Monday, July 02, 2012

Forgotten Regions

Last week I had a passing conversation with a counterpart from another, more rural, part of my state.  She mentioned that the big political issue on her campus is trying to get some sort of mobile broadband coverage on campus.  None of the big four telecoms -- soon to become three, I’m guessing -- want to be bothered, since the population density just isn’t there, and the area isn’t terribly affluent.  The students and faculty are increasingly upset, since mobile devices are all the rage now, but mobile devices without internet access are basically paperweights.

It was the first I had heard of it, even though I’m also in a relatively forgotten section of my state.  Mine is just a little bit less forgotten, apparently.

It’s a familiar feeling.  Community colleges struggle with this in the higher ed world.  Jeff Selingo’s piece last week tracing the tuition spiral in higher education to luxurious facilities, for example, had nothing to do with community colleges, though the distinction wasn’t made.  To the extent that community college tuition increases in response to cuts in state aid are lumped in with private university tuition increases to pay for climbing walls, we all get a little bit dumber.  

In my own state, a recent initiative reflecting tensions in the 800 pound gorilla that dominates state politics has led to all manner of angst out here in the provinces.  That sort of thing happens frequently enough that people out here just roll our eyes.  It even happens in national elections.  If you’re in a swing state, you’ll see plenty of attention; if you’re in a state everyone agrees is either dark red or dark blue, you almost wouldn’t know there’s an election going on.  

Just yesterday, IHE noted that a judge has blocked implementation of the new “gainful employment” regulations for vocational programs. (I had fun imagining the headline in The Onion: “Gainful Employment Unnecessary, Rules Judge With Lifetime Job.”) From the way the article is written, you’d think the ruling only affected for-profit colleges  It doesn’t; the gainful employment regs applied as well to vocationally-oriented certificates and degrees at community colleges.  That’s actually a big deal for us, since it required a level of data-gathering that we had never done before, and didn’t supply any funding with which to do it.  (It also promised data of remarkably little relevance.  The majority of our students are on “full Pell,” meaning that they’re entirely grant-funded.  They don’t take out student loans.  Therefore, the median debt is zero.  What that reveals about the content or value of the programs, I’m at a loss to say.)  Worse, many students accumulate certificates on the way to degrees, often not even bothering to apply for the certificates until they learn, at graduation, that they’ve picked them up.  That makes gibberish out of completion rates.  Outside of community college administrators, though, that was largely unknown, and to the extent that it was known, it was poorly understood.  We dodged a bullet on a technicality.  I’ll take it, of course -- I don’t have a habit of questioning reprieves, whether for Obamacare or for implementing asinine regs -- but it still doesn’t inspire confidence.  

In a more perfect world, the blind spots would rotate, and every dog would have its day.  (I know, I know, those metaphors don’t go together.  Just roll with it.)  The whole idea behind pluralism is that you might lose this round, but you’ll get another shot, so just stay in the game.

But when you’re in a spot that gets overlooked over and over again, that perspective gets a little hard to swallow.  We in forgotten regions sometimes get a little tired of being forgotten.  If Richard Florida is right and the world is getting spikier, those of us in the shadows of the spikes had better get used to it.  Bleah..

Program note: I’ll be doing the 4th with the family, so no post tomorrow.  Happy Fourth of July!