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Education Reform Pushed for Economic Growth
The United States needs to fundamentally rethink its higher education system in order to grow the American economy and stay competitive internationally, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said.
"We have the irony of having an economy where many people want to get jobs and there are a lot of open jobs," Gates, chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Wednesday at the Washington Ideas Forum. "The overall education system has to work in the country" to give workers the skills to fill these jobs.
Gates said the modern U.S. economy has a strong demand for highly skilled workers. However, many of the nation's universities are failing to produce these workers. He said that foreign workers have the skills to do these jobs, but U.S. immigration policy does not allow many foreign workers to stay in the country after their university education, hindering broader economic growth.
Gates also said that the American state university systems, which in the past have provided stellar educations, are in danger of decline because of budget limitations.
"We need to rededicate ourselves to a huge strength of our country. Our state schools, two year and four year, are amazing," Gates said.
Gates also said universities need to work to better educate students with lower standardized test scores. According to Gates, universities are now judged by the qualifications of those who are granted entry. He argued universities should be judged for their output of successful students.
For instance, while more and more Americans are going to college, fewer than 60 percent graduate within six years. At the same time, the average student only takes 12 hours of classes each week, and only dedicates 10 hours of independent study to preparing for these classes.
"The quality of what you get when you complete is another thing we need to look hard at," Gates said. "We have a unique amount of free time for kids in higher education."
Four-year schools are not for everyone, Gates said, but some technical training beyond college is needed to be competitive in today's workforce.
"It's great for a lot of kids to go to two-year programs," Gates said, referring to technical and community colleges. "There are wonderful professionally oriented degrees. That's definitely a part of the ecosystem."
But according to Gates, the American economy will only thrive when more people who attended traditional four-year universities are able to contribute to economic growth. He said, "Society needs to do something better with our 18- to 22-year-olds."