experience a shortage of younger college-trained workers who are prepared to compete globally.

California and the U.S. are in danger of losing their edge in the international work force just as the rest of the world is gearing up to surpass us in higher education, he said.

California did get one “A” in participation. This state is a leader in the number of working-age adults enrolled part time at a college level. California has nearly doubled its investment in need-based financial aid since 1993 as a percentage of federal investment, but it continues to lag the highest-performing states. Yet only 14 percent of California students actually complete their certificates or degrees, which is little better than half of the graduation rate in Great Britain.

California used to lead the nation with its first-rate higher educational system. But today, dropping to a mediocre “C-” grade will not be nearly good enough for our future workers to compete in a rapidly evolving, knowledge-based global economy.

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