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Sunday, July 25, 2010

I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut.

I have been the source of consternation recently with some folks because I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut / balancing discussions. In fact, I suggest higher education might be one the first places governments should look to balance strained budgets and strip inefficiencies. My basic point is that formal higher education can, to a greater extent than other core government services, be postponed with fewer consequences. You postpone basic road repairs and the cost is often higher later than taking care of it now (e.g., pot holes, clearing drainage). The same goes for public safety and many health programs.

With higher education (I’m referring to the completion and awarding of diplomas) a delay in degrees will not stop jobs from being filled or people from making money. And I’m not saying people shouldn’t learn. Everyone should take every opportunity to learn whether it be from reading books, on-the=job training / apprenticeships, or participation in groups and volunteer endeavors. Heck, if they do it right they could re-enter college later a lot better prepared and focused (a la past discussions of European gap years). The library at my old college had a quote above one of the main entry doors that went something like “They know enough who know to learn.” There’s a big difference between learning and getting a piece of paper that says you went through a process. The latter can be delayed with relatively minimal impact.

Of the higher education that is publicly funded those funds should go toward highest public return and programs which benefit most from structured learning and hands-on resources (labs). Those typically are in the sciences.

The part I’m not sure about is what long term organizational impacts there might be. i.e., Retention of key instructors or replenishing staff later. In any event, cutting programs now and reinstating valued programs later will probably get you where you want to go sooner than continuing to work within the current system that protects itself well.

From MM (with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA).


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