On Seeming Contradictions or Maybe Not-So Seeming

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Reading Kathleen Megan on education national rankings is interesting.

A couple of quotes from which to develop:

Meotti said the New England 2020 report on educational attainment forecasts a 3 percent decline from 1993 to 2020 in the number of 30-year-olds in Connecticut holding bachelor’s degrees or higher.


He said the situation points to concerns that he and other state educators have raised about college graduation and retention rates and about the percentage of students who arrive at college unprepared for college-level work.


“The business community is concerned about this,” Kaufman said. “If we are going to be able to pull ourselves out of this recession, we must focus on high-skill, high-wage jobs: engineering, science, math. We need a highly educated workforce. We would be very disturbed to know … that we are not as competitive as we once were in the national rankings.”

Kaufman’s remark at the end of the article doesn’t, it seems to me, point to a set of real solutions to Megan’s suggested problem: a decline trend in percentage of higher ed degrees. But it does, in sentiment, reflect a focus on educational goals that might be expressed as a general “good.” The general good is “high-skill, high-wage jobs” and “a highly educated workforce.” Unfortunately, the relationship between “high-wage” and “engineering, science, and math” and thereby a fix to the recession seems thin and not strongly connected for good conclusion drawing. How, for example, would a ton of engineers pull us out of the recession? Maybe they would but the article doesn’t develop this cause and effect relationship. Maybe lots of highly-educated writers would do the job. Or maybe not.

Another method of coming at the issue of higher ed, degrees, economics, and recessions is to consider “reality.” Currently in Connecticut the political winds are pointing toward actually reducing resources for primary, secondary, and higher education. In New York we have the SUNY Albany situation, which, I would assume, is a general trend across the country, at least in terms of the conditions under which universities and colleges would consider reducing costs. In this context, to lament any sort of reduction in student preparedness, trends in levels of higher ed and access in the United States, and declines in the creation or sustainability of “high-wage” sectors would seem to be irrelevant without an appropriate response.

In yet another Megan article we have:

For the first time ever, enrollment in Connecticut’s public and private colleges and universities broke 200,000 this fall, driven by soaring numbers at community colleges and at eight of the state’s private colleges, including four for-profit schools.

That’s a lot of people going to school. Question: are there enough chairs and classrooms to accommodate this number? If not, more might be built. Or maybe not, as states have no money with which to augment their infrastructure. If not, should more be built so that the required number of “math, science, and engineering” students can satisfy the requirements of their degrees.

Across the country and under the cloud of the current “accountability movement,” teachers and their institutions are required to do more with less, which was “less” even when enrollment was lower. If more students enroll in a particular college, that particular college has to expend more resources to maintain its mission. The pickle is that a particular college or university will not be provided those resources because the additional resources–space, wages, staffing, professional development, overhead–don’t exist or are being used elsewhere.

We could say, “Well that’s just the way it is.” Fine. But, to grumble therefore about the bus in the driveway that won’t move because it lacks a rear tire, and a mechanic is at the moment removing the other rear tire, and then to continue slapping the driver in the back of the head for “going so slow”–none of this seems very rational to me.

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