March 8, 2012
In a recent NYT article “Where the Jobs Are, The Training May Not Be,” Catherine Rampell reports that even though technical, engineering and health care specialists are in great demand in today’s weak job market, these fields happen to be the most expensive subjects to teach. “As a result, state colleges in Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Florida, and Texas have eliminated entire engineering and computer science departments.” The situation is so dire that Ms. Rampell writes: “At one community college in North Carolina –a state with a severe nursing shortage—nursing program applicants so outnumber available slots that there is a waiting list just to get on the waiting list.”
Why is this happening? For the past twenty-five years, the states have withdrawn from higher education and slashed financing for colleges during and immediately after the last few recessions. And even when the economy did recover, the states never restored the money that had been cut from education and now with the current recession the problem has been amplified.
According to Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute and a trustee of the State University of New York System: “There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it’s the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill.” Really? Is this what we’ve become as a people and as a nation? So the nurse graduate who received four years of education and practices as a registered nurse is the sole beneficiary of her education? What about the patients whom she tends to and the medical centers which use her services? Don’t they too benefit? How can we be so crass as to think that all that we do is for our own benefit and has absolutely no impact or ramification on the people around us, the community, the environment, the world? How dare we operate from such an ego-centric mindset?
In fact economists have found that higher education benefits communities even more than the individual with the degree. Let’s not forget the G.I. Bill which helped bankroll the college education of Americans following the post- World War II economic boom. An educated people help the economy grow faster and foster a more stable democracy and aid the neediest workers. By cutting funds, states reduce the ability for the poor to receive an education and more training to prepare them for skilled labor. They also limit access to the field such as sciences, engineering and health care that are most important to economic and job growth.
As an educator and one who deals with domestic and international students, I am dumbfounded as to how our country turns its back on these key educational programs. President Obama speaks for keeping America on the forefront of science and engineering so that we can remain competitive with the rest of the world, yet at the same time funding is taken away from the very programs that will train and nurture future scientists, engineers and health practitioners. What does this mean? It means that US would have to recruit its scientists, engineers, nurses and doctors from overseas, diminishing the chances of US students from pursuing studies in these fields and ultimately finding gainful employment.
So the next time xenophobia kicks in, and angry fingers are pointed at skilled and educated professionals immigrating to the US who’re filling engineering and health care positions, best we take a good look in the mirror. The problem is not “them” but “us” and our collective attitude and diminished respect for education and the teaching profession.
The Frustrated Evaluator