As the United States slowly emerges from the recession of 2007-2009, it is encountering a sobering predicament: not enough Americans are completing college. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that between 2008 and 2018, U.S. educational institutions will need to award 22 million new postsecondary degrees (associate’s or better)—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million. The country also will need at least 4.7 million new workers with certificates achieved through postsecondary training programs. For millions of Americans, the mismatch between current skill levels and future workforce needs will represent a lost opportunity.

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Anthony P. Carnevale is director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Carnevale previously served as vice president for public leadership at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). He worked as a senior staff member in both houses of the U.S. Congress, and was appointed to commissions by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Carnevale co-authored the principal affidavit in Rodriguez v. San Antonio, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court action that resulted in education funding equalization across states.

In this interview, Carnevale discusses structural changes to the U.S. economy, the affordability of college for middle-class families, and the demographics of higher education disparities. He also explains why educational choices—where to go and what to study—affects employment opportunities.