“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” — Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers

American society today appears to be putting less emphasis on the importance of education, specifically higher education, than it did many decades ago. Once the world leader in higher education in the 1980s, the U.S. now ranks 12th among 36 developed nations for adults with college degrees; Canada now ranks No. 1. High school graduation rates have steadily been on the rise for the last decade except for a very nominal dip in 2006 and 2007 (last data available), one out of three students won’t graduate, with poverty taking most of the blame.

With continuing budget cuts in public education, rising tuition and fees for higher education seems to be lessening its true value. College education has improved with advances in technology and more options with degrees, some higher costs are justified. The debt college graduates are saddled with today, however, is much greater than what it had been over the last several decades. We as Americans have condoned this, forcing students to bear a bigger burden of their education year after year, praising tax cuts while cutting educational programs, slashing vital services, even though it has been proven that higher education equals a healthier economy.

The proof is in the pudding. In a national report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December, the educated aren’t invincible, the unemployment rate among college graduates is currently at 5.1 percent. This is up from 4.4 percent in September, but it still pales in comparison to the 10 percent rate for those with only a high school diploma and is nominal compared to those without a high school diploma, which is currently 15.7 percent unemployment rate.

We understand not everyone wants or needs a four-year bachelor’s degree to be successful, but balance must be made for our country to move forward and be competitive again with other developed nations. Higher education is the great equalizer.

Though federal spending for education did go up from $90.8 billion in 2009 to $157 billion in 2010, the federal defense budget went from $794 billion to $895 billion. Are America’s priorities are out of order?

In the end, how much is our freedom worth that we are fighting so hard and spending so much to maintain, if our country fails as a whole to stay ahead of the rest, with a flailing economy, millions out of work and a dismal outlook for future generations? It is time to reinvest in America. Education is key.