Thursday, December 10, 2015


Friday Fragments

I’ve suggested before that part of the reason community colleges have struggled over the last couple of decades is that they’re built to produce a middle class for a country that no longer wants one.

To paraphrase Mencken, the country is getting what it wants, and getting it good and hard.  According to this study from the Pew Research Center, the middle class is no longer the majority in America.

Nitpick away, but the larger point is hard to refute.  Income and wealth polarization have hit levels at which they become self-reinforcing.  Institutions built to serve the middle are suffering accordingly.  The squeeze is real, and intensifying.

As a culture, we’ve forgotten that middle classes are not naturally occurring.  They have to be created, consciously.  

For young people coming into adulthood now, higher education has never been more necessary or more expensive.  That’s a cruel dilemma, and it speaks to polarization.  If you don’t win, you very much lose.  It wasn’t always that way, and it doesn’t have to be.

The great gift of education is in showing that the present doesn’t have to be.  


Along those lines comes a study showing that performance-based funding for public universities in Indiana didn’t lead to more degrees, but it did lead to more selectivity.

See “polarization,” above.  If we define the performance of public institutions by the efficiency with which they produce degrees, then naturally they will tend to favor those who are easiest to graduate.  What looks like an obvious good -- efficiency -- becomes yet another form of polarization.  The force of economic gravity is powerful.

“Efficiency” isn’t a Platonic ideal.  It only makes sense in reference to a goal -- you’re efficient _at_ something.  Public higher education has a “mission” -- folks in the community college world speak of the “mission” all the time.  

The mission has never been more necessary or more difficult.  


Meanwhile, “[h]igh school counselors say they now spend more time advising families on paying for college than on choosing the right college to go to…”  

Public higher ed was supposed to make that easy.  After decades of cost-shifting, it doesn’t anymore.  

The new normal doesn’t have to be this way.  As a polity, we’ve chosen to make it this way.

We could choose not to.

Good catch in your middle segment, but you missed something I have observed: that selectivity can be purely for the purpose of manipulating the metrics used to rate "performance", which likely means the first-time IPEDS data. One way of doing that is to reject students that they actually want, so they send them to a community college with a strong articulation agreement back to the flagship. They get them for the last two years and let us take the risk that they might not succeed during the first two years. In fact, they don't even have to spend two years at the CC. One semester is enough to game the system, without fully polarizing the state university system.

Does Indiana U have an easy- and/or early-transfer relationship with Ivy Tech?
Everything that's wrong with higher education will be solved when Donald Trump becomes President and takes care of colleges and universities.
Us white people know just fine we're destroying the middle class. We just don't care, because it means people of color won't get to join it.

As a culture, we’ve forgotten that middle classes are not naturally occurring. They have to be created, consciously.

It appears that housing policy has as much or more to do with that than anything else. Matt Yglesias's book The Rent is Too Damn high has much more to say about that subject.

Every time cities and first-tier suburbs prevent new buildings on land, they're reinforcing class stratification. Land-use policies need to move from the local level to at least the state level. Right now, large numbers of people who'd like to live in high-income, high-earning metropolitan areas can't do so.

This isn't a nitpick, either. Here is another discussion.

I understand your point as it relates to community colleges, but the biggest policy levers really start elsewhere.
i liked it
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