Volume 3, Number 2


US higher education: transition and turbulence in the new model
Naylor, L.A., Gerlowski, D.A. and Seabrook, R.L.

Education has been regarded as the great equalizer; in socio-economic terms educational attainment has been credited for moving more people out of poverty than any other factor. Horace Mann, the father of the American public education system, stated in 1891 that "[e]ducation then beyond all other devices of human origin is a great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery…it prevents being poor" (Mann, 1891). A college degree increases social and economic mobility through higher earnings and protecting against unemployment and poverty. In terms of incentivizing individuals, a college degree has served as a pathway to the middle class and in regards to national self-interest, educational attainment provides a highly skilled workforce enabling a greater global competitiveness. As such the demand for post-secondary education has exploded and governments around the globe have made higher education access and attainment a policy priority. Utilizing the US higher education system as a case study, this manuscript describes the rewards and challenges regarding increased access. Framed within the economic investment model we describe the seismic paradigm shift that occurred in the system and identify five major trends impacting the current system: 1) fiscal austerity; 2) increased reliance on tuition; 3) shifts in funding uses; 4) fundamental changes in investment returns, and 5) a varying student body.

Keywords: Education; Socio-economic; Skilled Workforce; Global Competitiveness.