Higher Education Teeters

Every sector of the economy is going to be severely tested by pandemic closings and related fallout.

As one example, the pandemic will test every college and university and could be a deathblow to some of the growing number of economically distressed colleges and universities. Here are a few of the pandemic’s probable ripple effects:

  • fewer campus visits of prospective students, leading to a decline in applications
  • far fewer international student applications
  • reduced yields of accepted students because families will be unable to afford even deeply discounted tuition, room and board
  • a loss of good will as upset families seek refunds from March-May tuition, room and board
  • shrinking endowments meaning less “passive income” to pay salaries, keep the lights on, and maintain campus facilities*
  • reduced alumni giving due to widespread loss of income and wealth
  • due to a spike in unemployment, graduates will struggle even more to find white collar jobs that pay a “livable wage” and provide benefits, further complicating the sine qua non of higher education

Educational institutions change slowly, but the pandemic is likely to accelerate The Great Contraction. The most distressed institutions will close shop. Others will seek partners with whom to merge. Every college and university has to become much clearer about the two or three things they do especially well. Even if they successfully refine their missions and curricula, a growing number of faculty, administrators, and staff will lose their jobs.

Tough times indeed.

*the total amount of deferred maintenance is an excellent indicator of relative fiscal health

 

Perception Is Reality

A hypothesis. The 2020 Presidential election isn’t going to be decided on policy differences. As always, both candidates will make lots of promises, some partly fleshed out, others not. It isn’t even going to be decided on “kitchen table economics”, or tax proposals, or other manifestos for further weakening or strengthening our frayed social safety net.

It’s going to be decided on emotions, how the candidates make people feel about themselves, even more than how they feel about the country.

Remember Bruni’s description of how Trump makes his followers feel like victims:

“He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.”

The Demo candidate should rebut Trump victimization head on, repeatedly saying, “We are not victims. Your neighbors and you control your destiny. Together we can strengthen labor unions, create jobs that pay a livable wage, preserve our natural environment, and take care of the most vulnerable among us. Immigrants and foreigners are not our foes, our only foe is unfounded fear of the other.”

Trump also plays brilliantly on his followers sense that they’re being pushed around by the mainstream media, “coastal elites”, and anti-religious liberals whose common thread is a sense of superiority.

That’s why television segments like this (start at 2:33) are a serious problem for anyone who wants to defeat Trump in November. Like Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorable” slur, the single worst thing anyone who wants to defeat Trump can do is laugh at people susceptible to his victimization bullshit because it plays right into their belief that liberals are arrogant; that Democrats, whether they know it or not, whether they accept responsibility for it or not, can be counted on to convey a sense of superiority.

The larger context of this clip, Pompeo’s unconscionable treatment of a female reporter doesn’t matter. The fact that geography is not Trump’s strong suit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how their laughing makes those susceptible to his victimization push feel because perception is reality.

For Democrats to win, they can’t let their animus for the Trump Administration spill over into disrespect for the dignity of moderates, independents, and “still undecideds” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere.

What We Want

Decent pay and benefits to take the family to a beisbol game on Memorial Day weekend and to be able to go to a doctor or dentist as needed. No small feat anymore.

Compensation and benefits communicate how much an employer values it employees, but employees need less tangible signs of respect and appreciation as well. Specifically, they need reminders that their work matters. That they make a positive difference, that the team wouldn’t be as effective without them. The more specific and genuine the words of encouragement, the more influential.

Along with decent compensation and affirmation, employees want to be listened to. They want a voice in decision-making. They want to be asked, “What do you think? Why?”

It’s not that complicated—compensation, affirmation, participation.

Higher Cost Education

Maybe we should begin inserting “cost” in between “higher” and “education” as a continual reminder of the increasing challenge paying for college poses.

On Lutheran university campuses there’s frequent talk of vocation which Frederick Buechner described this way, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” During a “vocation” conversation last week, I listened to a colleague talk earnestly about the role discernment plays in determining one’s vocation. To “discern” something is to develop spiritual direction and understanding.

The discernment reference was shortly after another colleague shared an anecdote about a recent grad who’d returned to say he was still trying to find a job that would enable him to pay his bills. And mostly likely, tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

Prior to that a colleague said we talk too narrowly about diversity, limiting it mostly to race, meaning important differences between economic classes are slighted. Connecting the various dots, it dawned on me that our repeated talk of vocation and discernment is a byproduct of our privilege. Discernment implies multiple possibilities in life, when an increasing percentage of college grads, like my colleague’s former student, would be content with one job that pays a livable wage.

In the 20th century, a college degree created far more opportunities than it does in the 21st. I’m afraid some of my higher ed friends and I have lost touch with people’s day-to-day realities. Naively, we talk of great joy, great need, spiritual direction, and understanding; when what many of them want is enough money to make it to graduation and the confidence they’ll find decent enough work to meet their basic needs.

 

 

 

A Mean and Nasty Job Description—the New Economic Reality

Sundays are glorious rest days. The week’s physical activity deposits are in the bank. It’s just me, myself, and my iPad in bed. Surfing aimlessly, wasting time because I can.

Craigslist. Seattle. Olympia. Jobs. Managing Editor. I could do that. Where’s it written I have to die an egghead professor? Check it out:

Managing Editor (Olympia)


Leading health related website is currently searching for a Managing Editor to join our company.The Managing Editor is responsible for quality control, editorial consideration, and publication of all written content published to our website, ensuring content accords to website mission and vision.

The Managing Editor’s duties are as follows:
-Manage all aspects of written content editing and publication.
-Make editorial consideration to website content, ensuring all content accords to website mission and vision
-Work in conjunction with Content Marketing Coordinator on various content related projects
-Develop ideas for user generated, pop-culture, and traditional content
-Manage and coordinate with writers on various projects
-Work with programming team and managing editor to design improvements to design of content pages
-Manage other related duties as assignedThe successful candidate will have some combination of experience in communications, content management, literature, journalism, and creative writing. We are looking for someone who is self-motivated, prioritizes effectively, communicates well via written and verbal mediums, thinks strategically, yet can focus intently on day-to-day details, feels confident in ability to learn the ins and outs of various content management systems, and works well in a collaborative, team environment.Required Qualifications:
Bachelors or Master’s degree in communications or social science related fields preferred
-Interest in mental health and psychology
-1 – 2 years of relevant experience.
-Strong background in computers and ability to learn new technology quickly
-Able to handle a variety of projects simultaneously and prioritize effectively
-Communicate effectively via email and in collaborative meeting environmentsThis is a full-time, 40-hour per week position. Pay starts at $15 per hour, with opportunity for increased wages. Interested applicants please reply to the anonymous email and please be sure to include your cover letter and resume as word docs.

I’m not sure what’s more frightening, the fact that they require a Bachelors or Masters, experience, and pay $15 an hour with no medical benefits, or the possibility they may get qualified candidates applying for the job.

Do the math. $2,400 a month before taxes, so at most $2k take home. Without medical benefits especially, that is not a “livable wage”. What’s the cheapest, catastrophic private medical insurance cost a month? How much to insure and maintain a beater car? Rent an apartment? Travel on an occasional weekend? Save for large, unplanned future expenses? Walk or bike to work, share an apartment, live really simply, basically keep living like a college student indefinitely, then it’s probably doable.

This is a mean and nasty job description that speaks volumes about the new economic reality.

College administrators, the people running for President in 2012, and the sitting president won’t tell you the truth—that a college diploma does not guarantee a job that pays a livable wage. Not even close. That is the new economic reality.

In the U.S., in the 20th century, most adults expected their children to live a more comfortable and secure life than themselves. In the first decade of the 21st, anxiety has replaced hope and most parents are deeply worried about whether their children will achieve economic independence even if they complete internships, graduate college, and outcompete others for the title Managing Editor of a “leading health-related website”.

Count me among them.