Ode to the Super Bowl: Getting and Staying in the Game

Ode to the Super Bowl: Getting and Staying in the Game  

The director of communications at HEQCO is getting concerned that it has been some time since I have posted a new blog.  She is worried that I will lose readership.  I think I do not take this concern as seriously as she does because I am not sure I have any readership.

Nevertheless, in the event that there are people out in etherspace eagerly awaiting my latest missive, I offer a set of musings emanating from recent activities and events.

The Super Bowl is played this weekend.  According to the ads, this is a contest to determine world football supremacy.  If there was a Super Bowl to determine the world champion of higher education, there is little doubt who would be declared the winner.  As Fareed Zakaria notes in his book, The Post-American World, “with 5% of the world’s population, the United States absolutely dominates higher education, having either 42 or 68 percent of the world’s top fifty universities (depending on which study you look at).” In fact, although the central message of his book is how other countries are now poised to surpass the USA, it is the output and innovation spawned by the great American universities that Zakaria suggests as a key factor that will keep the USA competitive — in spite of the rise of the rest.

American supremacy in higher education will not always be the case.  As Richard Levin, president of Yale University, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “It is more likely than not that by mid-century the top Asian universities will stand among the best universities in the world.”  Even a quick perusal of the global news on higher education demonstrates that many countries are prepared to do some pretty dramatic overhauls of their higher education systems (merger of universities in Finland, corporatization of Seoul National University in South Korea) because they recognize the centrality of these institutions in the future economic and social competitiveness of their countries.

However, a recent trip to the Lumina Foundation in the United States reminded me (and now, by extension, you) that it is not just about the top tier colleges and universities. Lumina’s mission is to help the USA achieve the goal that 60 per cent of Americans will hold high-quality degrees, credentials and certificates by 2025.  Given where they are now, this is an ambitious goal.  Lumina notes with some envy and wonder that Canada is already there. Currently, about 63 per cent of people living in Ontario between the ages of 25 to 64 have attained a postsecondary credential.  Not all of these people received their credentials in Ontario; it also reflects immigration policy.  Nevertheless, Canada has managed to achieve a very high postsecondary attainment rate.

Interestingly, when these overall attainment rates are dissected a little further, Canada and the USA appear to have mirror image postsecondary challenges.  As noted, Canada does well on overall postsecondary participation; the Americans do worse.  Yet, Canada does so well because we have a higher college participation rate. The Americans fare better when one looks at university participation.  And when one looks at graduate education, Canada slips even further and the Americans do even better.  The Americans are at the top of the heap in graduate education while Canada fares much worse on international comparisons.  The USA is still the world’s strongest magnet for foreign students; Canada is doing better but we are hardly in the game relative to other countries.

I watched Obama deliver his State of the Union message last month.  I wonder if he knows how much he warms the cockles of every higher education devotee and supporter when he says:  “We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

Thanks for reading.

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