The numbers are bleak and -- for anyone who cares about the vibrancy of the American economy or the importance of an educated citizenry -- deeply worrisome: the United States has fallen to 17th in the world in high school graduation rates and 7th in college-going rates, and is the only industrialized country whose rates are falling.
And perhaps most troubling of all, the rates are lowest among those segments of the American populace that are growing the fastest.
As they waited Thursday morning for the House of Representatives higher education subcommittee to vote on legislation to extend the Higher Education Act, lobbyists for for-profit and nonprofit colleges had strikingly different answers to the simple question "How are things going?"
Bruce D. Leftwich, vice president for government relations at the Career College Association, responded with an enthusiastic "Great, great." David S. Baime, who plays the same role for the American Association of Community Colleges, offered an uncertain "I have no idea."