Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Looming Bloodbath in Higher Education

So the economic downturn is having its effect on higher education in the US.  Private and public universities are both getting hit.  Both have seen their endowments shrink with the stock market decline.  Public universities have the additional problem of being targeted by state legislatures looking for ways to balance state budgets without raising the taxes they cut so enthusiastically in the previous decade or cutting funding to their favored programs - like prisons.  The worst stories are coming from Florida and Arizona, two states with large elderly populations (who don't care about education for fairly rational reasons) and Republican majorities (who actively oppose education because their right wing populist ideology has a profoundly anti-intellectual component).  But there are rumors of entire departments and programs being shut down wholesale.  

Now, I sympathize with people who have lost their jobs in downsizing who might say, "good, you egg heads need to suffer with the rest of us."  But from a policy perspective, savaging the universities will have negative ripple effects for years to come.  Universities produce highly skilled workers for an economy increasingly dependent on the service sector.  Using them as a kind of budgetary piggy bank will degrade the future productivity of the workforce.  The kinds of businesses that hire people with little or no education (or a poor quality one) do not generate as much tax revenue as they might otherwise.  

I'm curious what our friends overseas have heard about budgetary problems for higher education abroad.  


USwest said...

Well, if everything collapses, we may not be a "service" economy much longer. In fact, I think we need much more balance in our economy. In this downturn, even university educated are being laid off and they are having a tough time finding work.

I don't like seeing education being hit, but I wish that we gave more credence to trade schools and other less-academic career paths. And I wonder if we won't see more emphasis on that going forward.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I actually think shutting down whole departments and programs is better than across-the-board cuts. Better to have a ten working machines than fifteen limping half-broken ones.

I agree that cutting higher education is short-sighted in general.

Pombat said...

More agreement here on cutting higher education being short-sighted, and also that trades/vocations need to be given more weight (and teachers could do with being seen as a more respected profession too for that matter - would attract a higher calibre, which can only be good for education standards).

I've not heard much here about education cuts, but then I've not been paying attention. I know there's meant to be an "education revolution" happening, at secondary level I believe, and I've also heard contradictory reports from the same paper that private secondary schools are losing students to public schools because the parents can't afford the fees, and that private school enrollments are far higher than public schools, with some commentators concerned that this will result in a real class divide when it comes to education.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I think trade schools need more emphasis. But that's not where the money is going. The worst cuts are in states like Arizona and Florida where Republican leaders have been cutting higher education for some time even before the recession began to finance tax cuts and increases in things like prison spending.

This has been going on to a lesser extent in California and a well connected person that I ran into on my way to work the other day (a former Dean from UC, Davis), said that she thought the "minor" UC campuses were in for some really bad times but that UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSD would likely weather things better because they are less dependent on public financing. The entire Cal State system is also likely in for some rough times. So in California it sounds like they'll be doing cuts that hurt the big research universities least and the local teaching colleges most. Neither is a good idea.

The Law Talking Guy said...

On the other hand, there is always a silver lining. Too many big private universities have gotten fat and happy on endowments and turned themselves into fundraising machines. The result has been that public universities have seemed increasingly at a comparative disadvantage. Perhaps in a couple years, as the private universities prove again that they are an insufficient and too-expensive basis to educate the nation, we will turn to re-funding public universities appropriately.

Raised By Republicans said...

I doubt that this round of cuts will narrow any gaps in quality that do exist. From what I've seen and heard so far, private colleges are getting hit but public ones are getting hit much harder. Furthermore, my impression is that the anti-intellectualism that pervades American politics will prevent state legislatures from returning public funding for higher education to their pre-crisis levels once the economy recovers. In contrast, the private universities will see their endowments growing again as soon as the economy begins to grow.

Raised By Republicans said...

BTW: to clarify...I'm not suggesting that public education will be shut down. Rather I'm suggesting that voters will insist that cuts remain while simultaneously demanding that tuition and fees remain low. The combination will result in lower salaries for professors (which will lead to professors that are not as well trained as they might otherwise be), fewer professors per X number of students (which will lead to larger class sizes and a lower quality product regardless of how well the professor is trained) and lower quality infrastructure supporting education (things like multi-media availability in class rooms, lab space, library quality etc).

What I fear will happen is that the crisis induced cuts will be made largely permanent and that we will actually see an increased gap in quality between private and public universities. Those who can afford to will send their children to places like Harvard, Stanford or Kenyon College. Those who can't will send their children to much cheaper and lower quality state colleges and tell themselves that a college degree is a college degree. I fear that the days of high quality mass education - along the lines envisioned by the formation of the University of California system - are over.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Well, RBR, the quality mass education you speak of was politically and philosophicaly jetissoned during Reagan years and has been fighting a long rearguard struggle ever since. The UCs get less than 20% of their funding from the state now. Every year it gets a little worse most places. If funding ever increases, it is temporary. We are just looking at more steps down the same road.

I am optimistic that this administration might help turn that big ship around. However, it will take a new progressive outlook to begin that process. We have to want to really invest in public education again. We have to be willing to spend money on it, like we do for roads and bridges.

Pombat said...

Is part of the problem that intellectualism and the desire for a good education are seen as bad things in the States? I'm asking because I don't know how well regarded educated people are over there, and because I read a piece in the LA Times about Dr Jill Biden (the 'second lady') preferring to be called Dr due to her PhD, and the tone was really quite derisory, even going so far as to say that she hasn't earnt the right to call herself Dr, like medical doctors have (for me, it's always been the other way around - medical doctors are entitled to call themselves Dr Jones in the same way that I am entitled to call myself Mathematician Pombat, whereas PhDs have actually don the extra work for a doctorate. Not that qualifying as a doctor is easy of course). Here it is.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Whether or not a Ph.D can use the title "doctor" is a matter of social and professional etiquette that varies quite a bit. For example, Ph.Ds in the "hard sciences" will be easily accorded the title "Dr." if they are actively engaged in lab work. Lots of people at NASA call themselves "Dr." This rarely raises hackles. Probably because people associate doctor with medicine and, more broadly, with "science" of the sort that requires white coats.

In other fields, the use of the honorific "Dr" upon completing a Ph.D degree can be more problematic. If the person becomes a professor, the title "Dr" actually is more likely to be applied by the outside world. I think that's because "doctor" is thought of by many people more as a job description for professional egghead rather than an honorific for achieving a degree and then going to do something else.

The thing about Jill Biden's predicament is that the derision is coming not from the hoi polloi - who don't know from doctorates - but from those who look down on an Education degree as not much of a field to begin with.

Lawyers often comment that we have a doctorate (J.D.= Juris Doctor) and even get to wear a full hood at graduation. Yet no lawyer would call himself doctor. The reason, I assure you, is no modesty on the part of lawyers about the mere 3-year program we go though. Modesty is not the hallmark of my profession. It's that lawyers just don't think of themselves as doctors.

I will also note that many medical doctors don't use the term "doctor" except when they are on the job, and even there they ask the patients to call them "Steve" or "Louise." When I go to get dinner reservations with medical doctors, I never hear them use the title.

I think Americans react badly to the idea that someone is trying to use the title "Doctor" to impress them, to make a statement that "I'm better than you," or for some form of social climbing. And that is sometimes how the use of "Dr" is perceived by Ph.D's -- especially if a person with a Ph.D's makes a really big point about being called "Dr."