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Vocational-Education Column

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No matter how it is calculated, education remains one of the most important contributors to a country's economic growth, a review by the RAND Corporation has found.

The study, "How Do Education and Training Affect a Country's Economic Performance? A Literature Survey,'' was conducted by Roland Sturm. It found that regardless of the particular method used to measure its contribution, education and its effects on labor quality were among the most important contributors to a nation's economic growth.

For example, data show that countries with comparable levels of education are converging among themselves, but they are failing to close the economic gap with nations whose educational levels are higher.

"Even economists who cannot be suspected of favoring any form of social policy acknowledge the importance of education and call for a higher priority on educational policy,'' Mr. Sturm concludes.

But he cautions that attempts to describe and quantify precisely how the education-and-training system influences economic performance--and thus to understand which policies might have the greatest economic value--have not succeeded.

The study also found that while other industrialized nations are catching up to the United States in terms of economic competitiveness, there is little evidence of "de-industrialization'' or of a large falling off of labor productivity in this country. Although such findings may not be reassuring in terms of the United States's relative position in the global economy, Mr. Sturm notes, they do not "necessarily suggest a need for dramatic and instantaneous changes in education and training.''

A study by the National Research Council concludes that individuals without a college degree stumble through a training system that is piecemeal and incoherent. They choose their own training, with little guidance, in a wide variety of settings, including community and technical colleges, vocational schools, and apprenticeship programs.

The report, "Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy,'' suggests that the federal government act as a catalyst to promote the development of a more coherent and effective system. It would tie eligibility for student aid to a vocational school's success in graduating and placing its trainees.--LYNN OLSON

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