Tuesday, February 03, 2009

many topics

Dogs (Mine and those of others)

Cassidy is here. We never bothered to move the couches back after the Superbowl on Sunday, and with two dogs in the house, I'm not very inclined to do so. Everyone kind of gets a spot.

Lucy has been much better after her misfire with the rawhide bone the other week. She's been back to normal speed for a while. I do fear she's getting really, really spoiled these days in Mel's absence and with Jeff the Cat spending more time upstairs and peacefully snoozing during the day.

For those of you who missed it, TST has brought a pup into her own life by adopting a retired greyhound. Before Lucy, Jamie and I had talked long and hard about doing the same, as... hey! it's a dog that's already been trained. And they have a great disposition. Unfortunately, we also read in more than one place that they can chase cats. So if you want to blame someone, blame Jeff.

I am thrilled for TST and her new pal. I believe his name is Holley. May they take over Houston together.

Work is Busy

Work has finally caught up with me. I still really like my job, but I'm past the honeymoon period and its work. I have to plan months out. I need to not screw up.

It's a good thing.

The Boss

I think Jason will be trying to get us tickets to see Springsteen. Jamie will, most likely, not go.


I want to take Jamie to Hawaii this year. I want to see her dance about in a grass skirt with a wreath of brightly colored flowers atop her noggin. And we should sip fruity drinks in a lounge chair at 6:00 pm.

Is it totally evil that I hope things sink a little lower so I can actually afford to take my wife on a single vacation in this lifetime?

That said, I am dreading (absolutely dreading) the flight. So I can wait.


Friends at my former employing university are on staggered furloughs. If you don't know what this means, it translates thusly: They are not getting paid to work, so the university is sending them away in blocks of time that will, hopefully, not impact the university too greatly. But, basically, everyone is seeing their salaries decreased.

When they start talking about "freezing tuition" at universities, beware. And when you vote for people who vote against supporting university funding, also ponder what that means. Universities need funding for everything from test tubes to trash bags to handicap parking spot paint. When you have no state funding, and you have no tuition money, you're left with the kindness of strangers supporting your favorite university. And when those strangers realize their pockets are empty...?

There's a slight chance that people might not be able to graduate this semester at that school I mentioned if the furloughs get longer, wider, deeper, what-have-you.

Universities get funded from somewhere. And while tuition is expensive, those fees barely begin to cover the total expenses of most schools. Schools like the University of Texas are hard to understand to the outside observer. We can all agree we need the school for the educational aspect, and we can agree that we need something beyond a "teaching college", but its hard to understand the value of the scholarship, research, etc... going on.

Anyway, its easy to be cavalier about Universities and the fact that they cost money, but its a complicated eco-system. If you're concerned its all a bunch of communism, then I'd point to how universities get their rankings, research funding, etc... in what's a pretty straightforward system of meritocracy. In order to draw the right talent (which equates to rankings and research dollars), you gotta have the dough. So if you want your degree to be worth something (or your kid's degree), it costs money. So ponder what having Stanford has meant to Palo Alto, or what having UT has meant to Austin and its industry. Or what the Research Triangle means to North Carolina as per producing talent, which attracts companies, etc... Its an eco-system, and all of these things need each other.

With such a terrific tradition of public higher education in this country, its my sincere hope that a university education does not return to pre-WWII levels of being accessible almost exclusively to the wealthy. Or that public institutions become second class universities.


Anonymous said...

Dude.....have you seen how many universities there are out there ? There are Universities that will take anybody, regardless their merit, and will find ways to get them funding. Sure some of the lending for college might tighten up a little (although I'm sure Obama will have many of the billions earmarked for academic loans and scholarships), but I don't think you need to worry about higher education becoming unavailable to the middle class or to the poor. Since the "wealthy", depending on what definition you use for that term, by most definitions only make up less than 5% of this country, then perhaps young people who want to go to college will have to do what the other 95% and untold millions have done over the last 50 years up to today, which is work through school or get educational loans, grants or scholarships. (I'm always interested to know who the "rich" are. They are such a boogey man to so many people. Am I rich ? What if you are rich, but you didn't realize it, thus you despise yourself)

This is coming from a guy who grew up in the middle class and had to take out 60,000 in loans to further my higher education (that I will be paying back for the next 15-20 years). So cry me a river if people actually have to pay for their own education. It's called life. You shouldn't get shit for free because it then holds no value and you don't appreciate it.

Man, our national character sure has changed.


The League said...

I actually agree with almost all your points. And I'm actually NOT looking at the wealthy as an evil goblin in this picture, so don't get your panties in a bunch over that. Universities love wealthy people. They tend to give much more than, say, poor people.

The fact is that prior to the institution of the GI Bill, post WWII, the percentage of Americans obtaining a secondary degree was much lower than what it is today, and was generally concentrated to upper and upper middle classes. More people with degrees and a better educated populace is a GOOD thing as it should, in theory, provide more opportunity for mobility within the professional system and provide a better standard of living. Not to mention being a starting point for new technologies, innovation, what-have-you.

Paying off loans is sort of the up-front cost of the future possibilities. It's up to the student to figure out if spending money on, say, and RTF degree is a smart thing to do and then take out a massive loan (I would say it isn't. Note my lack of a grad degree until I can figure out what would be worth me taking on the loans).

I am not suggesting that a college education should be free. In fact, by stating that the government NOT put a lock on tuition at public universities, I'm saying the opposite. I'm more talking about the three points of funding (tuition, state funding, donations) and what happens when you've capped tuition, reduce the state or federal dollars headed into an institution, and then the donor dollars are suddenly unavailable (see the OSU/ T. Boone Pickens Fiasco).

In some ways, honestly, I'm saying tuition costs what it costs. And as you know, going from a public institution to a private one for your post-secondary, the burden is placed on the student. The function of the public institution is to bear some of the brunt of that cost, and its much easier to do when your school has top flight talent which draws outside funding.

As I said, I'm watching my former employer really suffer right now thanks to an impotent state legislature that puts things like how much college should cost on the ballot and capping tuition, funding, etc... Jobs aside, its not good for the university system, which means its bad for the economic system of Arizona as a whole (a state which only has two or three universities of note, anyway).

We can certainly talk about the merit of some of the institutions that have sprung up in a "for profit" model for underserved or non-traditional populations and the grim spectre of degree mills. But that's a conversation for another day. But I do think those places have a distinct place in the business/ economic system as well. As long as its not "you pay me $2500, I print you a diploma".

J.S. said...

Well, the U.S. is only something like 15th in the world in terms of percentage of population who complete a college degree program. I'm not sure about how we're doing compared to the happy days of yesteryear, but right now a bunch of other countries are starting to rapidly pass us up in terms of educating their citizenry, and in the global marketplace that makes up the modern world, that means that jobs requiring an educated workforce are going to continue to be outsourced overseas in greater and greater numbers (why pay engineers in the U.S. $60,000 or $80,000 when you can pay an engineer in India $20,000 to do the same work? Why bother to look to the U.S. at all when the quality of our education continues to slide?). Our national character may be changing, but the international world that we live in is changing even faster, and more than ever we need to be comparing ourselves to the activities of our foreign neighbors (especially in science and engineering related fields, which drive technology and end up driving economies) rather than comparing ourselves against where we were 30 or 40 years ago.


tachyonshuggy said...

Higher education is currently in a bubble. Lending is at an all-time high and tuitions have increased well past the rate of inflation.

It's not sustainable, just as an ARM given to 30K millionaires is not sustainable.

The League said...

I know far, far less about the loan issue for higher ed, and that's an interesting point. Given how many view their student loans as something to basically to default on, the college loan dilemma is a serious issue, I'd guess. But, again, I hadn't though too much about it until reading your comment.

As per universities being a bubble industry...

Keep in mind that tuitions have been forced to go up as many were artificially capped for long, long periods at public institutions. And the cost of running a university has greatly changed as schools require the IT and personnel infrastructure of a city. It ain't just white boards and markers these days, and staying behind from an IT perspective isn't an option for universities to stay competitive (its no mystery why open source academic-facing projects come out of wealthier schools like MIT).

What will drive change at universities is whether or not the perceived value of the degree is worth the cost, and how employers and society in general looks at the value of degrees from different institutions. Which, right now, it doesn't seem there's a cap on what people will spend if they get into Harvard, Yale, etc...

Anonymous said...

Good points all, I really only latched onto the one point of colleg being unaffordable. It's an investment, as I poorly tried to convey in my bitter debt-strapped rant.

However, in comparing the U.S. to other countries, I haven't honestly seen statistics or reports showing that we are 15th in education. I am curious to know if any report, survey of the scuh is done per/capita percentage or as a total number. However, that has very little to do with outsourcing jobs. Jobs get outsourced because other people in other lands will do the same work for half the cost or even less. Engineers and software developers in India aren't getting American jobs because they are more educated or because there is a shortage of those grads in the U.S.. They are getting those jobs because they will work for 15k-20k a year compared to 40k-60k here, and the work can be done anywhere.

There are examples of a shortage of highly educated types here in the U.S., but (1) Almost all those companies try and get visas to bring those high performing workers here; and (2) I think those complaints are exaggerrated by businesses who many times have alterior motives for bringing in foreign workers. (Generally offer them a less competitive wage, even though the wage is set by the US DOL, I think their wage scale is not very competitive; AND a foreign worker is tied to the company for 3-6 years and can't change jobs without new immigration sponsorship from another company, which isn't always easy). So they essentially get a fixed wage employee for 3-6 years without worry of turnover.

The problem isn't just the ingorance and lack of education for those in the lower class who chose to drop out of high school or choose to never pursue any kind of technical training, or associates degree, or higher education. We have plenty of jobs in the U.S. to be filled by the "ditch diggers" of the world. Problem is they think they are above the "ditch digging" and construction jobs.

U.S. employers in the field of constructions (and trust me I know because aI represent for them and try to recruit U.S. workers for them) would much prefer to hire U.S. workers. But they can't because nobody is looking to take those jobs. Literally they advertise and post jobs on the Workforce unemployment site, and the get minimal if any interest. And the types that do apply andf get hired frequently quit after a month or two, or are unreliable.

SO they look to Mexicans, Guatamalans, Salvadoreans, and Hondurans, et al, to plug the gaps. And these gents are more than willing, show up everyday, work 7 days a week, and thank them for the opportunity. Yet while American business and the economy needs these guys because US Laborer either want to be paid at least $14/hr working inside in the air conditioning because that is the salary they believe their dropout status has earned them, the US Govt via ICE, DPS, and your local Prosecutors office, want to make it as hard as possible for these workers to live in the US by denying them licenses, and then prosecuting them and putting them in jail and deporting them for not having the very license they won't give them. Meanwhile their kids who are all US Citizens by birth are stuck here in the US without a father to support them, so they have to tap into Uncle Sam for govt. assistance. So basically Uncle Sam by failing to adequately address the problem, creates additional problems of its own doing and then has to pay for those problems.

So what's the solution ? Well you have to check my blog for that. Then again, I don'thave my own blog, so you'll have to buy me a beer sometime.

Round and round, the illogical train goes.


The League said...

You're not going to get an argument from me that the system of rewards and who wants jobs in Texas is a little screwy.

On the topic of higher education, I heard an interesting story about two girls who had been born outside the US, but lived here their whole lives as undocumented immigrants, and had somehow managed to find a way to work and graduate from college, but were aware that, basically, if anyone ever caught on, they could be deported to a country they had no memory of.

Applying for citizenship, I guess, would jeopardize their parents as well as themselves. The story stated that marrying an American isn't a big help these days, either.

What struck me as particularly screwed up is that there simply isn't a path for amnesty for people who more or less came to the US involuntarily.

J.S. said...

Well, I agree that the lower wage rates in other countries is part of the reason for outsourcing, but that still doesn't detract from the fact that people in other countries have high enough levels of education to perform those same jobs for less. I don't have statistics right in front of me at the moment, but I've been reading for years about how the U.S. is falling farther and farther behind in areas of hard science and math (meaning that even when our kids have college degrees, many of them are in the liberal arts, or other areas that don't really drive technical innovation or necessarily provide technical skills that translate into a workforce with high level practical skills the same way that the harder sciences do). We need more doctors, nurses, engineers (electrical, mechanical, automotive, civil, aerospace), biologists, chemists, physicists, computer scientists, etc.- people who can design new technologies or who are comfortable working in such areas. It's kind of hypocritical for a philosophy major lawyer to be saying these things (we definitely don't need more lawyers), but it sounds like we're falling farther and farther behind in these areas while countries with lower pay scales continue to move ahead. By the way, part of the irony is how many foreign students come to the U.S. and take up huge numbers of slots in science based degree programs.
Anyhoo, I don't mind helping people out a lot who are going to college, but we need to be helping out the smartest American kids and making sure that they are majoring in something that might actually help someone out someday (especially if the government is helping to foot part of the bill).

The League said...

I can cite specific programs at my employing universities that were 2/3rds comprised of international students. Not everyone, but the talent coming from these countries is hugely desirable to grad programs.

It's worth noting that the problem isn't that the students come from over seas, it's that, by and large, do not plan to remain in the states. The intellectual capital of the development of these engineers was heading back to China, India, etc... after working in the US long enough to pay off their degree and then go back and make good money.

And our health fields in the US are full of people (you see it less in Austin, but it was standard in Arizona) who are here from other countries, many of them not trained in the US, because there's such a demand for high-end nurses, doctors, etc... that hospitals were desperate to meet demand.

T.S.T. said...

Thanks for welcoming Holley! His literacy skills still leave something to be desired--one bit of training he evidently did not receive on the racetrack. So, I'll convey your warm wishes.

Today Houston. Tomorrow we take over the world.

Michael Corley said...

Having two half greyhounds I can speak well of their dispositions. They are sweethearts.

I get to go to Hawaii next year if I sell more than 80% of my cohorts.

Yay sales.