Sunday, March 27, 2016


No, Not New York City...

We know that the journalism industry is changing.  General-circulation newspapers and local television news programs are struggling, while web-based sites -- often specific to a single industry, such as IHE -- are growing.  The economics of distribution have changed, so now it’s easier to make a profit in a niche.  With so many good niche providers thriving, it’s difficult for purveyors of the old just-enough-for-everyone model to stay afloat.

But with the shift in production has come a shift in geography.  As Joshua Benton’s recent piece notes, jobs in the new journalism are much more concentrated on the coasts than jobs in the old journalism are.  In a recent survey, almost 40 percent of the digital journalism jobs in America were physically based in the New York City and D.C. metros.  That’s compared to less than 10 percent of the jobs in television journalism.  Terre Haute may have a local news team, but it probably doesn’t have a freestanding digital news provider of any size.

That shift has consequences for the industry, of course.  It tends to feed a certain provincialism, for one thing; if the top, say, five cities in America become the default frame of reference, then we’ll start to misunderstand most of America in some pretty dramatic ways.  (For perspectives from the middle, I recommend following “Belt” magazine -- named for the rust belt -- and the freelance journalist Sarah Kendzior, based in St. Louis.  Her insights on Ferguson, for example, have been invaluable.)  And it puts rookie journalists in a bit of a bind.  You can go where housing is affordable but jobs are scarce, or you can go where the jobs are and pay ungodly sums for housing.  You want a job and an affordable home?  Sorry.

I bring it up here for two reasons.  First, as someone who grew up around Rochester, New York, I know well the feeling of being overshadowed and overlooked.  As far as the rest of the country knows, “New York” is a city, not a state.  But it is a state, and the folks who live hundreds of miles from the city have valid concerns, even if they almost never get noticed.  But more importantly for present purposes, what Richard Florida calls “spikiness” runs counter to the way that community colleges, as a sector, are organized.  

Most community colleges were established during a ten-year spread from the early sixties to the early seventies.  That was roughly the peak of the postwar distributed-production model.  In the 70’s, the cities now seen as the powerhouses of the economy and culture were considered crime-ridden embarrassments.  Growth was in the suburbs of smaller cities.  Community colleges were ways to bring the rapidly-growing provinces into the larger economy and culture.  An industry comprised of hundreds (eventually, over a thousand) local outposts all around the country reflected where the country was at the time.

Now, though, most of the growth is concentrated in a few places.  Having spent much of the last decade in western Massachusetts, I can attest that the economy of Springfield is not the economy of Boston.  But Hampden County -- home of Springfield -- has as many community colleges as Suffolk County, the home of Boston.  That’s a good thing, in many ways, but it reflects decisions made under very different conditions.

Because community college funding is substantially local in many states (though not Massachusetts), the increasing austerity of the provinces stands in severe contrast to the resources available in the top five cities.  CUNY’s ASAP program is the envy of many of us, and it will remain so as long as it includes subway passes.  Most of us don’t have the option of subway passes, and bus routes are often far less than what students actually need.  It rests on a foundation of public wealth that simply isn’t present in most places.

To the extent that wealth becomes more geographically concentrated, the argument for a larger Federal role in funding becomes stronger.  If we want people in non-elite locations to have meaningful chances to thrive, we have to make sure that they have access to quality higher education.  Right now, the major source for Federal funding for community colleges is financial aid, which colleges can only capture through tuition.  Direct operating aid would allow colleges to capture more Federal support without raising prices.  That may have been superfluous when the economy was more evenly spread, but now with entire regions still waiting for an economic recovery to set in, the need is clear.

Or, we could just write off entire swaths of the country.  That’s the default path.  

Whether the concentration of wealth and opportunity in the few top metros is cyclical or the new normal isn’t clear yet.  But at a basic level, the difference boils down to whether we should neglect the middle for a few decades, or forever.  That’s a lousy choice.  Let’s make a different one.  Removing operating funds from the student pass-through, and then increasing them, could make free community college a sustainable reality in places that really need it.  After all, there are a lot more Terre Hautes in America than there are New York Cities.

To the extent that wealth becomes more geographically concentrated, the argument for a larger Federal role in funding becomes stronger. If we want people in non-elite locations to have meaningful chances to thrive, we have to make sure that they have access to quality higher education.

Wealth may be more geographically concentrated in urban centers, but poverty is way way more concentrated in urban centers...and where there are high concentrations of poverty come there is political indifference.

You cite CUNY's ASAP program as being the envy of other community college initiatives, but I'm not sure if you realize that CUNY's community colleges and four-year colleges are much bigger targets for budget cuts than other NY state community and four-year colleges.

And that K-12 public school system? NYC public schools have been receiving far less per student funding than the rest of the state for quite some time now, despite the fact that this area of the state produces the largest income. (A decade-old lawsuit finally resulted in the correction of this funding formula, but Gov. Cuomo is refusing to comply with the judge's orders so NYC schools are still getting shafted.)

Yes, large urban centers may include concentration of opportunities, but they also include a concentration of disadvantaged groups that politicians often ignore.
There may be more Terre Hautes than New York Cities out there, but Wiki says it would take 140 of them to equal one NYC (and almost the same ratio for their respective metropolitan areas). I like your choice of comparison, however, because Rose-Hulman could be the best udergraduate engineering school not named Harvey Mudd. Folks in the northeast might not know about either of those.

As for folks from out-state New York, it doesn't help that the NY metro area has a bigger population than the state of New York, or that people from northern NJ who work in NYC probably say where they work before they say where they live.

That said, I don't think the comparison is apt. Students still prefer contact with people over machines and many college students like sports in person as well.

And I have a number of friends who are happy to live where I live and fly to NYC for what it has to offer. They can easily afford to do that!
The point about needing an infusion of operating capital is well taken in the California community colleges. Much of the recent increase in funding that we've received has come in the form of non-competitive categorical dollars(specifically targeted grant funds distributed to each college) and competitive grant dollars.

While the infusion of money targeted at improving student outcomes with an equity focus has been welcome, we continue covering our basic costs with fairly static general fund monies even though our annual costs (step & column, insurance premiums, utilities, bargaining agreement negotiated costs, etc.). Couple this with a downturn in enrollment with the attendant loss in state funding as the economy in California continues to improve is forcing many colleges into an interesting contortion: Struggling to find appropriate and useful ways to spend the categorical monies while squeezing already taxed operations to keep the place running.

Federal dollars that can be used as direct operating aid would be welcomed not only in the interior of the country but at many places along the coasts.

"Or, we could just write off entire swaths of the country. That’s the default path."

In our defense, they appear to be self-immolating on a level that is difficult to comprehend. cf: Walker, Brownback, Scott, etc. etc. etc.

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