Jun 20 2009

Concerns About Higher Education Point to the 2015 Maslow Window

Published by at 7:26 pm under Wave Guide 4: Education

Although the U.S. has led the world in higher education for decades, today only 41% of young adults (ages 25-34) in the U.S. have college degrees, compared to more than 50% in Japan, Korea, and Canada, according to Peter McPherson in today’s Wall Street Journal (6/20/09), the former chair of Dow Jones & Co. and former president of Michigan State University. Plus, the U.S. ranks only 9th in the proportion of young adults with college degrees among countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Expanding access to higher education will drive near-term human expansion into the cosmos. Click collgrads.jpg.

McPherson believes that America’s “prominence is at risk” because the United States’ economic future depends on the intellectual capital of its young people. “Our educational advantage made us the world’s leader in discovery, invention and innovation.” Likewise, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) has recently pointed out that “Our future strength as a nation will rest, in large part, on scientific and technical talent,” (Space News, 4/6/09).

Growing public calls for improvement of U.S. education are reminiscent of those one long wave ago during the 1950s when the Cold War and Sputnik were the global focus. For example, in Math and Science Education Perspectives, I reminded readers that only 10 days after the surprise launch of Sputnik “the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige.” And 70% of Gallup poll respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts! In response to America’s crisis of self-confidence, in 1958 Congress advocated beefing up math and science education from the elementary to high schools.

It’s clear that education reduces unemployment; e.g., in May, 2009 only 4.8% of those with bachelor’s degrees were unemployed compared to more than double that (10.0%) for those with a high school diploma, and soaring to 15.5% for those with less education. (For perspective, 5% to 11% are considered recession-level unemployment rates, while unemployment in 1933 during the Great Depression was 25%.) It’s of great concern that individuals without a high school education may be heading to their own education-related Depression.

McPherson suggests that we make 55% of young adults with a college degree our national target for 2025 — the end of the 2015 Maslow Window. That’s an increase of 875,000 graduates per year.

McPherson sees a parallel between our current situation and the post-WW II years, about one long wave ago. “In the 15 years following WW II, post-secondary enrollment expanded by 82%. And in the baby-boomer period of 1962-76, enrollment expanded by a whopping 174%.”

Of course he’s describing the post-War boom that culminated in the unparalled economic boom of the 1960s Maslow Window. And we can expect to see that occur again as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window.

The difference is the current major global recession that began during the Panic of 2008; i.e., during the years around 1949 there was no such thing, probably because of sound financial practices of the time and financial reforms enacted during the Great Depression. But McPherson suggests that “The sobering lessons from the current economic situation could contribute to a similar pattern of thought and action.”

It’s possible that our current economic situation may have more in common with the 1890 – 1914 interval (culminating in the celebrated Peary/Panama Maslow Window) than 1945 – 1970 (the Apollo Maslow Window). The former featured the Panic of 1893 followed by a devastating, nearly decade-long recession that ended just before the most ebullient Peary/Panama Maslow Window opened in 1903. While the latter had no post-WW II financial panic as the long boom culminated in the unparalleled (for its time) economic boom of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

As McPherson states, education can play an important role in our current recession. But as the history of the 1950s and 1960s shows, strong global interests in Moon bases will generate two extremely important factors: international competition (and cooperation) and raw human exploration passions. History shows that both have explosive effects on the minds of young people and their interest in education.

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