WASHINGTON – Businesses play a crucial role in improving education by partnering with high schools to share their knowledge as a way to enhance learning, according to a report developed for College Summit.

The report, released Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, highlighted four components: how the education success of young people benefits everyone, the need for a more education-engaged business community, ways businesses can support student achievement in schools and school-business partnerships.

“Contrary to popular belief, the American dream was never about who could buy a house…it was a belief palpable among Americans and astonishing to the rest of the world that regardless of who your parents were, with hard work and education, you could create opportunity tomorrow, ” said J.B. Schramm, founder and CEO of College Summit, a nonprofit that increases the number of low-income students going to college.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said one of the fundamental obstacles to economic progress in the U.S. is the skills gap that exists.

“People do not have the skills that they need for the 21st century, and complicating that further is that the acquisition of these skills is more difficult than it has ever been,” Rubio said.

Peter Pruitt, managing partner at Deloitte Florida and Puerto Rico, said Deloitte hires more than 17,000 employees every year, most of them college graduates, so the company is interested in increasing education levels to ensure corporate success.

Lisa Hook president and CEO of information technology company Neustar, said the biggest problem in hiring for her company is the lack of qualified candidates. With the growing demand for workers with science, technology, engineering and math degrees, there are still not enough students to fulfill the demand, she said.

“We can start building them here at home, starting in middle school… or we can move outside of the country,” Hook said.

She suggested creating middle school programs and programs for low-income women to encourage interest in STEM.

“If we just got enough women in STEM-related fields as men, frankly we wouldn’t have problems with hiring,” Hook said. “Not only from an educational, economical point of view, but from a national security point of view, we absolutely need to commit to this.”

Rubio said having an educational system that responds well to the changing skill set needs and the changing 21st century student should be at the top of the nation’s agenda.

“The good news is that it’s not partisan…it’s something that there’s broad support for,” Rubio said. “The bad news is that because it’s not partisan, because it’s not controversial, it’s not getting nearly as much attention as it needs to be getting and I hope we can change that, because it’s one of the most important things we can do to insure that we have a 21st century middle class that continues to keep us the exceptional nation that I know and you know.”

Harper said schools and country must get students excited about STEM careers.

“If we lose the opportunity to engage them and their educators at the earliest possible age, the workforce that the industry requires…will be completely lost,” Harper said. “What really resonated to me (in the report) was the importance of creating the networks and the shared experiences…and welcoming the opportunity to think as outside the box as you can.”

Dr. Pablo G. Ortiz, assistant superintend of Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida, said low-income students should be educated on how to calculate the return on investment in choosing their career paths and colleges. Businesses, he added, are essential in helping students calculate their ROI.