Farm Press Blog

American exceptionalism starts with education


Table of Contents:

  • "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."  William Butler Yeats


We hear it almost daily in California agriculture circles: there’s a labor shortage. Probably more dangerous to the success of this country is the skilled labor shortage impacting many facets of our economy, including agriculture and the energy field.

American students today are not prepared for the demands created by careers that are heavily dependent upon science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to Joe Harlan, executive vice president of Dow Chemical. Harlan oversees chemicals, energy and performance materials, according to Dow’s website.

Moreover, Harlan asserts that the successes seen in the early days of the Industrial Revolution will never be matched, much less exceeded, if we don’t drastically change our focus and emphasis.

While understandable his energy-sector focus given his audience was the Houston Rotary Club, Harlan did not mention agriculture. I’m certainly not being critical of Mr. Harlan at all – just something I point out that can be added to his speech as yet another example of America’s needs.

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The gist of his comments is this: America is failing itself and future generations by not educating our kids in ways that can help them and help the country succeed. He cites some interesting statistics that bear repeating.

  • 68 percent of U.S. 9th graders will graduate on schedule
  • 40 percent of those will enroll in college
  • 27 percent will remain enrolled
  • 18 percent will earn an Associate’s degree within three years or a Bachelor’s degree within six.

Harlan continued: Graduates with a BA Degree from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology earned a higher salary last year than graduates with BA degrees from Columbia, Cornell, Case, Western, Princeton, Duke, Dartmouth and Harvard. Given the astronomical cost of a college education these days, that’s helpful since college graduates today are nearly six figures in debt before they start their first job.

A story from 2010 reports the cost of a college education in America is rising at a rate two-to-three times the rate of inflation, exceeding even the rate at which medical care costs are increasing. And yet the political debate has long been over the rising cost of medical care.

Harlan also cited information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that nearly two-thirds of all jobs openings will come in occupations that do not require a postsecondary education.

“But they do require more than we’re providing our kids,” Harlan said. “And that’s our fault.”

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