Campus News

Speaker: Knowledge is the new currency for the global economy

Higher education is the variable that determines not just an individual’s success but our nation’s, and we must make sure that we keep our educational system rigorous and available to all, said Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education, from the Chapel’s stage during the 20th Louise McBee Lecture held Nov. 14.

Education is the common thread that can improve the likelihood of higher incomes, create better-paying jobs and lessen an individual’s chances of going to jail. But the discrepancies in America-people who are black, Hispanic, born to uneducated parents and come from lower-level-income households are less likely to receive post-secondary education-are creating problems that affect everyone.

“The global economy is undergoing seismic shifts, altering the context within which our decisions are being made,” Broad said. “China had the biggest GDP (gross domestic product) in the world in 1850, but it fell drastically across the 20th century. Now it’s coming back with a vengeance.

“The level of education in America has improved, but it hasn’t improved in a way that lets us be competitive on a worldwide stage,” she added. “Our challenge is to improve the level of education attainment. . . .The new currency in the global economy is going to be, and already is, knowledge.

“We tend to think about paying for higher education in terms of consumption, how much it’s going to cost us. But the return on investment is enormous. Even the opportunity cost, the wages you give up to attend classes, can be paid back handsomely with a better education,” Broad added.

“The graying of America is a concern. As the population gets older, we need to find a way to serve the people who don’t want to retire at 65 by providing them with educational opportunities so that they won’t have to exit the workforce at age 65.”

She also spoke about the barriers that keep colleges from providing accessible education. Dwindling state revenues force public colleges to shift the burden of payment on their students, while private research institutions actually lose money for each student they enroll and must make up the deficit in donations, leaving little incentive to increase enrollment.

“Higher education has not been able to capitalize on productivity gains,” she said. “If these trends (toward less money) continue, the kind of education you expect at elite institutions currently will not exist in the future.”

What may be the saving grace of American education, however, is the very thing that has hamstrung so many other public institutions in this country: its reputation. People overwhelmingly approve of the role of education and find institutions to be credible and a reservoir of positive attributes, Broad said. As long as college and universities hold onto that public trust, there is hope that education can improve and expand its reach. However, the minute such institutions become as untrusted as the government, unwanted changes may be in store.

Broad, the 12th president of American Council on Education, is also the first woman to hold the position since the council’s founding in 1918.

The lecture is an annual event held to honor Louise McBee, who held leadership positions for more than 25 years at UGA before serving for more than a decade as a champion for higher education in the Georgia General Assembly.