U.Va.'s Miller Center Kicks off National Debate Series with Education Debate

February 22, 2010

February 22, 2010 — Does the United States need more college graduates to remain an economic power, or is college just too expensive to benefit many Americans?

That will be the focus of a debate that the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, in partnership with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, will hold Friday at 7 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington. It will air on PBS stations across the country.

Participants include:
•    Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education
•    Michael Lomax, president and CEO, United Negro College Fund
•    Richard Vedder, economics professor, Ohio University
•    George Leef, research director, The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy

Paul Solman, business and economics correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," will moderate the debate.

Today, about 40 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 have graduated from college. That figure has remained stable for decades, while graduation rates in other countries, including China, have increased dramatically in recent years.

Debate participants will argue several questions, including: To remain an economic superpower, does the U.S. need to focus on jobs that require innovation and critical thinking – skills best acquired in college – because it cannot compete with the world on the price of labor? Are college graduates better off financially and socially? Or with annual tuition averaging $20,000 for public colleges and $30,000 for private schools, does the cost of college outweigh the benefits for many Americans? Is it sound public policy to urge Americans to go to college, with the personal savings rate at its lowest since the Great Depression?

This debate is part of a series that the Miller Center will produce this year. The others:

• March 24
Resolution: The United States must ration costly end-of-life care.
Moderator: Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief, Health Affairs

• April 27
Resolution: The business model of higher education is broken.
Moderator: Ray Suarez, senior correspondent, "PBS NewsHour"

• May 18
Resolution: Democracy is threatened by the unchecked nature of information in the Internet.
Moderator: Robin MacNeil, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions