Arguing that the United States is not committed enough to "educating all of its people," former Secretary of Education Terrell H. Bell called today for an educational "Marshall Plan for the States" to revive the nation's public colleges and universities.
Because of its failure to provide the bulk of its underprivileged citizens with a college education, the nation is witnessing "the staggering waste and dissipation" of its most "precious resource," Bell said in a recently completed study. The failure to educate students from poorer families, the study said, has bred not only personal stagnation but also crime, unemployment, reduced productivity and nonparticipation in elections and the other processes of democracy.
The study, entitled "To Secure the Blessings of Liberty," is the latest and most critical in a series of recent reports on the status of American higher education.
The Bell report is the work of a 22-member commission appointed by the board of the American Assn. of State Colleges and Universities and chaired by the former Carter Administration education chief. The Washington-based association represents nearly 400 of the nation's teachers colleges and some of its non-research-oriented state university systems, including the California State University.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 12, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Former education Secretary Terrel H. Bell was incorrectly identified in The Times Monday as having served in the Carter Administration. He headed the Education Department in President Reagan's first term.
Greater Emphasis on State Colleges
Like other reports released in recent weeks, the Bell report calls for greater emphasis on undergraduate education in general and teacher training in particular. But the Bell report contends that greater emphasis and resources should be directed toward the state colleges because of their special status as the primary trainers of public-school teachers and as institutions that tend to serve students on the lower economic rungs of society.
That inadequate attention has been paid to these institutions is evidenced by a number of troubling trends, the report said.
There are, for example, 50 million households in the United States where no family member holds a bachelor's degree, the report noted, "and the figure increases annually."
The nation's high school dropout rate is mounting to 25%, reaching levels as high as 45% to 50% for minorities in disadvantaged urban areas, the report said.
At least 23 million adults, according to the study, have been identified as functional illiterates. In addition, the study noted, the term functional illiterate can be properly applied to 13% of U.S. teen-agers and up to 40% of minority adolescents.
In an era of tight budgets, the study said, funds for postsecondary remedial education, including special counseling services for disadvantaged students, are being "sharply curtailed."
"The education reform movements, while riveting public attention on the need to improve quality at both the elementary-secondary and the collegiate levels, have failed dismally to address the needs of minority youth." Some reform efforts, the study contended, have adopted concepts of "excellence" and "quality" as "code words for denial of access and opportunity to blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities."
"These storm signals bode ill for the quality of American life," the study concluded. "Nothing short of a creative state-by-state effort to strengthen education at all levels, comparable to the Marshall Plan in scope, cost and dedication, can ensure the preservation of our democratic legacy for the 21st century." (The Marshall Plan, named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall, was the United States' economic recovery program for post-World War II Europe.)
Although the commission did not put a price tag on its proposal, it said the dimensions of such an effort require that:
- At least 35% of American adults should have a college degree by the year 2001. (Today, only 19% of all adults over 25 have finished college. For black Americans, the figure is only 8.8%. For Latinos, it is 7.8% and Native Americans 1.5%.)
- State colleges should assume the leadership in producing at least 1 million additional public school teachers over the next decade, who will be needed, the report argues, "just to keep the doors of the public schools open."
- The colleges should make as one of their highest priorities over the next decade a collaboration with public schools to reduce the high school dropout rate by 50%.
To do less, the commission concluded, would be to follow "the passageway to a disastrous fall from which America may never recover."