The recession has been long and painful for most Americans. Even though we may be on the upswing, deficit problems create an immediate future of painful choices. The next few years will require funding cutbacks from which no public institution is immune.
But as we look to a full financial recovery, the economy is not the only critical hurdle we face. Education must also be right up there on top of the agenda and here too we will face painful choices.
Why is education so important? First, it's directly related to the economy and the quality of our workforce. Two, it's directly related to social stability and equality. Three, nearly every federal major education bill is up for renewal. Decisions made by the next Congress will have an impact on generations to come.
The day before the presidential election, the Pew Research Center, using newly available census data, said that record numbers of young adults completed high school and college. College graduation is now at record levels for key demographic groups — men and women; blacks, whites and Hispanics; foreign and native-born Americans.
Understandably, the report got little public notice: it was released just as Americans were about to go to the polls and large parts of the eastern seaboard were being battered by Hurricane Sandy.
What's less understandable is why education got so little attention during the presidential campaign. This doesn't reflect the public's perspective. A recent poll reveals that 61 percent of American voters rate education as a very important issue. That's fourth on the list, behind the economy, health care, and government ethics and corruption. It's ahead of taxes, national security/war on terror, energy and immigration.
As the budget debates unfold, it's likely that educators will be forced to work with fewer resources. It's unreasonable to expect that they'll be able to do more with less. But part of the negative impact can be mitigated through innovative solutions such as increased use of technology, reductions in overhead costs, consolidation of services, and more freedom for schools to make their own decisions.
Success and failure during these trying times will depend on the full involvement of those who understand education best: teachers. Without their participation, our students will suffer greatly.
Budig is past president/chancellor of Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas, and of Major League Baseball's American League. Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York City.