Archive for Sunday, July 21, 2013

Opinion: U.S. neglecting schools, colleges

July 21, 2013


School is out. No one wants to think about serious issues including the quality of American education. After all, it’s summer. It’s a time of carefree optimism and joy. As the American poet William Carlos William said, “In summer, the song sings itself.”

Unfortunately, in this increasingly connected world, reality has a way of coming to the fore regardless of the season. Through the Internet, television, radio and our social circles, we are sent constant reminders of the daily individual and social challenges we face.

One such intrusion happened last month with the publication of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual Education At A Glance Report. (OECD is a coalition of 34 countries — including the United States and most of the developed nations — created to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.”)

Here are three of their findings.

  • Education is a critical factor in determining individual and collective success: The unemployment rate is nearly three times higher for people without a high school degree than for those with a college education; the earnings of college educated adults is, on average, more than 1.5 times that of adults with a high school education; those with higher levels of education are far less likely to smoke or suffer from obesity.
  • The worldwide economic crisis has exacerbated these differences: Between 2008 and 2011, the unemployment rate for low-educated individuals increased by approximately 4 percent while it increased by only 1.5 percent for highly educated individuals. Between 2008 and 2011, the difference in earnings from employment between low and the highly educated rose from 75 percent to 90 percent.
  • The United States is doing poorly in education relative to other countries: We rank 12th in terms of young people who complete a higher education degree, 10th in percentage of young people who have graduated from high school education, and 22nd in the number of people who enter into higher education and then graduate.

As if the data themselves were not depressing enough, there is one other tragedy embedded in the report. We have heard it all before but have refused to heed the warning. For more than 30 years, since the publication of the groundbreaking report, “A Nation At Risk,” we have been told time and again about our neglected schools and colleges.

Look at the following facts. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education in 2013 than they did in 2008; all but two states are spending less per student on higher education than they did prior to the recession; and 11 states have cut funding by more than one-third per student, and two states have cut their higher education spending per student in half.

You wouldn’t know about these trends by looking at some of our politicians. Governors love their state colleges and universities, especially in the fall when they buddy up to the mass of voters at collegiate football games on Saturday afternoons.

Too many of them say the right things about the need for higher education, but too few go to battle for it; when it comes to action, their words too often have the impact of a falling feather

But this story has one last twist. It is we the people who elect the governors and many of their fellow politicians. To shift the full burden of blame onto them is both unproductive and immature. Ultimately, it is each of us who must take on the responsibility of spreading the word about what this nation needs to do and where we spend our precious dollars. That is what responsible citizens and grownups do.

We ignore the data on education at our own risk. The clock is ticking. As Eddard “Ned” Stark says in “A Game of Thrones,” “Summer will end soon enough, and childhood will end.”

— Gene Budig is past president or chancellor of three major state universities, including Kansas University. Alan Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board in New York City.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

With all due respect the writers are missing a big big issue. Politicians are defunding public education because their special interest campaign supporters want public education tax dollars in their bank accounts.

Then the USA has leveraged buyout artists who somehow manage loans that buyout USA corporations then all this debt is placed upon the company being pursued by the leverage buyout con men. Then the companies fail under the guise that union wages are too high when in fact the objective was to shut the company and shift the jobs to China for bigger and bigger profits. Why the hell are bankers funding this nonsense?

What this does is kill jobs for Americans no matter their levels of education. This is counter productive.

Also the college loan program have been operated exactly like the BUSHCO home loan program. Tons of money being loaned to students who have no way hell to pay back this money. Why the hell are bankers funding this nonsense?

We have citizens getting educated but NO JOBS are waiting for them like in the good ole days.

The nation has crooks and bankers working to kill the USA job market yet making large large sums of money doing so. Why the hell are bankers funding this nonsense?

The nation has crooks and bankers loaning out large sums of money to people becoming educated while recording big time profits YET the jobs are leaving the country. Why the hell are bankers funding this nonsense?

Crooks,bankers and politicians have ripped the USA money making working class system apart. Why the hell are bankers funding this nonsense?

yanman 4 years, 11 months ago

“Merrill” the bankers are not funding this nonsense, you are (I assume you pay Federal taxes). The Federal Government since Obama has taken office has jumped in with both feet financing student loans. I have heard the Federal Government made more money on student loan interest payments last year than Exon made in profits. Yes they have made it easier for students to get loans, but the easier they keep making it, the more students take out, the more Colleges and Universities keep raising tuition. These Colleges and Universities are worse than the Oil Companies ever were when it comes to making money.

Mark Pickerel 4 years, 11 months ago

The Universities are primarily raising tuition because the states are cutting their budgets. Where are they supposed to get the money when their resources are already strained?

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

No. The government hasn't been doing ALL the teaching. You did know that private for-profit education is more expensive and less effective, right? You did know that private k-12 education has been shown to be no better than public schools, right?

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

Or perhaps the biggest problems with the American education system occur outside the classroom. The single biggest indicator of school success is how much money your parents make.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

According to Freakonomics, the single biggest indicator of success in school would be the intelligence passed on from parents to child.

Or, according to Ron White, you can't fix stupid.

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

Are you saying that poor people are stupid? You wouldn't be the first to try and make that argument. It would be interesting to see how they accounted for the known problems with biased language in IQ tests.

However, when I go to check the Freakonomics blog, I cannot find this claim. I instead find a claim that parent involvement is the key toward improving charter school success (not the same thing as intelligence) and another entry pointing out the downside of intelligence, as many students with high IQs drop out of school (also not what you were intending.)

When I search the book, I found no such reference.

Kindly provide a link.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

No, I don't think poor people are stupid.

While there may be some problems with IQ tests, I would venture a guess that not a single tenured professor at KU has been tested with an IQ of say between 75-80, while I'd be willing to bet many have IQs in the 125+ range. Somehow, I'd don't think it's a coincidence.

If I looked at two couples, both with a newborn child, one couple both tenured professors at a prestigious university with IQs in that 125+ range.. The other couple, honest workers, with IQs tested in the 75-80 range. But this second couple is lucky, very lucky. On their way home from the hospital after the birth of their child, they stop by at a 7-11 and purchase a winning lottery ticket, winning many millions. The first couple have an income near six figures each. Now which child will do better in school? My money is on the child of the professors. In cases such as these, I'll be wrong some. But I'll be right a lot more than wrong. So, no, money won't be the single most important determinate in a child's success in school.

As to the Freakonomics reference, I'm holding a copy in my hand. Page 168 reads as follows: "A child whose parents are highly educated typically does well in school; no surprise there. A family with a lot of schooling tends to value schooling. Perhaps more important, parents with higher IQs tend to get more education, and IQ is strongly hereditary." Of course, the whole point of Freakonomics is to give statistical probabilities and is in no way intended to impart absolute truths. We can all find instances of rich kids coming from highly educated backgrounds struggling in school and conversely find instances where poor kids from relatively poor backgrounds doing very well in school. But in general, kids entering the world with the genes of people with high IQs will do better in school.

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

Thank you. Now we are on the same page.

I think you may have overstated the book's point here. The point the authors are trying to make in that passage is on educational attainment of the parents, not IQ. Nobody is going to deny that parental educational attainment is another huge predictor of school success. The book talks about the huge importance of socioeconomic status right after that. It makes the interesting point that even moving to a posh neighborhood won't get you off the hook if your parents are poor. It looks like the book ignores the biased language issue with IQ testing, but it isn't actually trying to prove a point about parental IQ levels, either.

Educational attainment and socioeconomic status are also interconnected (people with advanced degrees tend to be richer than high school dropouts), which is one of the things this op ed is pointing out when begging us to better invest in higher education. It's only going to make the problem worse when education is more expensive.

The eight factors listed as predictors at the end of that chapter are parental education, socioeconomic status, mother being thirty or older at birth of first child, child's birth weight, English spoken in the home, whether or not the child was adopted, parental involvement in the PTA, and the number of books in the home. Notice that parental IQ was not in that list.

Notice also that the only item on that list which occurs in a school is the PTA program.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 11 months ago

The only way that the US will have any hope of maintaining a large leadership role in the future is by doing a better job of educating its citizens. We also need more adults committed to life long learning and college enrollment in night and weekend classes and online programs. We can no longer be focused simply on young people. When young people see their parents working hard for grades, it cannot but have a positive effect.

I wonder at times whether our politics plays are large role in the dumbing down of our population. Take for example, short term planning and the disregard for long term comprehensive planning. Kansas politicians boast about being a national leader while they are making dramatic cuts in education and giving tax breaks to rich people who don't need them. That sounds like a race to the bottom to me.

Our community college system and our 4 year programs need to have a more uniform standard in regard to the transfer of college credits and the design of our curriculums. Much of what you see with our educational system is too focused on profit over common sense. The problem is not only about funding. These schools need to do a better job of working together for the benefit of all students.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

What a simplistic and sophomoric rant.

Higher education and education in general are receiving somewhere between two and four times in real money above what it received in my college days. Not all comes from the state but we are certainly not neglecting education.

The state is bound by the same realities as all institutions. There is a balance between how much tax you can collect and how much money you can spend on various social goals. Since my youth the amount committed to social activities as increased many fold. The state, given the economic down turn, has little choice but to spread around the shortfall. If we are shorting people with disabilities and undergraduate education how can anybody argue with a straight face for more resources for higher education?

Now our governor has argued that by cutting income taxes in the short term we will increase jobs yielding more income taxes in the long run. This promise comes with no actual data to support it (how many new jobs and when). It is well and good to be skeptical about our new wizard and I trust old Toto will soon expose him.

That said, when we get back to a more balanced tax structure there are many other areas that are in more desperate need then higher education. It is time for the higher educational lobby to man-up and adjust to a somewhat leaner world (a cut of 4% - wow).

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

You'd have to look at spending per student, not just overall.

And, of course, adjust for inflation as well.

Do you have any of those figures?

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

I did it last year and can not find it. It was two pronged.

At higher ed level I looked at total university spending in 1965 and three years ago (Virginia) and determined that at the total level the increase adjusted for inflation was a times two. Of course back in the day the choice of curriculum was much narrower.

For K-12 I did local average expenditures per student in 1950 (my grammar school) versus last data available which was 2010. That was a four times increase adjusted for inflation. However, remember we did not have a special education component in 1950.

I think it behooves those making the argument that they are being shorted to do their homework and show that they are. I think it is shear political bravado to demand those who call you on such an argument do the homework for you. The baseline is prior year adjusted not budget year requested.

Typical leftist baloney. We want more and you must prove that we don't deserve more. Completely backwards. If most of the middle class is seeing their incomes decline than it is not too much to ask that those in government (teachers an professors) experience a similar decline.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Ok - so if the population attending college now is twice as many, then there's no actual increase per student, right? If it's more than that, then we're actually spending less per student now. According to the letter, per student spending is declining.

That's called the "race to the bottom" - personally I think we shouldn't be racing to get there. If middle class incomes and purchasing power are declining, I think that's a problem, and I wouldn't use it as a model to follow.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Well you raise a more complex question. In K-12 where an education is guaranteed using $/pupil is a valid metric but one compromised by the decision to spend a great deal on special education.

In higher education where there is no such guarantee the correct metric is not $/pupil. I am not sure what it should be so I used total resources. I recognize that that metric is also not satisfying. The taxpayers are under no obligation (state) to pay the university for a unilateral decision to provide services to more students.

The state does have an interest in insuring that enough graduates with the right kinds of education are available but it has little interest in large number of degrees that are not needed and that in many cases do not support a specific job. (I think the most recent statistic I have seen suggests that about half of our liberal arts graduates are working at jobs that do not require a degree).

Now I understand and in part agree with the notion that a better educated population is desirable. But there has been no dialogue among the hordes as to any right to a state (tax payer) funded degree of your choice. Perhaps we should have such a discussion and avoid articles like this one that just assumes that type of agreement. Backing into such a notion is only likely to generate another unsolvable disagreement.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, I disagree about your criteria for education, and believe that education is valuable in it's own right, regardless of jobs, and that the state has a legitimate interest in encouraging and supporting that.

Also, state universities aren't completely tax funded by any means - students still have to pay tuition, room and board, books, etc. It would probably be more accurate to call them "tax subsidized" education.

But, people have a variety of opinions on the subject, of course.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

I just observed that there is not agreement and that perhaps there should be a discussion before assumptions that the state owes everyone a degree of your choice.

If the state focuses on degrees that are needed in the society (as decided by the state) then it is not surprising that as a percentage of the universities costs the state is contributing less and less. The university and the university alone (there has been no vote an nobody has run on a platform of guaranteeing such a right) has decided that they wish to service more people with a wider selection of degrees. That sounds like something that the university gets to finance.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

And I pointed out that the state is "subsidizing" not completely funding public education.

Since there hasn't been the kind of public debate that you discuss, how is the state determining what degrees are "needed in society"? There could be multiple versions of what that means, from a very narrow idea that universities exist to service business to a much broader one that an educated population is necessary for a democracy to function correctly.

I personally believe that education is valuable in and of itself, and that it's necessary for people to be well educated (in a traditional sense) in order to analyze and think critically, and participate in a positive way in our political system. And, the fact that college graduates are working at jobs that don't require that degree is a symptom of the lack of decent jobs right now.

Are there some degrees that I find odd, or unnecessary? Probably, but a traditional liberal arts education isn't one of them by any means. I would hate to see universities turn into job training programs for businesses, and/or for people not to be able to afford even public universities.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago


The government subsidizes education using various mechanisms. It has grants, below market loans, direct payments to institutions and regulatory actions that give such institutions market benefits.

The argument here is how much. I argue that there is no number as there has been no agreement that the state owes anybody a college degree. Whatever the state gives is enough lacking such an agreement.

If you want a "right" to a college education than we need to debate the costs and implementing mechanisms.

I reject the basic argument above that we are abandoning education when we are spending as much as we are. Let us have the debate about higher ed before we start demanding more money.


jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

"Whatever the state gives is enough...."

So, if the state gave nothing, that would be enough, in your view?

I'm not sure I buy into the "owes" and "rights" framework - the question for me is whether or not it's a good idea for a society to fund public education, and for what purposes. And, the letter didn't say we were "abandoning" education, it said we were "neglecting" it, which is a bit different.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

You can not neglect something where there is no standard of care. If you believe as you state than we need to discuss just what the taxpayers owe to those seeking a college education. Simply saying something is desirable does not establish a due bill for the taxpayers. In fact that philosophy is what has us in a 18 trillion deficit Where there is agreement there will be resources. Lacking agreement there will be deadlock!

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm going to stop here, since I think we've adequately expressed our points of view.

But, as I've said, I don't buy into the framework of "owing" to discuss the issue. And, of course one can use the word neglect if that's what one believes is happening.

What has us in a large budget deficit is the ongoing mismatch between government spending and revenue. I'm not sure why you think "agreement" is the answer. There has been plenty of "agreement" among politicians that's resulted in more spending than revenue.

If you mean agreement as in consensus of the country, I think that's impossible on many issues. We have such diverse points of views and opinions that the best one can probably get is a majority view.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps because there is a lot of disagreement on raising taxes on the half of us that pay them. There is certainly little disagreement on providing goodies to all kinds of people or financing wars all over the place.

WE all agree that more money to all sorts of things would make things better. We do not agree on the need to prioritize what we invest in because we believe that we can just raise taxes on somebody else in order to get what we wnat.

No surprise that the anointed tax payers do not accept the role be they a Kansas taxpayer at the state level or a Texas Federal Tax payer. Mostly people who pay little or no taxes avoid considering the cost of what they want because they do not pay it - but then I have written about that many times.

If there is no agreement on how much and by whom we will have nothing but gridlock with the hope -hope - that one side or the other will get full control of the government and stick it to those they disfavor.

Richard Payton 4 years, 11 months ago

The number one rated school in Kansas is Sumner Academy of Arts & Science located in Kansas City. This comes from US News & World report.

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