Education and Employment

It seems to me…

How many ways can it possibly need to be said before it starts to sink in? The economic stimulus was less successful than hoped because it addressed the wrong issues. Our political and economic leadership doesn’t seem able to understand that the recent recession was fundamentally different from any that preceded it.

Yes, the billions of stimulus dollars spent were necessary to prevent a more catastrophic meltdown reminiscent of the 1929 depression but they were spent in areas that would not help our long-term recovery.  What politicians have failed to appreciate is that the primary economic issues were structural rather than cyclical.  They had to be blind not to recognize that the band aid approach to job creation effective in the past was not appropriate this time.  I do not pretend to be an economist but it did not require 20/20 hindsight to realize underlying megatrends of technological growth and increased globalization substantially altered the playing field.  Isn’t it time to try something different: when you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging…

It should be obvious from even a quick look at the unemployment statistics that the recent recession primarily affected the undereducated:

5.1% Bachelor’s degree or higher
8.7% Some college
10.1% High school grad (no college)
15.7% Less than high school diploma

Want to lower unemployment? The answer should be fairly obvious: better education. It is estimated that about 37.6 percent of new jobs being created will require a Bachelor’s degree or higher. What instead seems to be happening all over the country in response to the budget crisis: cut funding for education. What are these people thinking? Do they have some kind of death-wish?

I certainly am not about to recommend some utopian meritocratic type of solution (does anyone still remember Sir Thomas More’s Utopia?) to our current problems but it should be obvious that whatever currently is being done is not working.  The better educated are increasingly advantaged and less affected by economic changes and fluctuations.

To address the most critical aspects of the current problem, we need to: (1) improve our educational system and (2) retrain the unemployed or underemployed.  The old adage “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” never has been more true.  Adequate educational funding needs to be elevated to one of our top priorities – and it needs to be done NOW.

Let’s consider the second item.  Our economy has changed.  We no longer have a viable manufacturing sector and continue to shed jobs in this sector to other countries.  For a number of reasons, this trend is not going to change.  West Germany has had some success in retaining its manufacturing sector but the U.S. has waited too long to reverse it.  Manufacturing jobs are not going to return so let’s stop standing around pretending they will.

Our country has experienced similar economic discontinuities in the past; e.g., the introduction of the automobile that resulted in widespread elimination of entire job categories: buggy whip makers, blacksmiths, etc.  The difference then was our economy was growing.  This is not a time for a Luddite-type response demanding creation of employment for people with obsolete skills nor should we erect economic protective barriers artificially protecting the remaining jobs in this sector.

Let’s pick some arbitrary period of eligibility for unemployment benefits – say six months.  Anyone unemployed beyond this would be required to enroll in some form of approved retraining program through an accredited educational local community college or similar institution.  Unemployment benefits would be dependent upon continued attendance and passing grades in an approved program leading to either a credential or degree.  These educational benefits must be provided without charge to the recipient without any stipulation of reimbursement.

Employers should be afforded a yearly tax deduction of up to ten percent for training and research.  Most companies would prefer to upgrade skills of current employees rather than laying off good experienced people without the necessary skills in a changing product environment.  The training would have to be conducted by an accredited educational institution similar to that required for unemployment benefits.

To qualify for research deductions, research would have to meet requirements approved and monitored by institutions of higher education and result in published results in accredited research journals so as to benefit everyone in that field: if publicly funded, everyone should benefit without restriction.  Research conducted at this level would result in expanded employment opportunities for both new graduates and job seekers.

The first item, improvement to our educational system, should be a no-brainer.  Everyone agrees it needs improvement but nothing ever seems to happen.  We try small tweaks to the system failing to recognize that the problems are endemic.  Nothing less than a total restructuring of our educations system will result in any appreciable improvement.

The three-yearly OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, basically an affordability study which can be read at, compared the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world and ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Causes of our nation’s decline in educational excellence, which have been relatively rapid, are addressed elsewhere.  Rather than discuss them at this time, only recommendations will be provided.

The quality of educators must be improved.  College professors with Ph.D.s in engineering or science frequently earn only a quarter or half of what they could outside academia.  They are entitled to compensation at least equivalent to what they would be able earn outside of academia.  Teachers historically have been treated as indentured women without any occupational choices other that teaching, nursing, or secretarial.  Many school districts continue to justify lower pay for teachers by not considering them to be the primary family income source – where is the concept of equal pay for equal work?  Times and occupational opportunities have changed and it is time we treated educator accordingly.  Until pay inequities are eliminated, the best and brightest will continue to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.

It is time for tenure to be eliminated.  All of us have had educators that did not belong in front of a classroom.  Some might have been excellent teachers at one time but had lost those skills.  Some professors are excellent at research or publishing and benefit the college or university accordingly but never should be permitted in front of a class.  Others somehow slipped through the system.  We need to be able to retain the best educators and eliminate the rest.  If educators are compensated for their efforts, they also should be expected to remain current in their field; e.g., K-12 teachers should be required to take some minimum number of education-related courses every year or even be expected earn an advanced degree within five years of earning their B.S.  We no longer can permit the concept of life-time education to be just an ideal.

In K-12 programs, instructional hours need to be increased and students required to attend classes until eighteen without cost.  And why do we persist in scheduling a summer break now that our economy no longer is agrarian when everyone was needed to help on the family farm?

While needing further improvement, nationally consistent competency testing designed to demonstrate required basic concept understanding as a requisite for grade advancement represents significant academic improvement.  In the California State University system, forty-two percent of CSU freshman require remedial classes in math, and 43 percent need remedial classes in English .  It is estimated that the CSU system alone spends $9.3 million annually to provide remedial basic skills classes.  How much could educational budgets be reduced simply by requiring standard competency level demonstration at each grade level prior to advancement?

At a time when the need for college graduates, especially with higher degrees, is increasing, we are making the path to those degrees more unattainable.  The bottom line is that most students no longer can afford to attend college.  This must change.  All costs associated with attaining a degree must be eliminated.  It is disgraceful that we burden graduates with years of debt following graduation when our nation has such a need for their skills.  We also need to provide some basic stipend to encourage students to major in critical fields such as science or engineering.  Regardless of what field someone majors in, all debt should be eliminated in return for some form of service; e.g., military: 1 year, Peace Corp: 2 years, AmeriCorps: 3 years, employment in degree field: 5 years…

Any non-citizen completing an advanced degree at an accredited academic institution should be offered the opportunity of citizenship following completion of basic service similar to that required for education-related debt forgiveness.

Given that our recovery and future success is dependent upon education and research, how is it to be paid for?  Our nation always has responded in the past to challenges when motivated to do so.  Our politicians must put their self interests secondary and be honest with the American people.  We are in another battle – one with long-term consequences that will determine the very continued success of our country.  We need to make the choice between the short-term gratification of lower taxes and gradual erosion of our standard of living or increased taxes to fund these programs to guarantee our future success.

This type of program possibly could be funded by a new sales tax of approximately 7 percent which should decrease by a couple of percent once the program is operational.  Some cost savings could be realized through elimination of remedial instruction programs, increased undergraduate attendance to community colleges, more use of on-line education, etc.

No one likes taxes.  Conservatives oppose all taxes; liberals oppose sales taxes as being regressive disproportionately affecting the less wealthy.  If anyone has a better suggestion, I’m willing to listen to it.  Let’s hear it…

That’s what I think, what about you?


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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3 Responses to Education and Employment

  1. Pingback: Enhancing Higher Education | Lew Bornmann's Blog

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