Group Urges Focus on U.S. 'Human Capital'

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Washington--A coalition of top U.S. business and higher-education leaders has laid out a five-year action plan to revitalize American education and place the development of "human capital" at the top of the national agenda.

In a new report, the Business-Higher Education Forum, a group of some 80 corporate chief executives and university presidents, argues that the U.S. workforce will become decreasingly competitive without a concerted national effort to adapt their skills to the demands of the global marketplace.

The forum's report, "American Potential: The Human Dimension," outlines recommendations for improving elementary and secondary education, giving workers more opportunities to train and re-train for changing work environments, and nurturing American ingenuity.

"The jobs of the future will require far higher levels of skill than the jobs of today," said Donald E. Petersen, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company and co-chairman of the forum's Task Force on Human Capital. "Even the best among us will have to become smarter."

Mr. Petersen was joined at a news conference by David P. Gardner, president of the University of California and chairman of the forum, and Frank H.T. Rhodes, president of Cornell University and co-chairman of the task force.

Mr. Gardner served in 1982 as chairman of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, whose 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, is credited with generating the first round of education-reform efforts in the states.

"We are asking the next President of the United States, whether Republican or Democrat, to state clearly that the development of America's human resources is a top national priority," said Mr. Rhodes of the forum's report.

The group has established a five-year standing committee to serve as a catalyst for efforts to carry forth the recommended changes, the leaders said.

In addition, they urge in the report that the new President use regional hearings, Cabinet-level task forces, and perhaps a White House conference on human resources to reinforce the report's message.

That message includes, in the area of education, the following rec4ommendations:

The expansion in low-income communities of comprehensive child-development services, such as day care and health screening;

Public preschool education for all children, beginning at age 4;

A re-emphasis on community colleges to bridge the gap between school, work, and postsecondary study; and

The provision of emergency teaching certificates to scientists, graduate students, and retired engineers to meet the "urgent need" for mathematics and science teachers.

The nation must also help workers adapt their skills to changing needs by providing more and better programs for job training and retraining, the report says. To do this, it suggests that government, business, and labor groups make it easier for workers to get "booster shots" of training through tuition-assistance programs, the encouragement of mid-career development, and better use of community colleges and technical institutes.

It urges labor and management to mount more joint efforts designed to boost training and retraining programs.

Spurs to Inventiveness

A national commitment is needed, the report says, to nurture the inventiveness and creativity that have formed the base for American economic growth. The education system, it argues, must expand the scientific and technical foundation of all students--beginning with intensive efforts in the early years.

Specifically, the document calls for:

A new emphasis on the math and science curriculum in the primary grades, so that more students will have the motivation and knowledge base to successfully pursue more advanced study in those subjects.

The establishment by each state and most large cities of highly selective secondary schools focusing on math and science.

More vigorous efforts to expand the pool of scientists and engineers by encouraging more minority students to enter those fields.

The awarding of merit scholarships based on academic promise to graduate and undergraduate students in science and engineering.

Copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the Business-Higher Education Forum, One Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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