Global Higher Education Trends

According to Trends in Global Higher Education (PDF), we should pay attention to globalization, massification,

Globalization is an interesting trend. As a college student, I enjoyed hanging out with international students and as an employer of student workers, half were international students. Exposure to different cultures, meaning values and perspectives and rituals and (the best) food was a great experience for me. It is harder to hate another culture when one has real friends among them. Such ties often become the basis of international diplomacy. But those students also mostly went home and are doing great things as part of the growing middle class.

Employers looking at post-secondary degrees as signals for middle class jobs drives massification. If this signal were terrible, then perhaps employers would seek an alternative. But I don’t think it means what most expect. The expectation is it means highly educated within the major. Instead, I see the bachelor’s degree as a demonstration of successfully navigating the world’s worst bureaucratic disasters. Having the tenacity, patience, and soft skills to deal with process failures all over the place. Secondarily, the degree means the ability to demonstrate some learning on demand to pass an evaluation.

Turning to look at how we here in Georgia compare to rest of the world, the crises facing least developed countries are constraints on research university budgets, constraints on student financial aid, increases in tuition, more part-time faculty, larger class sizes, a freeze on books & journals, construction, etc. This may not be solely a problem for least developed countries. Most of these are happening here in Georgia.

  • State funding was stagnant before the recession and been dropping since. Per student funding state funding has plummeted from about half to a quarter. The legislature and the governor have to make hard choices about what to fund. Higher education does not rank high enough compared to keeping people safe and healthy. Is there a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for government funding?
  • A big source of financial aid here, HOPE, used to pay for all tuition for students who maintain a B GPA. It is lottery funded, but revenues were not able to keep up with the 10%+ annual growth of students. So now the awards are reduced for all but the top most students and may continue to drop.
  • My librarian friends lament about their severely reduced budgets for purchasing journals. Combine this with skyrocketing costs for these same journals and maybe by 2030 the research universities should just sell their collections and close the libraries?
  • The one positive is construction has not stopped. Though buildings are not built fast enough. (Some schools schedule class days to happen on the online class system I help run because they lack the classroom space.)

Even when the Georgia economy fully recovers, the lost ground is unlikely to be regained. But there is also increasing pressure to improve graduation rates and the number of graduates. Interesting problems we get to solve.

On Oil

Hubbert Peak Theory
Hubbert Peak Theory (image via Wikipedia)

A while ago, George wrote about the new fees for flying. Lacey pointed out how the price of oil affects the cost of running an airline. Thoughts about these have been lurking in my head ever since. Today I have watched a couple times a speech given by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett on how oil production is about to peak. The transcript helped the second time through. (Wikipedia on Hubbert Peak Theory) I also watched A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash on Netflix’s Watch Instantly.

Bartlett quoted Thomas Friedman:

Our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy, then you want to raise taxes on the things that you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

(Bolded for emphasis; even though italics is emphasis.)

While this may not be a strategy, Bartlett does not point out keeping our economy in a positive growth direction has been the emphasis for the past 30 years. Cheap oil keeps factories running, keeps transportation moving, and forms the basis of our plastic-based society. Without cheap oil, we could not maintain the wonderful society we have today.

In Europe, they discourage the use of oil by much high taxes on it. The cost of this approach is we would almost certainly also enter into a recession for some time. Would it be the end of the world? No.

I don’t think our leaders completely ignored the problem as Bartlett suggests. They gambled on the choice technology would make alternatives cheaper by now and conservation would bridge the gap. They wanted their party to remain in power, so they would not have Instituted policy which would cause voters short-term pain with long-term benefits (despite the long-term benefits once through the pain).

That may be the kind of leader we need, but I would be surprised for such a person to get elected President of the United States.

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