Hop Step And Educate

A recent report discloses that the number of people with undergraduate and doctoral degrees rose fivefold in China during the last decade. The New York Times reported, “In only one generation, China has sharply increased the proportion of its college-age population in higher education, to roughly 20 percent now from 1.4 percent in 1978.”

This radical educational transformation is the outcome of a strategic Chinese investment, which doubled state funding for higher education over just five years.


For many decades, development scholars have toyed with dreams of a technological breakthrough that might enable developing societies to leapfrog to an advanced economic state. In fact, the single best investment a society can make for economic advancement is in education.

Census Bureau data demonstrates that a college degree in the United States almost doubles a worker’s annual earnings. Nationwide, on average, people with a bachelor’s degree earn almost 83 percent more than those with a high school education. In 2004, workers with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,206 annually. By contrast, those with a high school diploma earned $27,915. Individuals with professional, masters or other advanced degrees averaged $74,602 in earnings; those without even a high school diploma averaged $18,734. The correlation between higher education and earnings is consistent across race and gender (see table below).

It is well known that the household income of Indian Americans is almost 50 percent higher than the national median. The economic success of Indian Americans, which propelled them to the top of America’s economic heap in just one generation, is rooted in the simple fact that Indians have the highest educational attainment of any ethnic group in the United States, including Whites. Almost two-thirds of all Indian Americans have a college degree against under 25 percent for the nationwide population. The proportion of Indians with advanced masters, professional or doctorate degrees is almost five times the national average.

The evidence is irrefutable: education is directly correlated with economic development, a fact underscored by this month’s article on Indians in Singapore as well. The Indian community’s demographics in Singapore underwent a seismic shift as a result of Indian techies who flocked to the island in the 1990s, transforming their image from low-end construction and domestic laborers to white collar professionals. In 1990, fewer than 9 percent of Indian expatriates in Singapore held a college degree. By contrast, in 2000 almost 51 percent of them were college educated. Since expat Indians constitute almost a quarter of Singapore’s overall Indian population, this shift has rippled through the island’s entire Indian population.

Although India has boosted its investment in education, it has not been quite as aggressive as China, especially in the higher education sector. Indian Americans, poster children for the transformative value of education, need to be at the forefront of a major push to advance the cause of education at every level in India. China’s multi billion dollar push in higher education has helped it lure some of the best intellectual minds in its diaspora back to China to lead its educational renaissance. Indian Americans and the almost 8,000 Indian academics in U.S. universities are uniquely situated to head the charge for an equally dramatic transformation of India’s educational sector. So who is ready to step up to the plate?  

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