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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the importance of lifelong education today with testimony from Secretary of Education Spellings, Secretary of Labor Chao, and other educational leaders from around the United States. Enzi noted that about 15 Wyoming state legislators were also in attendance.

The full text of Enzi’s opening statement follows. To view video clips of the statement CLICK HERE.

Statement of Michael B. Enzi, Chairman
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Hearing on Lifelong Education Opportunities
April 14, 2005

Lifelong education opportunities are vital to ensuring that America retains its competitive edge in the global economy, and that every American can participate in our nation’s success. In our technology-driven economy, school can never be out. It is estimated that 60 percent of tomorrow’s jobs will require skills that only 20 percent of today’s workers possess. It is also estimated that the average person leaving college will change careers 14 times. Without a lifetime of education, training and retraining opportunities for everyone, we will not meet these 21st century challenges. As new technology emerges and workers change careers, they will need to learn new skills or apply their current skills in new ways.

Earlier this year I introduced S. 9: The Lifelong Education Opportunities Act of 2005. It has four stated purposes: to set high expectations and raise achievement levels for all students, regardless of their backgrounds; to improve accountability for results; to provide flexibility to the States to manage Federal program dollars effectively; and, to support a lifetime of learning opportunities for students and adults at all stages in life.

If our students and workers are to have the best chance to succeed in life, we need to focus on all of our Federal education and training programs from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education to on-the-job and continuing education. We must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to achieve academically and obtain the skills they will need to succeed, regardless of their background. Just as every student is different and has different needs, not every classroom is the same.

On March 21st I visited a classroom in Hudson, Wyoming. The town of 207 residents boasts two “world famous” restaurants, but its children are taught in a single classroom setting at the elementary school. Two teachers teach five kindergarteners, five first graders, five second graders and two third graders in the same room. There were almost as many classroom pets (hamsters, etc) as kids.

Most recently the Governors held an education summit that provided an action agenda for improving America’s high schools. For years, institutions of higher education and employers have expressed their dissatisfaction about the need our high school graduates have for remediation in order to do college level work or to participate in the workforce. Each year taxpayers pay an estimated $1 to $2 billion to provide remedial education to students at our public universities and community colleges. Businesses report spending even more to address the lack of literacy and basic skills of their entry level workers.

Let me share a few facts that speak to the seriousness of this issue:

American 15-year-olds performed below the international average in mathematics, literacy and problem-solving, according to the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment.

Reading proficiency among 12th graders has declined to the point where just over one-third of them are even considered proficient readers.

Only 68 of every 100 9th grade students graduate “on time”, in other words within four years. America’s high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the industrialized world, and the impact on our minority students has been especially severe.

Nearly one-third of entering college freshmen need at least one remedial course.

The United States has one of the highest college enrollment rates, but a college completion rate average to below average among developed countries in the world.

In this decade, 40 percent of job growth will be in jobs requiring postsecondary education; those jobs requiring associate degrees growing the fastest.

Four out of every five jobs will require postsecondary education or the equivalent, yet only 52 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have achieved this level of education.

Seventy-five percent of today’s workforce will need to be retrained just to keep their current jobs.

Median earnings of a high school graduate are 43 percent higher than those of a non-graduate, and those of a college graduate are 62 percent higher than those of a high school graduate.

Two-thirds of the 7 million worker gap in 2010 will be a skilled worker shortage.

What does this mean? What do we know? To begin with, we know that we must improve high school completion rates. Education beyond high school and lifelong learning opportunities are essential for everyone to assure individual success as well as our nation’s future prosperity. We need to provide better preparation at every level of education and strengthen the connections between secondary and postsecondary education. In this global economy, learning is never over and school is never out. Technology is demanding that everyone continue to learn and gain skills to remain competitive in the workplace. The labor force participation rate in January 2005 was 68.8 percent - the lowest in 10 years, as more Americans conclude that they cannot meet the skill demands of today’s workplace and they choose to no longer participate in the workforce.

For these reasons and many others, I am looking forward to the testimony of our witnesses today. We are facing a significant challenge, one that I prefer to think of it as an opportunity.

With most of our Federal policies that deal with training and the workforce needing reauthorization we have an opportunity to provide the clear message that we can no longer accept the status quo or business as usual. We need to take a fresh look at how we can structure our education and training programs to better meet the needs of our economy and at the same time ensure every person has the opportunity they need to obtain the academic and technical skills they need to succeed today, tomorrow and for years to come.