By Deanna C. White
Ernst & Young recently joined the ranks of seventy top business leaders in proclaiming their support for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for education.
In an open letter that appeared in the February 12, 2013, edition of the New York Times, Stephen R. Howe Jr., Americas Managing Partner at Ernst & Young, was listed as a business leader from one of seventy top companies and corporations, including GE and GM, who offered their "collective support" for the CCSS.
The CCSS initiative, led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, has produced K-12 standards in the foundational subjects of math and English that meet the business community's expectations for US students.
The CCSS set consistent, focused, and rigorous expectations for American students. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have already adopted the standards.
"As business leaders we believe that ALL American children have the right to an education that prepares them to be successful in a competitive global economy", the business leaders jointly stated in the open letter. "We also understand that in order to compete in a knowledge-based global economy, we must improve the academic performance of our students."
The standards, according to the CCSS website, are "rigorous, internationally benchmarked" criteria designed to ensure that students "leave school with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and careers." The CCSS are not a national curriculum nor are they federally mandated.
"The need to raise student achievement in the public education system is clear, as American students are leaving school without the skills and education needed to succeed. Once leading the world in academic scores and education attainment, the United States has fallen behind other top performing countries", the website states, adding this "weakens the United States' ability to produce a workforce that is fully prepared to compete in the local, national, and global economies."
Deborah Holmes, Ernst & Young's Americas Director for Corporate Responsibility, said the firm decided to join the collective statement of support for the CCSS when the GE Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the GE Corporation, approached Ernst & Young in regard to signing the open letter.
"We determined that the ultimate goal of the CCSS, to raise expectations for America's students and increase the number who are college and career-ready, is very much aligned with Ernst & Young's priorities for education", Holmes said.
Holmes said helping young people gain access to higher education should be a top priority for all businesses, because businesses need an educated workforce to compete in the global economy.
And, simply put, Holmes said access to higher education is one of the greatest factors in helping young people achieve success.
Unfortunately, that access can often seem a distant possibility for many low-income students, Holmes said.
"In the United States, where a bachelor's degree can translate to an additional $1.1 million in income over the course of a lifetime, just six percent of low-income students earn one by the age of twenty-four", Holmes said.
Holmes said Ernst & Young believes it is important to support a universal educational benchmark, like the CCSS, which defines "college-and-career-ready" educational standards, because globalization and underlying demographic trends mean the next generation of leaders must be prepared to function effectively in an increasingly global and diverse business environment.
Holmes said Ernst & Young believes career-ready employees need to possess the following basic skills essential to thriving in a knowledge-based, global economy – skills Ernst & Young values in its own people and looks for when recruiting on college campuses across the country:
- Problem-solving and analytic capabilities grounded in Math education.
- Communications skills, including writing, which grow out of mastery of English and language arts.
- The ability to work in teams and to stay on task to complete a problem.
- Inclusive thinking and openness to different perspectives and ideas.
"For any professional services firm, having a global mind-set is critical to our clients, and we are focused on offering our employees innovative ways to develop this perspective", Holmes said. Ernst & Young's Americas Corporate Responsibility Fellows program, which sends high-performing professionals on short, sharp immersion experiences in Central and South America, was developed to inculcate this thinking, Holmes said.
In addition, Ernst & Young's commitment to education extends well beyond its own doorstep.
The firm's education outreach programs are designed to help young people in the communities surrounding Ernst & Young achieve their greatest educational potential.
Ernst and Young's signature educational outreach program College MAP, for example, allows Ernst & Young the opportunity to work with hundreds of high school students across the country – mentoring them and guiding them along the path to a four-year degree.
"These students have the potential to succeed in college but need some extra help creating the 'MAP' that will take them there", Holmes said. "We help demystify the process of applying to and affording college, encouraging students who might not have considered applying for college to do so. Then we work with students to build the skills that will help them persist in completing their four-year degree."
The fact that the core beliefs embodied in the goals of the CCSS mirror and support the education and learning initiatives already in place at Ernst & Young. The firm's commitment to developing a workforce prepared to prosper in the global economy is the main reason Ernst & Young decided to join the statement of collective support for CCSS.
"As one of the world's great global training organizations, we help our people realize their full potential. And through educational programs and outreach, we are able to help young people in the communities around us realize their full potential as well", Holmes said.