Education and Business: Ideas for a Brighter Future

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and a
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and ambassador for TI, and Lisa Brady Gill, executive director of North America marketing look on as STEM Academy student Alfredo Aranda works during a visit to classrooms prior to a presentation in which Bialik and TI presented the school with a $50,000 donation in education technology and professional development, Monday, May 21, 2012. (Rene Macura/AP Images for TI)

If we used the same metrics in education that we do in business, the U.S. system would get an F when it comes to ROI. At $1.3 trillion a year, America is spending more on education than any country in the world -- yet we rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.

Something doesn't add up.

This should be of real concern to America's corporate leaders. If the U.S. can't compete in education, we will struggle to compete at all. By 2018, nearly two-thirds of new jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. That's according to a recent report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, "Without a dramatic change," the report says, "the U.S. is on track to fall short of this need by a full three million workers."

So the education crisis is not a public sector problem, and it won't be solved by Washington alone. Building the workforce of tomorrow is our problem, too. And if we don't see that now, we'll be forced to face it soon.

What can business bring to the table? Let me suggest just a few ideas based on what we've learned at Target along the way to investing a $1 billion in education-related programs.

Business leaders can bring our voice to public policy debates, our business acumen to non-profits, our varied expertise to training and education programs, and our resources -- from dollars to volunteerism to pro bono expertise -- to local schools. We can step into classrooms in need with our heads, our hands and our hearts.

We can also bring an eye for the disruptive innovations so necessary to survival in a volatile, complex and ever-changing world. We don't stay in business without being agile, creative and keenly aware of the forces reshaping our competitive markets. Businesses that have survived and even thrived over the last decade have developed a 21st century experience and skillset that is desperately needed in education: the ability to move from "the way we've always done things" to "the ideas that work right now."

Business can also convene and lead creative partnerships across sectors. In our work with educators at local, state and national levels, Target has found a sector hungry for support, open to innovation and new thinking, and ready to engage in creative partnerships that will prepare our children for a brighter future than many are predicting.

One point three million U.S. children dropped out of the high school class of 2010. According to an estimate from the Alliance for Excellent Education, if that trend continues, over the next decade we will lose 13 million students at a lifetime cost in lost wages of more than $3 trillion. The costs are staggering.

They are also personal. There are faces behind those numbers. I know, because I could have been one of them. I never would have become the first in my family to graduate from college without support from the early childhood learning program HeadStart -- a collaboration of educators, non-profit leaders, government, and business. This is exactly the kind of collaboration millions of U.S. students at every grade level need right now.

Too many students -- our own future workers -- are not getting the support they need to succeed. We have an obligation to these children, to society, and our own businesses to offer what support we can. It's not only their future we're fighting for -- it is our own.