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Leaders of higher education associations tell Bush, Kerry of national needs

Regardless of who wins the upcoming presidential election, he will have heardloud and clearfrom the six leaders of Americas higher education sector.
Regardless of who wins the upcoming presidential election, he will have heardloud and clearfrom the six leaders of America's higher education sector.

Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry received a letter, dated Oct. 5, from George R. Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges; Constantine W. Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU); David Ward, president pf the American Council on Education; Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities; David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges.

The men preface their requests by stressing that college students are one of America's most important economic and social resources. They ask for continued support of the higher education system and preservation of its values. In presenting their case, they stress six broad areas of need.

1. The United States must provide access and opportunity for the tidal wave of students coming into its colleges and universities. The challenge is to provide educational opportunities in the face of state-funding declines, a projected 19 percent enrollment growth during the next 10 years and college budgets stretched by trying to balance quality and access with affordability. They ask for expanded need-based student aid, policy support to make changes in student financial aid and tax credits for poor families with college students.

2. The United States must prepare, retrain and retain highly qualified teachers in areas of critical and growing national shortages through various efforts, such as incentives to end the teacher shortage and elevate the status of the profession.

3. The U.S. president must realize the “new economy” requires higher educational attainment. More than 80 percent of the 23 million jobs to be created in the next decade will require postsecondary education. Not only are the job requirements changing, employees are changing jobs multiple times throughout their lives, necessitating career redevelopment and/or relying more on college students already having acquired strong analytical skills and the ability to synthesize and communicate information effectively. They write: “In today's knowledge-based economy, higher education is less about acquiring specific factual knowledgewhich … can be obsolete before one even graduatesand more about learning how to think. Adaptability is a must …”

4. The United States must provide more financial support for research to foster America's security, medical and technological innovation. University research is a great economic engine and spawns creative problem solving. The men say America must provide more efficient and comprehensive identification of the resources colleges/universities can contribute to solving societal problems, such as the threat of terrorism.

5. U.S. officials must bolster and maintain America as the destination for international education and scholars. The events of 9/11 have placed the United States in jeopardy of losing its place in this arena. Citing reasons for the decline of international students in U.S. colleges, they write: “To preserve the future of U.S. scientific and intellectual leadership, we must continue to welcome international students to our nation.”

6. Lastly, the federal government must coordinate a better information-delivery system so education consumers have current and accurate information, and policymakers must assure the integrity of publicly supported programs, guarding against fraudulent and unscrupulous “education” providers.
—Dennie Burke