TURES COLUMN: Why we should double the pell: For America’s students and economy

Published 9:30 am Friday, December 3, 2021

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As you will see in this column, there’s a mountain of evidence for the value of college, for the skills, as well as the employment and earning numbers. And these don’t even begin to cover the necessity of having more college degrees in America to meet the needs of today’s economy and especially the future businesses for our country. As you’ll see, doubling the Pell Grants would be the best way to achieve this economic boost, more than “free college.”

Research from Georgetown University shows that 65% of all jobs in today’s economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school, especially in STEM, health care, and community services. The same report also shows “the demand for physical skills has continued to decline over time, except for ‘near vision,’ which is necessary to read computer screens and other types of documentation.”

As Market Watch points out in their confirming research, even among the 30%+ of jobs that don’t require any sort of collegiate or associate degree, 91% of those jobs are going to college graduates, by choice of the employer. One of my outstanding LaGrange College students, a football player all set up for graduate school, opted for a career in sales, typically seen as one of those jobs that doesn’t require a college degree. “Sorry Dr. Tures,” he told me as he turned down his original dreams of graduate school. “But they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” He’s married (to a fellow LC graduate) and continuing to advance. At a recent homecoming, I asked if he was able to use what he learned in college. “You bet!” he replied, documenting how our focus on research methods helped him in his new job.

“I don’t see how anyone without a college degree can do this kind of work,” he confided. Evidence also shows that not only are employment numbers are far better for college graduates, but earnings are much higher for those with a college degree.

My student and his fellow graduates have discovered what Georgetown University’s researchers found in their analysis of economic needs from college students. “Judgment/decision-making, communications, analysis and administration will be the four most in-demand competencies in the labor market,” the report reads. And these are all skills I emphasize in my classes, which you can do in higher education institutions with a manageable faculty-to-student ratio like the kind LaGrange College and other liberal arts colleges can offer. If your university doesn’t offer a strong chance to develop these specific areas, consider that in your college choice.

We also knew that there will be a shortage of college graduates for the American workforce by 5 million workers. It’s worth noting that this Georgetown report came out well before COVID-19 struck, and 1.5 million fewer Americans opted for college, so that gap will be even bigger now. We have three choices: (1) watch our businesses that need those college graduates fail for a lack of such workers, (2) import such college graduates from other countries, or (3) bring more high school graduates into college. I think you’ll agree that option 3 is our best bet for the future.

Philip Levine of the Brookings Institute tested which would be the best way to expand college for students. “My analysis leads to the conclusion that doubling the value of the Pell Grant is a better solution to increase college affordability. It is a well-targeted policy that will close the affordability gap for lower-income students, leading more of them to enroll. Free College is less desirable because it is poorly targeted, providing extensive benefits to higher income students who will attend college anyway.”

If you agree that our present and future economy needs more college graduates, and to be accessible to all Americans, then please contact your elected officials and tell him or her to support the bipartisan Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021, instead of “free college.” Make sure they incorporate the “Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant Program.”