December 16, 2009
Tanks For The Support

That, I am sure, is what leaders of community colleges in Washington state are saying after reading this Lynne Varner column.

I'm not against another round of economic stimulus despite its breathtaking price tag for the next generation.  But the nagging unemployment rate is a battle best fought with education.   When America finds its footing again, everyone ought to be prepared.

I see community colleges as the heavy tanks in that necessary battle.  These institutions remain within financial reach, while four-year colleges have raised tuition beyond what most working-class and even some middle-class families can bear.  In addition, community colleges have an open door and community-inspired mission that place them on the front line of education and job training.

Alas, Varner does not fill out that metaphor.  If community colleges are the "heavy tanks", then what are the infantry?  Or the artillery?  Or the air support?

And who are those heavy tanks shooting at?

Seattle Times editorial writers have a taste for odd metaphors when they describe our community colleges.  In 2005, Kate Riley called community colleges the "work horses of higher education".   (Alas, I have been unable to get Riley — whom I generally admire — to tell us which institutions are the "show horses".)  In 2007, Jim Vesely called community colleges the "backbone" of our educational system.  (To the best of my knowledge, Vesely never told us what the fat in our educational system is.)

In my opinion, the Seattle Times editorial writers use these metaphors — and I am sorry to say this — in order to avoid thinking about what community colleges can, and can not, reasonably be expected to do.

By talking about "work horses", or "backbones", or "heavy tanks", they can avoid discussing the high dropout rates at these institutions, or the very high level of remedial classes they teach.  Or, even whether most of the students in our community colleges get useful job training from the classes they take.

It is unfortunate that our state's leading newspaper has been unwilling to even look at such basic questions.  Everyone who knows even a little about how our colleges and universities operate knows that they are filled with enormous amounts of waste, and that they meet many students' needs poorly.

More than two centuries ago, Adam Smith gave us a hint that should help us understand why our higher educational institutions often perform so poorly.

The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.

Let me finish with a small suggestion to the editorial writers at the Seattle Times:  Before you write about our community colleges again, think about Smith's hint, spend some time learning how true it is of our community colleges, and then write your column.  (Oh, and you might consider skipping the metaphors next time, too.)

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

Posted by Jim Miller at December 16, 2009 12:15 PM | Email This
Comments
1. So Community Colleges are more like infantry?

Posted by: Madrocketscientist on December 16, 2009 01:03 PM
2. Everyone who knows even a little about how our colleges and universities operate knows that they lead to significant economic benefit for the areas they serve.

Seattle's entire biotech and medical sector exists because of UW. The taxpayers have made back their money many times over.

In terms of community colleges, the basic classes they teach are equivalent to the first two years at a four-year. If you accept the premise that four-year colleges prepare people for the workforce -- and they seem to -- then community colleges are a step along that process that saves people thousands of dollars for the first few years.

I take SCCC classes online for $500 and have found that I learn a good deal in a pretty convenient way. It behooves society to have a well-educated population, I think. I'm happy to support these institutions, regardless of your slightly misplaced over-analysis of metaphors.

Posted by: John Jensen on December 16, 2009 01:28 PM
3. Nagging unemployment is not best fought with more education than we have right now. The problem with the high unemployment rate is that Mr. Obama and the Demorat lead Congress is doing everything it can to dampen any recovery, killing jobs, and have been for 12 months now. That has nothing to do with education. Ladling out millions for a few "shovel ready" projects that will manufacture startlingly few jobs on a temporary basis doesn't have anything to do with education. The present backlog of unemployed will do that. In fact, the present backlog of unemployed will be able to fill positions until at least 2016 (@ 3% growth). The numbers of graduates being produced now far, far, far exceeds any job openings consummate with their education. Unless of course minimum experience is a Phd in nuclear physics to peddle Jumbo Jacks at the local JITB.

I've seen some damned stupid "solutions" for employing the millions that are now without jobs but "the nagging unemployment rate is a battle best fought with education" is by far the most clueless and inane yet.

In this brave new world, garbage like this would make Ms, Varner a candidate for a Nobel.

Posted by: G Jiggy on December 16, 2009 02:29 PM
4. The Fallacy that a University benefits the Taxpayers cost by giving a financial return to the Taxpayer many times over is Bogus. How Ridiculous! Only a Liberal can believe and spew such Crap!

Posted by: Daniel on December 16, 2009 02:37 PM
5. Of course I have a jaded view of our community colleges. They are like high schools on steroids. Dominated by WEA or OEA, the outcomes are predicted and matched too frequently:

kids who exit without the ability to make critical decisions or contribute usefully to a conversation.

Are there Voc-Ed aspects in play? Sure. Welding. Changing bandages.

Brilliant.
.

Posted by: OregonGuy on December 16, 2009 02:56 PM
6. I don't understand what some people are saying. Not many who "exit" a community college are done with their education. A two-year degree, for sure, is less meaningful than a four-year degree. Is someone claiming that this isn't the case?

The fact is a lot people can get the first few years of their college education for a lot cheaper than university -- isn't that a good thing? Having learned at both an expensive private school and online through a community college, I don't feel like there is a large gap in the education.

Posted by: John Jensen on December 16, 2009 03:26 PM
7. John Jensen...You lost/forgot the whole point of the Forum and that is, that the nagging unemployment rate is best fought with education. What a Joke! Apparently, you're not comprehending what is being said. Yes, it behooves society to have a well-educated population but, without jobs to go with it, everybody starves. Education by itself does not create jobs. What creates the climate for job creation is Less Taxes, Less Government, unnecessary regulations and more Liberty to exercise the Entrepreneur Spirit.

Posted by: Daniel on December 16, 2009 03:55 PM
8. The core problem with Varner's column is that it seems to be the product of lazy writing.

She appears to have decided a more educated population would lead to lower unemployment - without bothering to do any research. Had she bothered, she'd see that her premise is simply not supported by the data.

College enrollment numbers have continuously gone up over the past 50 years - with 2008 seeing the highest enrollment (both 2 and 4 year colleges) ever, with nearly 40% of 18-24 year-olds in college - yet the unemployment rate fluctuates.

If her premise were true, we should see unemployment continuously falling as college enrollment is continuously rising.

That's not to say more people in college is a bad thing. But you just can't draw a link between higher college enrollment and lower unemployment rates.

See the following:

Bureau of Labor Statistics:
http://www.bls.gov/cps/prev_yrs.htm

Pew Research Center Study:
http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1391/college-enrollment-all-time-high-community-college-surge

Posted by: BCW on December 16, 2009 04:02 PM
9. BCW @8 is correct -- the model is too simplistic. There are many variables in the equation and education in and of itself is a poor indicator of overall economic activity, and probably not the driving indicator, but a trailing one.

Posted by: mark on December 16, 2009 04:37 PM
10. "If you accept the premise that four-year colleges prepare people for the workforce"

I don't.

In my circle of friends... one has a four year degree in education and works in a maintenance shop on a potato farm. Makes decent money, but didn't need the degree.

One has a biology degree and a teaching certificate... is armed security at Hanford. Makes a really good money, but didn't need the degree.

One has a GIS degree from the UW, works in an oil refinery. He'll make 6 figures next year. Didn't need the degree.

Two have English degrees... one is a welder/metalworker, the other just quit his job as a mechanic to go back for a second four year degree making prosthetics. Notice a theme?

Very few of the people I know outside of my job needed their 4-year degrees for their job. Frankly, I'm one of the few who is actually earning a living in their field. And I only have a two year degree... from a for-profit school. The idea you need a defree to get a decent job is baloney. Now... that is not to say that getting an education isn't necessary, but we too often equate education (which is merely learning stuff) and a degree of some sort. The idea we all need a BA or BS to get a job means there are going to eventually be some highly educated carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and waiters out there.

Posted by: Mike H on December 16, 2009 04:47 PM
11. Wow. This was one of the most rambling, disjointed and largely incoherent editorial pieces I've read in some time that was written by someone not named Blethen.

In leading off her piece she whines "Can everyone stop beating up President Obama over our double-digit unemployment rate?" , yet leads off the final paragraph acknowledging "Yes, President Obama must answer for our stubborn unemployment rate...". So which is it, Lynne? The drivel in between these conflicting statements was the product of either lazy writing or simply journalistic ADHD.

Posted by: Rick D. on December 16, 2009 05:39 PM
12. If nothing else, Varner is at least cosistent in her incoherent posts. She sees "community colleges as the heavy tanks in that necessary battle.", but two weeks ago was questioning whether we need the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution after the Parkland murders of 4 police officers. Talk about a hyperventilating, knee-jerk over-reaction to a preventable situation that could have been averted had those within the criminal justice system (i.e. Judges, DOC) performed their jobs competently.

Posted by: Rick D. on December 16, 2009 06:36 PM
13. Mike H, I don't know if every degree needs to apply to their field. The fact is that unemployment is significantly lower amongst people with college degrees. I can't get recent data, but the last I've seen implied the recession was mostly affecting those without degrees. You don't need to have a degree to get a job, but it helps your chances.

Now, I would say, on average that a better educated society will lead to a stronger country in a service-based economy we live in. That won't apply for many folks, but we have to set some policy and it makes sense to me to have a low-cost education alternative to a four-year school.

Do community colleges allow for some good re-education and folks to find new work? I'm guessing so, but we'd need data on one end or the other.

Posted by: John Jensen on December 16, 2009 08:16 PM
14. John Jensen...The low-cost education alternative to a Junior College and even a University is already being challenged and provided by the Internet. The taking of College courses with the convenience, cost effectiveness and ease of time scheduling of being at home is a serious growing competition to the expensive brick and mortar Institutions. Yes, the Internet is providing education opportunities to many without the high cost barriers and interference to ones work/livelihood.

Posted by: Daniel on December 16, 2009 09:01 PM
15. If community colleges are heavy tanks, I think Evergreen College is Maxwell Klinger in this metaphor.

Posted by: FarFarRight on December 17, 2009 06:29 AM
16. You can sure tell where the majority of Seattle Times readers stand. If you go through the comments section on the article, any post that more or less states the majority opinion here at SP, that comment has a couple of "thumbs down" attributed to it. The people of Seattle are generally so stupid as to not know what policies make jobs. I guess I should have figured that.

Ms. Varner also stated that "green jobs" would produce rampant job growth. Well, Spain has been there (with the types of programs now being advocated by the Obama administration) so we have their results from which to draw:

"States would need massive overhauls on their power generation to reach the goals of 3% by 2013 up to 15% by 2039. Compliance with the RES (Renewable Electricity Standard for energy retrofits for homes and buildings, and by helping manufacturers transition to clean energy industries) would require federal subsidies that would diminish further resources from other sectors of the economy.

Spain's recent experiment with RES has yielded the following results:

* For every one subsidized green job, 2.2 jobs were lost.
* Since 2000, Spain has committed $753,778 (U.S.) for every green job.
* This program has destroyed nearly 110,500 jobs.
* Each 'green' megawatt installed destroyed 5.39 jobs elsewhere in the economy."

So basically, the only jobs that subsidized "green jobs" will create is government jobs that will suck even more resources out of an ailing economy and eliminate more jobs.

Posted by: G Jiggy on December 17, 2009 09:37 AM
17. Daniel @ 7 says:

"Yes, it behooves society to have a well-educated population but, without jobs to go with it, everybody starves. Education by itself does not create jobs. What creates the climate for job creation is Less Taxes, Less Government, unnecessary regulations and more Liberty to exercise the Entrepreneur Spirit."
--
Wrong again, Daniel. But we're getting used to that. The better educated people are, the more skilled they become at creating jobs, no matter what the regulatory environment is. All the "entrpreneur spirit" in the world is useless without strong accounting and management skills, which are taught -- wait for it -- at community colleges and universities.

These are only two basic skills that translate directly into creating jobs and businesses.

Posted by: ivan on December 17, 2009 09:52 AM
18. You got remember ivan...You're a Liberal! Liberals are Easy Believers and will believe whatever Deceit the Statist/World spoons feeds them. Some of your greatest Entrepreneurs had little education. John Lear of the Lear business jet fame had only an eighth grade education. The Entrepreneur Spirit is something called a Talent and Talent is an understanding that is inborn and goes beyond a so-called formal education. If all what was required to be an Entrepreneur was an education in business skills, you would have far more successful businesses. However, you not only have to have Talent, you have to have a positive business environment. Liberal/Socialist Governments can destroy a business environment to the point of bankrupting the Nation. Look what Liberal policies are doing to this Nation. Have a Clue! Naah, forget it...You're a Liberal!

Posted by: Daniel on December 17, 2009 12:03 PM
19. The hot air is finally gone from our "service based economy". We can't "service" bad loans anymore. Our unemployment will remain high until our country returns to making things.
The proof is easy to find. The countries that are growing have manufacturing based economies - China!
The sad part is that neither party gets it.

Posted by: M&M on December 18, 2009 12:10 PM
20. The hot air is finally gone from our "service based economy". We can't "service" bad loans anymore. Our unemployment will remain high until our country returns to making things.
The proof is easy to find. The countries that are growing have manufacturing based economies - China!
The sad part is that neither party gets it.

Posted by: M&M on December 18, 2009 12:12 PM
21. Daniel:
The economy tanked after 8 years of conservative control of the government. Less government, less regulation of entrepreneurial drive and lower taxes pretty much defines what ruined the economy.

Posted by: Don on December 18, 2009 02:19 PM
22. Hey Don...You're a Laughable DOLT! Your stated position is that more government and more regulation is a good thing? When, has that EVER been proved to be a good thing? You're a Socialist/Communist and an Enemy of all that has made this Country Great. You're a...Liberal!

Posted by: Daniel on December 18, 2009 03:40 PM
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