Today, however, the United States finds itself ranked 16th in the world in the percentage of populations with college degrees in a time when, by 2018, nearly two thirds of all American jobs will require a postsecondary degree. While millions go jobless, industries needing workers with advanced skills are struggling to find qualified applicants. For many, no college means no job. At the same time, colleges, universities, and research institutions must tangibly demonstrate their value, justify their costs, and use public resources wisely—they are not immune from accountability.
We shortchange our nation's progress and squander our greatest renewable resource—our intellectual capital—if we allow critique of academia or passing partisan squabbling to stifle investment in higher education. The prescription is simple: We need to expand college opportunity, redouble support for research, modernize and broaden access to knowledge assets, and seek maximum value from the university and research systems born from the stroke of Lincoln's pen.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and the creation of the National Academy of Sciences, we can reflect with great pride on the accomplishment of Abraham Lincoln and the 37th Congress, who, in the midst of calamity, not only saw beyond the battlefields to envision America's resurgence but also set their sights on the nation's future. It is a time to celebrate those visionary leaders, including America's earliest philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, along with the educators, scientists, public officials, librarians, working men and women, and the many, many others who have cared about our nation, served it with love and dedication, and devoted themselves to its progress. It is in their honor that we recall our national motto, E pluribus unum—"Out of many, one"—and remember that it was, and remains, not merely a string of words, but a true credo to live by. If those who came before us could find a way to do so, shouldn't we be able to do the same?
- Read Susan Milligan: Don't Call University of Virginia President Dispute a Catfight
- Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.
- Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.