Education key to national security

March 7, 2016
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, March 6, 2016

The phrase “national security” brings to mind the goals of keeping our homeland safe from intruders, maintaining a strong military, and encouraging sound foreign policy. These aspects are essential; however, ensuring a top-notch education for our students should also be included in that list. Without a properly educated country, we jeopardize our standing in the world, as well as our economic future and physical safety.

As a former undercover CIA officer and current member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, ensuring we protect Americans for generations to come is a top priority. National security of this caliber requires a vigorous economy and highly knowledgeable leaders with a well-formed view on the role of the United States in the world. None of this is possible without a well-educated workforce.

As a country, we are not where we should be when it comes to ensuring access to high-quality education and increasing graduation rates. According to the Department of Education, only 4 out of 5 students in the United States graduated from high school in 2014, and we rank 27th in math and 26th in science out of 34 industrialized countries surveyed. In San Antonio, less than 35 percent of adults have college degrees and only about half of high school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college program.

The security Americans enjoy today will not last if we do not have enough high school and college graduates to join the military, intelligence agencies or law enforcement. To maintain our position as the leading global innovator, we must have enough creative problem-solvers and leaders to fill jobs not only in today’s industries but also in the industries that don’t even exist yet. Unfortunately, current graduation statistics do not bode well for the United States, which is why we must frame education as a national security priority.

Ensuring access to educational opportunities will strengthen and grow the economy, drive technological advancement and innovation across every industry, and allow citizens to overcome socioeconomic challenges that are influenced by education inequality. Children enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, courses today are tomorrow’s cybersecurity experts who will protect our infrastructure from debilitating cyberattacks. They are the physicians and scientists who will develop innovative medical treatments that save soldiers’ lives. They are the engineers who will build jets that fly faster, higher and farther. Prioritizing STEM education initiatives will cultivate our nation’s leadership in science and technology.

Leading in the STEM fields will continue to project American influence across the globe. The technology emerging from our tech hubs has attracted the sharpest minds from around the world. Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs come to the U.S. to learn, collaborate and develop ideas that will propel us beyond the 21st century. These people-to-people interactions produce not only economic gains but also an inter-cultural understanding that boosts America’s image abroad.

If the World Wide Web defined the end of the 20th century, then human capital will be the driver of this century. An emphasis on STEM education provides the United States with the human capital necessary to continue being a force for good in the world, while enriching and protecting our citizens at home.

Will Hurd represents the 23rd Congressional District of Texas.