Thursday, December 08, 2016

Friday Fragments

A tip of the cap to John Glenn.  War hero, astronaut, senator.  Well played, sir.


This story is really disturbing.  Apparently economist Raj Chetty, no lightweight, has done a study showing steadily declining chances for each generation in the US to surpass the previous one economically.  Birth year 1980 was the tipping point at which they became less likely to surpass their parents than not to, and the percentage has been declining quickly ever since.

That’s a political time bomb.  Politics is a lagging indicator for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the difference between the median age of an American and the median age of an American voter.  Part of that is because children can’t vote, and part is because younger adults tend to vote at lower rates than older adults.  

But as the post-1980 birth cohort becomes a progressively larger share of the electorate, which is inevitable, its sensibilities will become more politically salient.  For example, given the racial composition and economic circumstances of the under-30 set, it’s hardly surprising that they’re well to the left economically of where my generation was at that age.  It’s a reasonable response to an unreasonable circumstance.


Thursday’s morning plenary at Middle States didn’t offer much hope.  Lynne Schaefer, the Chief Financial Officer of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, gave a talk that the program indicated would be about changing the business model of higher education.

But it wasn’t, really.  It was an entertaining overview of (mostly) external obstacles facing colleges and universities.  She noted serially that the number of 18 year olds will be either flat or declining for the next decade in most of the country; that the building boom that peaked around 1970 means that many buildings are reaching the stage at which they need expensive renovations; that Medicare and Medicaid have crowded out higher education spending in most state budgets; and that the political climate doesn’t seem likely to favor substantial new taxes anytime soon.

All of which are true, but none of which is a solution.  I waited in vain for a discussion of the cost disease and the credit hour, and the potential of dual enrollment, PLA, and CBE programs to break the cost cycle.  I hoped for more insight about different ways of organizing our enterprises, or different funding streams, or even innovative efficiencies.  None were there.

I don’t mean that as a criticism of Schaefer; these things are hard.  But the fact that an auditorium full of people who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff couldn’t come up with much more than “we’ll have to be more efficient” suggests that the cost spiral will get worse before it gets better.  Today’s under-30 crowd knows how that plays out on the ground.  If we want to survive the explosion of the political time bomb, we’ll have to do better than that.


Quote of the day, from a panel on assessing mission statements: “How do you measure ‘lives enriched?’”


The best panel of the day, inevitably, was an impromptu gathering of about ten of us around a table.  No Powerpoint, no handout, no script; just a bunch of us talking, like adults, through a common challenge.

Sometimes, you just have to get back to basics.


This week The Girl asked me to explain the Trans-Pacific Partnership to her, and to tell her (and justify) my perspective on it.

Thank you, Jersey Shore Debate League.