Education Isn’t Optional

We need to face the truth. Our children aren’t reading at the appropriate grade level, and test scores aren’t improving. Last year’s MEAP scores showed that one in every three third graders in Michigan couldn’t read proficiently. In addition, 65 percent of eighth graders in Michigan were not proficient in mathematics. These numbers prove that the importance of education needs to be stressed now more than ever, beginning with early childhood education.

Education isn’t just about high scores on tests and courses. It’s about learning the knowledge, skills and habits that will prepare students for the future. If our children aren’t adequately prepared, they won’t be able to obtain a job in the long run to support themselves and their families.

The National Science Foundation reported the science and engineering workforce grew from 182,000 to about 5.4 million people between 1950 and 2009, almost 15 times faster than the United States population and nearly four times faster than the total U.S. workforce. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts the total number of STEM jobs will grow 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, while a Change the Equation study found even in the sluggish years between 2009 and 2012, there were nearly two STEM-focused job postings for every unemployed STEM professional. During those same years, unemployment in STEM stood at just over 4 percent, well below the 9.3 percent unemployment rate for non-STEM workers.

The next generation needs to be set up for prosperity. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that by 2020, the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of one and a half million workers with college degrees and will have a surplus of six million individuals without a high school diploma who are unemployed. Our economy may currently be improving, but it won’t recover without an educated workforce, particularly one well versed in the STEM disciplines.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. has dropped 20 percent since its high point in 1985. China, for example, graduates 400,000 engineers a year, compared to 70,000 in the U.S. A recent article published by Fortune revealed the U.S. is producing 43 engineers per 100,000 inhabitants — well below Finland, Sweden and France, who lead the EU in percentage of engineering grads per capita.
College graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only high school diplomas, but further analysis of 171 majors shows that STEM majors can earn even higher wages. For example, petroleum engineering grads make about $120,000 a year, compared with $29,000 annually for psychology majors. Math and computer science majors earn $98,000 each year, while early childhood education majors get paid about $36,000. According to the Commerce Department, people in STEM fields can expect to earn 26 percent more money on average and be less likely to experience job loss. The STEM degree holders also tend to enjoy higher earnings overall, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.

And it’s not just the schools, teachers, administrators and students who hold the responsibility to promise a high-quality education for our students. Parents and businesses need to be involved, too.

Parents need to understand how crucial an education is and be engaged in their children’s learning. If you’re enthusiastic about learning, it’s more likely your children will replicate that motivation. Support at home can encourage students to develop a desire for success in the classroom and in their future careers.

Businesses can help by supporting an educated future, for both their employees and their employees’ children. A community that creates partnerships within itself is more likely to raise student performance and narrow the education gaps. Education needs business to help it understand what kids need to know, and to provide students with access to job shadows, work experiences, internships and anything that lets them get into a workplace and see what they can be.

Whether you’re a parent, student, teacher, administrator or business, you can make a difference. Get your child involved in engaging and meaningful learning outside of school at places like the Information Technology Empowerment Center and Impression 5 Science Center. Model the behavior you want to see in the next generation by continuing to learn yourself. Talk about the importance of lifelong education with your employees and encourage and support their educational endeavors in whatever ways you can.

Greater Lansing needs to work together to strengthen education for our children’s futures and our own.


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