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GOOD GOVERNMENT MEANS support for education - a truism by every economic and social measure you can name. Arguments for the value of education ring loud and clear.

But are our presidential candidates listening?We hear about K-12 education from both President Clinton and Bob Dole. That's fine, but why stop there? What about higher education?

In the land of opportunity, higher education is a first-class ticket. Anyone who hopes to lead this country into the 21st century needs to think hard about the role higher education is going to play in our economy and in American lives.

A generation ago our parents could earn a good living without a college education. Well-paying jobs were open to high school graduates. But today those jobs are a vanishing breed. Modern technology calls for new skills in the work-place.

Consider the auto industry. Once it was a bastion of secure jobs and good pay if you had a high school education, and often even if you never finished high school. Now, as the industry itself tells us, high-tech manufacturing processes demand sophisticated abilities at all levels of employment. And where do we hone these abilities? In college.

The automotive Big Three expect a quarter of a million new jobs during the next seven years. That's a lot of bread on a lot of tables. Those jobs will go to the people who have the right preparation.

The change isn't limited to the auto industry. Far from it. Many other industries are looking to hire employees who have more than a high school diploma. And while a year or two of college may do for entry-level jobs, advancement and career development often depend on a four-year degree - at least.

Increasingly, the skills that are vital in the workplace are the skills that are sharpened by a college education.

Our presidential candidates should consider this, too:

The average income for a head-of-household in an average state - I'll take my own state of Indiana as an example - is $26,000 for someone with a high school diploma. For a head-of-household with a college degree or higher, the average annual income is $56,000.

Now the interesting point:

The break-even mark in this average state, in terms of taxation and public services, is roughly $38,000 a year. Those who earn less than $38,000 tend to consume more in public services than they give back in taxes. Those who earn more than $38,000 contribute to their communities by providing more in taxes than they use in services.

If there was ever an important investment to be made, it is increasing the percentage of Americans who have a college education.