the EconomyEducation – Stupid!
By: Mildred Robertson
The debate that rages over education in the U.S. harkens back to the days when Bill Clinton taunted George Bush, Sr. with the phrase: “It’s about the Economy – Stupid,” a phrase that shaped the debates, and ultimately landed Bill Clinton in the White House. Well, it is still about the economy, but if you drill down to the core of economic issues in our country, you land soundly on education.
As Americans struggle to retool to become competitive in our new service economy, it is obvious that a critical connection exists between the economy and education. It is time we take a look at what are the essential components of a 21st Century education, and how best to deliver them. That is why it is important to pay attention to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as it prepares to devise a five-year strategic plan for the state’s 16-campus system.
The school has established a 27-member panel to forge a long-term plan for North Carolina’s premier public university. While the periodic need to examine and fine-tune the institution’s course is obvious, it seems equally obvious that a public institution’s path is best devised with input from those it affects.
A group of students calling themselves the North Carolina Student Power Union (NCSPU) thinks that UNC has missed the mark. They object to the makeup of the advisory panel, which they say lacks racial and socio-economic diversity. Pointing to retailer and Republican activist Art Pope as an example, the students say the panel predominantly consists of white men, many of whom are corporate executives and conservative politicians who have a record of opposing the creation of “a robust public education system” in the state of North Carolina.
NCSPU wants the university to reconsider its membership and hold public meetings across the state to gather public input. It seems a reasonable request. This exercise is about more than number crunching. This group will be making decisions about who will have access to the gateway to economic prosperity in our state.
Of course, the economic realities of keeping the doors open while providing a quality product is of utmost importance. However, equally important is the need to provide a reasonable pathway to higher education for every citizen, regardless of his or her race or socio-economic background. Without equal access to higher education, it will be impossible to level the playing field in North Carolina.
There is no need to disparage those who have been selected to serve on the UNC panel. There is a need, however, to seek the diversity on the panel necessary to ensure that the five-year plan reflects the needs of the entire state, not just those as interpreted by an unrepresentative, and many times privileged few.
Economics is about education-stupid!