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L RNING OUR LESSON
Why School Is Out
tion was more than offset by greater earnings. Since the 1960s, real incomes of American workers have declined even as the average level of schooling has grown enormously. Though the utility of much formal education is declining, the needs for learning are increasingly urgent. Learning is as strategically critical to a knowledge-based, postindustrial economy as steel was to a materials-based, industrial economy. Despite the frenzied political attention given to childhood education in the past three years, the The same technologies that are displacing workers most crucial unmet learning needs in the post-industrial age could be used to improve are those of adults. More than the efficiency of learning and adult retraining. three-fourths of America's workers in 2001 will be people who are alThe age of schooling is over. A trenched educational establish- ready adults today. A fifth of the current adult population is funcnew, post-industrial "learning en- ment obstructs its application. The transition that these trends tionally illiterate and another fifth terprise" is about to replace the outworn infrastructure of industrial- will force-away from a socialized is only marginally literate. On the age education. The technology we educational bureaucracy and toward other hand, 15% or more oftoday's workers are overeducated or overcall "school" will have as much a competitive learning enterprisewill occur eventually worldwide. But qualified in that their knowledge place in the twenty-first century's learning system as the horse and delay will be costly. The nation that and skills no longer fit the requirements of a changing economy. The is first to adopt a high-technology, buggy have in today's transportamajority of workers at all levels consumer-based learning system tion system. The economic, social, and tech- will enjoy a permanent competitive need substantial retraining every nological trends pushing critical advantage in the global economy five to eight years, regardless of whether they change careers or choices about learning to the top of the information age. stay in existing jobs. of the public-policy agenda inThe Declining Value of Education clude: The Looming Cost Crisis The quality, value, and relevance • The quality, value, and releTotal spending for education and vance of IIlOSteducational services of most educational services have training in the United Statesbeen declining for at least two dec- more than $300 billion a year-is are declining, but the development of a post-industrial economy means ades. We no longer can assume that rivaled in size and growth only by that the population has growing, more education necessarily ben- health care. Just as in the healthefits either the individual or the na- care system, the immensity of the unmet needs for learning. tion. • The costs of education and More education has not led to training have become the biggest stronger basic skills. For instance, "The nation that is first single item of spend ing in the U.S. the U.S. Defense Department has economy and are rising several had to increase spending on train- to adopt a high-technoltimes faster than personal income. ing in basic skills by more than 40% ogy, consumer-based • The demand for government in the past five years, despite the subsidies to education is explod- fact that the current crop of military learning system will ing, but the deficit crisis is going recruits is the most educated in his- enjoy a permanent to require fiscal austerity. tory. competitive advantage Nor does more education guaran• Modern information technology can be used to increase the tee economic improvement. In the in the global economy productivity of learning, but an en- 1950s, the cost of additional educa- of the information age."
THE FUTURIST, March-April1986 13
u.s. Defense Department has had to increase spending on training in basic skills by more than 40% in the past five years, despite the fact that the current crop of military recruits is the most educated in history."
education and training market has Jed to a crisis of productivity and cost containment. Per-pupil spending on public elementary and secondary schools grew by 22.5% during the past decade; at the same time, real income per capita increased only 6.5%. Experts estimate that the cost of bringing teaching staffs and schools up to the standards called for by numerous national commissions would add $100 billion a year to the $150billion now spent annually on schools. In the past 20 years, college costs for students grew 13-23% at various types of institutions. The cost of a bachelor's degree at a top Ivy League college is now about $100,OOO--andthe cost in the next decade easily could be double that. The investment by employers in employee training and educationsome $80 billion a year-is now comparable in scope to al1of formal higher education and is projected to grow 25-30% by 1990. Experts guess that a fifth or more of this expenditure is required simply to compensate for the failures of schooling. The Government Crunch The federal deficit crisis will finally become tangible to the American public in fiscal year 1987as the provisions of the Gramm-RudmanHollings law begin to take effect. The impact of the fiscal crisis will affect state and local governments, too, and will endure through the end of this century. One consequence will be to halt and then reverse the long-term growth of the government role in providing, funding, and regulating education in the United States. The main immediate effect of federal cutbacks will be on higher education. Nearly half of America's college students now receive financial aid from federal programs. State governments will be the focus of the impending revolution in education policy. The states now
14 THE FUTURIST,March-April 1986
pay half the costs of public primary and secondary schools. In the 1950s, half the higher education in America was provided by private colleges and universities; today, the great majority is provided by government-subsidized public (chiefly state) institutions. Education expenditures now represent nearly one-third of state government budgets on average, and in some states account for more than half the budget. Without drastic changes in technologies and institutions, simply maintaining the current mediocre level of education for a growing population of children would require tax increases of 10-30%. Meeting the neglected learning needs of adults through conventional schooling would impose a comparable increase. In the impending era of fiscal austerity, increased taxing and spending for education will be virtually impossible; reduced appropriations are more likely. Under these circumstances, cost containment and productivity are destined to become central concerns of public policies on education and training.
The Learning Technology Revolution Out of sheer necessity, the demand for cost-effective instructional technology is about to explode. The same rapidly advancing computer and communication technology that is creating much of the need for lifelong training and education is also providing the technological means to meet these learning needs with vastly improved efficiency and effectiveness. A study at MIT showed that traditional classroom instruction was the only one of nearly 20 communications media studied whose productivity actually declined during the past two decades-all others grew either steadily or explosively. A recent study by Education TURNKEYSystems Inc. found that the average cost of classroom instruction in elementary and secondary schools is $1.25/student/hour; equivalent computer-based instruction costs $1.10/student/hour. And the cost gap is steadily widening as schools grow more expensive while computer technology rapidly gets cheaper. Education delivered
Adult retraining program at the University of Maryland. Employers are now spending almost as much in employee training and education-some $80 billion a year-as is spent for all of formal higher education.
Displaced, overeducated" workers may be political time bomb
The next wave of unemployment and displacement of the U.S. work force will focus more on older, middle-class, whitecollar and managerial/professional workers. Why? The aging baby-boom generation, the largest population group, is now past "entry-level" age. Also, the U.S. economy has shed so many production jobs that future employment problems will increasingly affect the predominant services sector. Despite a higher level of education, most baby boomers already are worse off economically than their parents or even their counterparts of just 10 years earlier. Median income in constant dollars of men 25-34 years old declined 26'Yo between 1973 and 1983. Average family income in this age group fell 14%, despite the increased number of two-career couples. The typical cost of home ownership for a couple in their early 30s has gone from about 20% of gross pay a decade ago to around 45% today. The most educated baby boomers are becoming the most disillusioned by the growing gap between the rising cost of advanced education and its declining economic payoff. Only 53% of today's physicians in private practice are working at full capacity, and a surplus of 100,000 physicians is projected in the 1990s. Many lawyers are now underemployed or unemployed; yet the number of law school graduates may double within a decade. Technology is expected to make most dentistry obsolete by the turn of the century. American corporations are steadily cutting out thousands
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of the staff and middle-management jobs that used to soak up MBAs. One consequence of this changing economic tide will be a political watershed. In the first half of this decade, political campaigners were infatuated with "Yuppies"-Young, Upwardly mobile Professionals. In the second half, politicians increasingly will be besieged by a growing, angry mass of MADMUPsMiddle-Aged, Downwardly Mobile, Underemployed Professionals. MADMUP politics will be less concerned with simply the quantity ofjobs generated by the economy and ever more concerned with social status and quality of work. The MADMUP phenomenon will be grossly understated or entirely missed by conventional econometric statistics because MADMUPs will go
to heroic lengths to mask their true status-they will live off a spouse's or relative's income rather than accept "welfare"; they will call themselves "selfemployed" or a "consultant" rather than "unemployed"; many will cling to unproductive jobs with apparent social status rather than shift to better-paying vocations of much lesser esteem. The disappointment and frustration of this group of overeducated, overqualified, and underemployed workers will affect other strata of society besides their own. Their failure at upward mobility threatens faith in an "American dream" subscribed to by their parents, by their children, and by a host of other working people with lessesteemed vocations and credentials. -Lewis J. Perelman
THE FUTURIST, March-April 1986
the productivity of education increased during the last 40 years as rapidly as the productivity of computation, a bachelor's degree from Harvard could be attained in 10 minutes at a cost of about 10¢."
via telecommunications can be even more efficient. For instance, Sesame Street (one of the most expensive but also most successful educational TV programs) costs J ¢_/ viewer/hour. Computers also can help cut costs and improve effectiveness in education and training by being applied to the management of instruction. Much of the cost overhead in schools is bureaucratic paperwork that can be vastly reduced by automation. The combination of computers and optical-storage dcviccs=-videodiscs-has already been applied successfully to industrial and military training. The new compactdisc data-storage systems promise to vastly expand the market for computer-based instructional technology. One disk holds as much information as 20 encyclopedias or a full set of textbooks required for four years of college. Had the productivity of education increased during the last 40 years as rapidly as the productivity of computation, a bachelor's degree from Harvard could be attained in 10 minutes at a cost of about 1O¢_. Perhaps the comparison is too extreme, but even agriculture, a pretty conservative business, has managed to increase its productivity by an order of magnitude in the past hundred years, while schools have been technologically stuck or going backwards. Policy Impact The technology exists to greatly increase the productivity of the learning process. But institutions are technologies, too, and fundamental technological innovations inevitably require social and political transformation that established institutions instinctively resist. Where learning consumers are accountable for costs and where competition offers choice, the application of innovative systems to improve the cost-effectiveness of learning can be readily observed: in the military, in corporations, in proprietary schools, etc. Where government shields academic institutions from competition and dilutes or prevents consumer accountability for costs-notably in
elementary and secondary schools
and also to a growing extent in formal highereducation-educationa! productivity is poor and declining. America's hopes for future economic and political leadership will depend on when public policy catches up with economic reality: In the information age, learning is in, school is out.
A computerized training system designed in Britain helps teach workers how to run an automated machine shop. Companies can thus avoid using expensive production equipment for instruction. The Denford Flexible Machining System (FMS), said to be the first package designed exclusively for training purposes, includes two small industrial robots, a computer-controlled lathe, a milling machine, a con-
veyor, and software. In the photo, an instructor shows how to program one of the robots. According to author Lewis Perelman, the technologies that are displacing many workers can also be used to improve training programs, so that displaced workers can quickly learn new skills.
Source: Denford Machine Tools Ltd.. Birds Boyd, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, HD6 lNB, England.
Lewis J. Perelman is president of StrategiC Performance Services, P.O. Box 5500, McLean, Virginia 221 03. He is author of The Learning Enterprise: Adult Learning, Human Capital, and Economic Development (Council of State Planning Agencies, ~984). An audiocassette of his speech on the Learning Enterprise, presented atthe World Future Society's 1985 conference on the Global Economy, is available for $18.50 from the Futurist Bookstore ($16 for Society members). Postpaid.
THE FUTURIST, March-April 1986
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