Arguing that “the central objective of domestic policy” for the next 10 years should be to improve the nation’s ability to compete with other industrialized countries, a 16-member task force of college presidents and corporation executives last week called for a coordinated national effort to “rebuild the nation’s economy and strengthen our educational system.”
In a letter to President Reagan, the task force of the Business-Higher Education Forum noted: “Our society must develop a consensus that industrial competitiveness on a global scale is crucial to our social and economic well-being.
“Unless we rebuild the American economy and strengthen our education system it will be increasingly difficult--if not impossible--to maintain a just society, a high standard of living for all Americans, and a strong national defense.”
In its 51-page report to the President, the task force outlined specific proposals to increase capital investment, to step up the rate of technological innovation, and to improve the quality of the nation’s human resources. The group urged Mr. Reagan to lead the national revitalization effort by supporting expanded tax-incentive and spending measures to strengthen education and business-education cooperation.
The group’s report noted that the labor force cannot be revitalized without improvements in mathematics and science education in the schools.
“A growing body of evidence indicates that many American workers lack fundamental skills in mathematics, science, critical thinking, and verbal expression--primarily because of a shortage of well-trained faculty in the nation’s public schools,” the report said. “There is also evidence that many post-high-school training programs have only limited relevance to job market
needs because their faculty, equipment, and training techniques are obsolete.”
Noting that the magnitude of the problem of too few mathematics and science teachers “warrants the consideration of additional support from federal, state and local goverments, and the private sector,” the task force urged that more money for mathematics and science education be allocated than was set aside by the President in his fiscal 1984 budget.
Reduce Trade Deficit
The task force, which was co-chaired by Robert Anderson, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Rockwell International Corporation, and David S. Saxon, president of the University of California, suggested methods to: reduce the nation’s trade deficit (more than $40 billion in 1982); improve cooperation between industry and academe; replace deteriorating equipment and facilities in college and university laboratories; and spur investment and technological innovation through revision of regulations and laws on taxation, patents, and other areas of interest to business.
If the nation is to put itself back on the path toward economic growth, the task force asserted, numerous changes will be needed in its manpower-training system. The group proposed the following:
Introducing tax incentives to stimulate investment by industry in education;
Providing additional support for the public and private sectors to train secondary-school science and mathematics teachers;
Developing a comprehensive “displaced-worker program modeled after the G.I. Bill";
Establishing a “forgiveness loan” program for U.S. students from graduate engineering programs who enter the teaching profession; and
Creating an “Individual Training Account,” which would be analagous to the Individual Retirement Account now offered by many banks, to provide an incentive for individuals to save for their own training and retraining needs.
The task force said that “strengthening America’s ability to compete will require exceptional resources, patience, sacrifice, and wisdom” and will also demand “the same national consensus that allowed the United States to land men on the moon.”
The university and corporate leaders recommended that the President: deliver a major address describing the nature and severity of the competitive challenge and outlining the elements of a national response; appoint an adviser on economic competitiveness who would help policymakers focus on the diverse concerns; establish, as he has already announced, a National Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, composed of business, education, and labor leaders; and create an information center on international competiveness within the Department of Commerce that would collect data and prepare analyses of industrial trends.
New Economic Imperative
While other nations have “recognized the new economic imperative and integrated domestic and foreign policies into aggressive, coordinated national stategies to meet the challenge of international competition,” the U.S. has developed “inflexible barriers” to solving its economic problems, according to the task force.
The report, America’s Competitive Challenge: The Need for a National Response, criticized education, business, labor, government, and the society at large for stalling efforts to develop a national policy that promotes coordinated activity to improve the nation’s ability to compete in the international marketplace.
Government policies are too often “disordered and ad hoc,” the document said, and any change involves navigating through an endless maze of agencies and subcommittees. Moreover, society at large has “an addiction to adversarial relationships” and has had “little success with cooperative efforts” other than during times of war, the authors asserted.
The business sector, they continued, favors the short-term over the long-term; labor “makes unrealistic demands"; and “the nation’s education and training institutions are responding too slowly to the central role they must play in revitalizing the American economy.”
Within the education system, basic labor-market information is poor and linkages between educators, training systems, and employers are weak, the study said. Moreover, “equipment and facilities are obsolete"; sources of funds are “limited” or are “not being developed sufficiently"; and good faculty in crucial subject areas, such as engineering, are scarce.
Partly as a result of the nation’s failure to develop a coordinated competitive strategy, “the performance of the U.S. economy is keeping pace with neither its own past achievements nor the current performance of other industrialized nations,” according to the report.
The task force noted that “if America’s workers are to be better educated, better trained, and more productive, a number of demographic and institutional trends must be addressed.”
An Aging Workforce
These trends include an aging workforce in which today’s adults will still constitute over 90 percent of workers in 1990 and over 70 percent in the year 2000; continuing high rates of youth unemployment; a continuing surge of women entering the workforce (they will constitute two-thirds of all new workers until 1995); and a significant segment of the workforce that is “dysfunctional,” either because of problems with drug and alcohol abuse or because they are functionally illiterate and incapable of participating in entry-level job training.
The Business-Higher Education Forum was established five years ago under the aegis of the American Council on Education. There are 40 corporate members and 38 members representing higher education.
Copies of the report can be obtained from the Business Higher-Education Forum, One Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036.
Members of the Business-Higher Education Forum include Derek C. Bok, president of Harvard University; Philip Caldwell, chairman of the Ford Motor Company; Edward Donley, chairman of Air Products and Chemicals Inc.; Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame; Gerald D. Laubach, president of Pfizer Inc.; James E. Olson, vice chairman of American Telephone and Telegraph Co.; Wesley W. Posvar, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh; John F. Burlingame, vice chairman of General Electric Company; Richard M. Cyert, president of Carnegie Mellon University; Paul H. Henson, chairman of United Telecommunications; Matina S. Horner, president of Radcliffe College; Robert Q. Marston, president of the University of Florida; J.W. Peltason, president of ace; and Clifton R. Wharton Jr., chancellor of the State University of New York System.
William O. Baker, retired chairman of Bell Laboratories, served as special adviser.
A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1983 edition of Education Week as Business, Education Group Asks President To Guide Industry