The United States led the world in expanding access to high school; then in post World War II, access to college. And today, due to the nature of American universities and the openness in which they operate, the United States continues to lead the world in post-secondary education. In fact, 35 American universities rank in the world’s top 50.(1) But can American colleges and universities adjust to quickly changing trends and circumstances?

By 1950, 8 percent of the U.S. population aged 25 to 29 had completed college or higher. By 2013, it rose to 34 percent, and these gains have had a tremendous positive impact.(2) Nevertheless, a large number of jobs today can’t be filled because qualified candidates can’t be found. One would assume the answer is to encourage more Americans to obtain post secondary degrees. Yet herein lies a problem.

Due to American demographic shifts, there are fewer high school graduates. And a growing segment is asking whether or not college is worth the cost — and for good reason. From 1984 to 2015, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees at four-year public and private non-profit institutions has risen 225 and 146 percent, respectively.(3)

For those who attend four-year American universities, 36 percent graduate in four years and less than 60 percent in six years.

As a result, college has become out of reach for many. And for those who do attend four-year American universities, 36 percent graduate in four years and less than 60 percent in six years.(4) Plus, many saddled with tremendous debt can’t find jobs in their fields.

In addition, today there are an increasing number of non-traditional students that include older, as well as more ethnically diverse students with broader socioeconomic backgrounds. And in many cases, non-traditional students are unprepared for college-level study and incur higher dropout rates.

But for those willing and able to attend college, the financial payoff can be great. In 2012, the median annual income of full-time workers age 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was nearly $50,000; for those receiving a high school diploma, nearly $30,000.(5) And over a lifetime, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn on average well over $1 million more than those with a high school diploma.(6)

In The Spotlight

To boost the number of college graduates with the necessary skill sets to satisfy growing demand by U.S. companies, foreign students studying at U.S. colleges and universities could help fill that gap. How important is this? Consider the fact that more than half of the corporate start-ups in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005 were founded by immigrants.(7)

There is virtually an endless supply of foreigners who wish to attend American universities. In fact, first-time enrollment of international students at U.S. graduate institutions has grown for the fifth consecutive year, registering an increase of 8 percent between 2013 and 2014.(8) The biggest gains came from Indian students, whose enrollments were up 27 percent in 2014, after a large increase of 40 percent in 2013.

American colleges and universities offer tremendous advantages. But to survive, they’ll need to adapt to changing demographics, become more accommodating to student needs, offer more courses that satisfy workplace requirements, and find ways to trim costs.

Footnotes: (1) The Academic Ranking of World Universities at the Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. (2) National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Table 104.20. (3) College Board, “Trends in College Pricing,” 2014, p16. (4) College Parents of America and National Student Clearinghouse. (5) National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Table 502.30. (6) New York Federal Reserve, “Current Issues in Economics,” November 3, 2014. (7) Vivek Wadhwa, et al., “Education, Entrepreneurship and Immigration: America’s New, Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part II,” Duke University, June 2017, p2. (8) Jeff Allum,“ Finding from the 2014 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey,” Council of Graduates Schools, November 2014. This articles appeared in Global Impact, a Great American Insurance Group publication.

John Manzella
About The Author John Manzella [Full Bio]
John Manzella, founder of the, is a world-recognized speaker, author of several books, and a nationally syndicated columnist on global business, trade policy, and economic trends. His latest book is Global America: Understanding Global and Economic Trends and How To Ensure Competitiveness.

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Talkback (10)

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    And still we kick most of the bright young folks from other lands that we educate out the door. Our Slam-the-door-behind-me immigration policies are costing us all but a few of those who want to stay but are swept out the door. Meanwhile Canada is scooping up all the bright youngsters who show up at their door. And it's paying off big time. Meanwhile we continue to cut support for education throwing more of the costs on the students. We give the monster banks unlimited interest free money while student loans are buried under usury class interest rates. Our economy will never recover until we invest in education, research, and infrastructure the only remedy (other than war) that has ever ended an economic downturn.

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