sealPurdue News

March 16, 2003

Education is the strategic solution for people, state

Martin C. Jischke
President, Purdue University

Education has always enjoyed a special place in America. We have long believed that our most important shared responsibility is to prepare the young for the responsibilities of citizenship and leadership. Long before we declared our independence as a nation, schools and colleges dotted the American landscape.

Today, we have a complex, decentralized system of education in which most responsibilities are delegated to the individual states and their communities. This approach has served us well. Our public schools are not without challenges, but when students apply themselves and parents play a responsible role, the results are usually excellent. And there is evidence today of important progress in Indiana's schools.

American higher education is the envy of the world. The best students from every region of the globe flock to the United States for the opportunity to earn an American degree, and university research has become one of the pillars of economic growth, offering the promise of vast new knowledge-based enterprises. As we struggle to contain costs, university enrollments are at record levels. The importance of higher education for individuals, as well as for our nation, is more widely recognized than ever.

Indiana's education system has held its own among the states. Our schools — both public and private — and our colleges and universities offer a wide diversity of learning opportunities in a variety of environments. The research capacities of Purdue University and Indiana University give the state a tremendous resource that can be the key to future prosperity if we nurture it and use it wisely. We have everything in place to make Indiana education not only a point of pride, but the linchpin of a new era of growth.

But the key now is to recognize that education is more than a benign necessity, more than an obligation to our young people and more than another line in a tight budget. Education — the full spectrum from public and private schools to job training courses to university doctoral degrees — is strategic. It is strategic to the state, to local communities, to families and to individuals. If we recognize what education can do for the people of Indiana and invest in it strategically, we can build a legacy that future generations will draw upon for as long as we can dream.

What can education do? The economic benefits to the individual are enormous. A college graduate with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $650,000 more in a lifetime than he or she would earn as a high school graduate. At every level, the gap widens. The same person with a master's degree will earn $1 million more; with a doctorate, the difference is $1.6 million.

Statistics show that as the level of education goes up, people enjoy better health, are less likely to become unemployed and are far less likely to be incarcerated for crime. Incidentally, the cost to keep an inmate in prison for a year is more than three times the annual state appropriation for a Purdue student. Education is truly a bargain.

The pattern of public benefits is undeniable. Since well-educated people earn more, they pay more taxes, thus supporting public services. They also spend more, fueling the economy. They are less likely to need medical care or unemployment support, and they will not increase the prison census. Furthermore, education tends to enhance people's community involvement. They support charitable causes, work for neighborhood improvements and get involved in public schools. In short, they are social and economic givers, rather than takers. Well-educated people are the raw material of societal progress.

Perhaps best of all, they almost always make sure their children become at least as well educated, so these benefits become self-perpetuating.

And there is more: Entrepreneurs deciding where to start or locate their operations are drawn to areas with well-educated populations, because these are the people who can assume large responsibilities, perform highly skilled work and adapt to change.

So as individuals and families prosper from education, their collective good fortune spreads to the state, communities and the economy. This is the reason that ever since the Egyptians and Sumerians established formal schools 5,000 years ago, governments have recognized the value of investing in education. The lesson of history has been that the greater the investment, the greater the return.

Nineteenth-century writer James Russell Lowell said: "It was in making education not only common to all, but ... compulsory on all, that the destiny of America was settled."

With each further step — the development of state-supported universities, the elimination of racial segregation in public schools, the revolution precipitated by the GI Bill — we created more opportunity.

But we've only begun. Indiana must become a player in the knowledge-based economy that holds the most promise for future growth. It also must modernize the agricultural and manufacturing enterprises that have sustained us for so long. Without a vibrant, responsive, well-funded education system, we cannot achieve these goals.

No matter what approaches we take to solving our current economic difficulties, a first-rate educational continuum must be part of Indiana's formula for success. If we put education at the heart of our state's strategy, we not only will succeed, we will make Indiana the showplace of the American dream.