Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who Isn't Learning

Major metropolitan school districts across the country are seeing significant declines in enrollment. Suburban school districts are likewise seeing a downswing in enrollment, though perhaps on a smaller scale. Both began closing older buildings, and lately find themselves doing the same with even more recently built facilities; while laying off teachers in an increasingly desperate effort to cut costs and balance their budgets. 

They are for the most part victims of the failed strategy of fighting the last war, in this case the growth of urban and suburban population centers and the accompanying growth of the number of students to be served. Having been far behind the curve in facing up to the period in their existence when they faced swelling numbers and were forced to use trailers and split school days to deal with these burgeoning hordes, they are now equally behind in facing the dwindling numbers now seeking K thru 12 education. 

Having gorged for so many years on the housing boom, the growth of property values, and the willingness of taxpayers during prosperous economic periods to supply them with a seemingly endless supply of money to reward teachers and subsidize every hair-brained scheme of an educational elite; they now live on starvation rations in a poor economy, forced to withhold even scraps from their most loyal minions. And though most of the school board members have long since moved on to higher elected positions in city, county, and state governments; those that took their place learned nothing of the lessons being taught by the mathematics of population growth during 'baby-boom' years and the harsh economic realities of attempting to live by a tax and spend philosophy.  

It is not surprising that this should have been the case, but it's interesting today that those who taught these well-educated administrators and elected education officials should likewise prove unable to learn. For much like their elementary, middle school, and high school predecessors, it is now at the college level that we will soon find those unable to accept the hard lessons of reality. You probably haven't heard much about it, but universities across the country today have been building (and continue to build) an ever increasing number of classrooms and dormitories to accommodate the continuing growth of students seeking to attend college. 

Many of these new living areas are in fact 'luxury dormitories', constructed with a rather pampered vision of campus living in mind to entice students to spend what are now easily accessible federal student loan dollars at their campuses. Some are even using local motels as temporary substitutes while such construction goes on. Building is not the only thing on the increase, as salaries for tenured professors likewise swell, even as we see the first complaints about the cutbacks in support for public universities (as well as other levels of education)

The fact that the reduction in funding is made by state governments desperate to reduce their own budget deficit issues falls on the deaf ears of academics to whom principles like teaching sabbaticals are sacred. What no one is apparently asking however, is what will happen to all of this classroom and dormitory space when the enrollment declines currently occurring in K thru 12 education begin to graduate from high school. 

Having seen the boarded up windows of empty buildings constructed with the hard-earned money of taxpayers at these lower levels of education, one cannot help but wonder how those same taxpayers will feel when the harsh reality of this math hits the newly constructed structures at these campuses of higher learning (as it eventually must). One also cannot help but wonder if the discontent that parents have over the compensation packages of primary and secondary educators will translate to the level of university academia. Will there be similar outrage as taxpayers discover what some of these tenured professors earn from universities supported by taxpayer funding? 

While we might be still a few years away from seeing this worm begin to turn, it is nevertheless fascinating to think on those who find it impossible to see the cruel nature of the laws of supply and demand and the harsh reality of recession economics as they appear on the horizon. It also seems ironic that it's those in education itself that seem either unwilling or unable to learn from the very subjects that they teach.

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