09/27/2011 04:25 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2011

Entrepreneurship Education Is Key to U.S. Economic Growth

When I talk to students, I am struck by their keen insight into important issues currently affecting our economy, such as small business growth and job creation. These students are tomorrow's entrepreneurs and the next generation of leaders, and their opinions matter.

Last week I was privileged to join former secretary of education and president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation Margaret Spellings at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C. to talk about the results of a joint national survey with a group of students. Our organizations had joined forces to administer the "Free Enterprise National Survey," examining high school juniors' knowledge and perceptions of free enterprise, the economy and their thoughts on starting their own businesses.

We heard from a number of students at Friendship, who talked about topics related to business, jobs and the economy. One thing that struck me most was these students' optimism for the future, like 12th grade student Khalil, who talked about his dream to one day become president of the United States. By staying in school and holding himself to high standards as a leader -- showing loyalty, duty, respect, courage, integrity, honor and selfless service -- he was confident in himself and in his future. This was inspiring to see, in spite of these tough economic times.

These conversations, in addition to the survey results, confirm the need for and value in providing entrepreneurship education for high school students, through both classroom-based and extra-curricular learning opportunities. Whether students strive to become president of a company, or president of the United States, it is up to us to provide them with the tools for their future to position them for success.

At least 9 in 10 students surveyed believe it is important to be taught about entrepreneurship, free enterprise and capitalism, yet less than half (45 percent) have been taught those topics in school. Why is this education important? Lessons around how the free enterprise system and entrepreneurship benefit citizens and relate to job creation is good for students to know as they continue to learn, grow and thrive in today's economy. Our survey found that students believe that people who start their own businesses help to create jobs and are drivers of growth for the U.S. economy. The majority also agree that the best economic system for creating jobs is the free enterprise system.

However, although 64 percent of high school juniors were interested in starting or owning their own businesses someday, the survey revealed that many are concerned about the economy. Seven in 10 high school juniors believe that the economy will either stay the same or get worse in the coming year, and 9 in 10 are concerned about their job prospects after they finish school. This may result in fewer students choosing an entrepreneurial career path.

Education, free enterprise and entrepreneurship are keys to economic success. Junior Achievement USA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are partnering to expand student access to entrepreneurship education. We must continue to challenge our students, educate them and expand on programs that teach these valuable lessons. To learn more, please visit or