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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today said the nation faces dual challenges meeting global competition for high-paying 21st Century jobs: boosting graduation rates to prepare students for postsecondary education and the job market; and promoting lifelong learning to keep established workers armed with the skills needed in today’s workforce and in the future.

During a hearing, “The Role of Education in American Competitiveness,” Enzi said the need to respond to these challenges becomes more pressing each day. Teaching American students “the language of success” will require both short term and long term strategies to bring our education system up to world standards.

“We are facing challenges that we must view as opportunities,” Enzi said. “We must ensure our children develop the strong foundation they will need in math and science to acquire skills and knowledge needed in today’s job market. It’s equally important that established workers – those already on the career ladder – get the additional training and retraining they will need to advance in the marketplace of tomorrow and throughout their lifetimes.”

While hearing testimony from Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Enzi praised the American Competitiveness Initiative outlined by President Bush during his State of the Union address delivered January 31. Enzi said the President’s outlook served to increase optimism that we can and will meet these challenges by continuing to improve our schools and the education we provide our children. As part of the Competitiveness Initiative, the President’s budget proposes almost $400 million to strengthen schools and improve elementary and secondary instruction in math and science.

This focus is important because studies show America is starting to lose its edge in the race for knowledge.

“Without an educated workforce we are certain to lose our preeminence in the world to developing nations that are quickly growing and innovating at a much faster rate than we are,” Enzi said.

American students have lagged behind their peers in Asia and Europe in math and science skills. For example, only 7 percent of America’s 4th and 8th graders reached the advanced level on the 2003 Trends in International Math and Science Study. By contrast, 38 percent of Singapore’s 4th graders and 44 percent of their 8th graders reached the advanced level. Moreover, American 15 year-olds ranked 24th out of the 29 developed nations in mathematics, literacy and problem-solving on the most recent program for the international student assessment test.

Meanwhile, the number of American students who have graduated from college each year with degrees in engineering also has lagged far behind foreign nations. In 2004, China graduated about 500,000 engineers, while India graduated 200,000 and the United States graduated 70,000. In less than five years, China has more than doubled the number of their students who have graduated from college each year with degrees in engineering.

According to Enzi, statistics for minority students and the prospects for their future participation in a global economy add even greater cause for concern. Nationally, about one-third of all high school students do not complete their course of study on time. For minority students this figure hovers around 50 percent.

“At a time when most jobs will require some postsecondary education, we must focus on how to graduate more students on time, with less need for remediation, and give them a greater likelihood of success in college or the workplace,” Enzi said. “Today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future, knowledge is king—especially knowledge obtained and updated on a regular basis through a lifetime of learning and a constant upgrading of the skills of our workforce. College degrees don’t have the shelf-life they once did.”

He pledged to lead the HELP Committee to continue its work in the coming session of Congress to move forward legislation directed at retaining America’s competitive edge in the global economy by ensuring that higher education prepares today’s students for the demands of tomorrow’s workplace.

Under Enzi’s leadership last year, the HELP Committee laid a foundation to boost competitiveness of American workers with passage of “The Higher Education Amendments Act of 2005” (HEA), the “Workforce Investment Act” (WIA), and “The Deficit Reduction Act,” a bill that includes provisions to give low-income college students eligibility for billions of dollars in new federal grants if they pursue degrees in math, science or critical foreign languages.

Working in conjunction with HEA and WIA, the “Perkins Act,” which awaits conference committee action, will require state agencies to work together on identifying the needs of the workforce and in designing education and skills training programs to match those needs.

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Statement of Michael B. Enzi, Chairman
Senate Committee on
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Hearing on the Role of Education in Global Competitiveness

February 9, 2006

Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on the Role of Education in Global Competitiveness. We are very fortunate to have as our witness today Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education, to discuss the President’s recently announced Global Competitiveness initiative and other Administration education priorities that will be a cornerstone of our national strategy to address the challenges of a global economy. We have a unique opportunity to strengthen and focus our education and training systems to ensure that, as individuals and as a nation, we have the knowledge and skills that we need. We must ensure that America’s students are the best in the world, that they speak the language of success, and that as a country we get more than a “passing grade”.

In April of 2005, Secretary Spellings appeared before this Committee to testify with Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor, on this same topic of global competitiveness. At that hearing, the Committee’s goal was to find out how we can provide our children with an education today for tomorrow’s jobs. In addition, we held a roundtable on higher education with college presidents and corporate executives where they cited a great need for a well educated and skilled workforce. Without an educated workforce we are certain to lose our preeminence in the world to developing nations that are quickly growing and innovating at a much faster rate than we are.

If our students and workers are to have the best chance to succeed in life, we need to focus all of our Federal education and training programs from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education, to on-the-job and continuing education. To be competitive in a global economy we must ensure coordination and accountability in our education and workforce programs across all agencies, departments and levels of government. To stay in the competitiveness race and to win it, we must ensure that school is never out and learning is never over.

In reading The Jobs Revolution, I was particularly drawn to a passage about knowledge and job skills. “Knowledge,” it began, “is being outdated at rates that are still escalating. Even where knowledge is current when students graduate, it is soon outdated. While the number of new careers is increasing, the life span of applicable knowledge is decreasing.” Two-thirds of the 7 million worker gap in 2010 will be a skilled worker shortage. This is unacceptable.

Today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future, knowledge is king – especially knowledge obtained and updated on a regular basis through a lifetime of learning and a constant upgrading of the skills of our workforce. College degrees don’t have the shelf-life they once did.

In 2004, China graduated about 500,000 engineers and India 200,000 compared to our nation’s 70,000. In less than five years China has more than doubled the number of their engineering students who have graduated from college. Only 6 percent of the bachelor-level engineering degrees granted worldwide were earned in the United States.

More staggering are the results from national and international tests showing that American elementary and secondary students are falling behind and will not be prepared for the demands of global competitiveness. Only 7 percent of America’s 4th and 8th graders in 2003 reached the advanced level on the international math and science study test. By contrast, 38 percent of Singapore 4th graders and 44 percent of their 8th graders did. In addition, American 15 year-olds ranked 24th out of the 29 developed nations in mathematics, literacy and problem-solving on the most recent international assessment test. We are losing the race.

A student who takes just one remedial reading course in college is eight times less likely to graduate than a student who is fully prepared for college. At a time when most jobs will require some postsecondary education, we must focus on how to graduate more students on time, with less need to repeat basic reading and math courses, and a greater likelihood of success in college or the workplace.

A good education will always be the golden key that will unlock the door to a brighter future for us all as individuals, and, together, as a nation. Often when there are challenges, there are opportunities. By taking this opportunity to strengthen and focus our education and training systems on ensuring the knowledge and skills that we as individuals and a nation need, we are ensuring that America’s students are the best in the world, that they speak the language of success, and that as a country we get more than a “passing grade”.

Secretary Spellings, we look forward to your remarks regarding what the President is proposing for the U.S. Department of Education to meet these challenges. On January 5th, you jointly announced with the Secretary of State, the National Security Language Initiative to advance national security and global competitiveness. The President proposed almost $400 million as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, to strengthen the capacity of our schools to improve elementary and secondary instruction in math and science. These are critical first steps.

Thank you for being here and sharing your vision with us today.

The purpose of today’s hearing is to discuss the competitiveness initiative. I recognize that there are many important education topics existing today, however, I respectfully request the Committee to stay focused on this most important topic.