Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed

Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed. By PETER MCPHERSON and DAVID SHULENBURGER
More college degrees will be good for the economy.
The Wall Street Journal, Jun 20, 2009, p A11

For generations, the United States has led the world in higher education. But today the U.S. has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young adults (age 25-34) who attain college degrees among the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Japan, Korea and Canada, more than 50% of young adults hold college degrees. Only 41% do in the United States. The question is: Should we do more?

Our nation's economic future depends on it. Our educational advantage made us the world's leader in discovery, invention and innovation. Our labor force has been able to perform better and receive higher wages because of its intellectual capital. But as that capital lags behind that of its competitors, our country's prominence is at risk.

The bottom line is that education affects economics. The more educated a work force is the more value it adds to society. We can chart this by looking at the way income levels vary with educational degrees. Since 1980, the gap between the earnings of those with bachelor's degrees and those with just high-school diplomas has widened. The ratio between the median earnings of men with the former and men with the latter grew to 1.99 in 2007 from 1.43 in 1980.

In today's harsh economy, there is a strong correlation between education and employment. In May 2009, those with bachelor's degrees have an unemployment rate of 4.8%; associate's degree, 7.7%; high-school degree, 10.0%; and less than high-school degree, 15.5%.

Given the impact education has on the economy, the U.S should set a goal of college degrees for at least 55% of its young adults by 2025. This is in line with President Barack Obama's statement that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." This goal would require graduating an additional 875,000 students per year -- a 42% increase of people with at least an associate's or bachelor's degree.

History suggests higher education can meet this goal within the next 15 years. In the 15 years following World War II, post-secondary enrollment expanded by 82%. And in the baby-boomer period of 1962-76, enrollment expanded by a whopping 174%.

The path we foresee resembles what happened during the baby-boomer period. Then, in the heat of the Cold War, the imperative to make technological progress led the nation's universities to expand. As the nation's youth came to understand that they needed more education, the government made education a priority. The sobering lessons from the current economic situation could contribute to a similar pattern of thought and action.

We propose to: 1) enroll a higher percentage of high-school graduates, now 64%; 2) increase the number of adults returning to college; and 3) increase college graduation rates while maintaining educational quality.

To realize these goals, the historic partnership between higher education and the state and the federal government should be re-established. It is the only way that this country will increase its number of degree holders by 42%, a task that will obviously require more resources than public universities and colleges currently have.

The administration and Congress have taken the first steps to expand the number of degree holders, including increasing Pell Grant funding and GI educational benefits. These steps will help more low- and middle-income students attend college.

Figures suggest that the goal is attainable and important for the competitiveness of our people and country. Though some states are currently cutting funding to education, higher education needs help now. Our goal should not wait for better times.

Mr. McPherson, former chairman of Dow Jones & Company, is president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, where Mr. Shulenburger is vice president.

Our revolutionary leaders wanted the best from their children

Founding Fathers. By Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
Our revolutionary leaders wanted the best from their children.
The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2009, p A13

Barack Obama is a doting father who says that one of the greatest pleasures of his presidency is eating dinner with his daughters on the nights when he is in town.

Some of the nation's Founding Fathers were not so lucky. Doting dads though they were, patriotic service forced them to live apart from their families for years at a time. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the three Founders who spent the most time abroad, missed milestone events. Franklin was a no-show at his daughter's wedding and his wife's funeral. Adams was in Philadelphia when his wife, Abigail, gave birth to a stillborn daughter. While in France, Jefferson received word that his 2-year-old daughter had died of whooping cough. The news came seven months after her funeral.

Trans-Atlantic separations proved too painful to bear. Whenever possible, the Founders took their children with them or sent for the children once they had established a household abroad. John Adams set off on his maiden voyage to England accompanied by his 9-year-old son, John Quincy. On a second crossing he brought along sons John Quincy and Charles. His teenage daughter, Abigail, arrived in France with her mother a few years later. Benjamin Franklin's son, William, and his two grandsons, Temple Franklin and Benny Bache, were part of the Franklin overseas ménage at various times. A new widower, Jefferson took his elder daughter, Patsy, along with him on his diplomatic mission to France and later sent for his younger daughter, Polly.

The children were not always thrilled to go. Charles Adams sobbed inconsolably as he boarded the ship with his father. Eight-year-old Polly begged her father to let her remain at home in Virginia with her beloved aunt: "I am very sorry you sent for me," she bravely wrote. "I don't want to go to France." Still she went, accompanied on the journey by a 14-year-old babysitter named Sally Hemings. Upon arrival in London, the homesick girl spent the next month in the temporary care of Abigail Adams until her father sent a French-speaking manservant to fetch her. Abigail pointedly reminded Jefferson that the experience was traumatic for the child who, once again, was faced with separation from a mother figure and sent off to live with a father she did not know.

Nor was the arrangement a piece of cake for their fathers. In addition to the all-consuming diplomatic responsibilities of winning allies and funders for the Revolution, these lone fathers had to raise Revolutionary Kids. Chief among their responsibilities was securing an elite European education for their young offspring while protecting them from the temptations and dissipations of living abroad. The Founders' children and grandchildren kept company with an aristocratic power elite, savored Continental fads and fashions, and learned to speak fluent French.

It was all too easy, their fathers worried, for the Revolutionary Kids to abandon the republican virtues of industry and frugality and, even worse, to lose their native language. "It is a mortification to me," John Adams wrote to John Quincy, "that you write better in a foreign language than in your mother tongue."

To protect their children from corrupting influences, therefore, the Founding Fathers had to part with them again. Franklin dispatched his 9-year-old grandson, Benny Bache, to school in Switzerland for five years. The Adams sons attended schools in Holland. The Jefferson daughters were placed in a convent in Paris.

Yet no matter how devoted, the Founding Fathers were not inclined, as today's parents are, to lavish their students with praise. "Good job" was not in their vocabulary. "Take care you never spell a word wrong," Jefferson admonished his younger daughter. "Remember too . . . not to go out without your bonnet because it will make you very ugly and then we should not love you so much."

Nor did the Founding Fathers leave it up to their children to "make good choices." Instead, they moralized endlessly on the perils of indolence, time-wasting and thriftlessness. Jefferson reproved Patsy: "If at any moment, my dear, you catch yourself in idleness, start from it as you would from the precipice of a gulph." John Adams lectured John Quincy, hardly a slouch of a student, to "lose no Time. There is not a moral Percept of clearer Obligation or of greater Import."

When Benny Bache asked his grandfather for a gold watch, Franklin responded tartly: "You should remember that I am at a great Expence for your education . . . and you should not tease me for things that can be of little or no Service to you."

Even the profligate Thomas Jefferson embraced the virtue of frugality. When Patsy appealed for extra money, her father refused: "The rule I wish to see you governed by is of never buying anything which you have not money in your pocket to pay for. Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want."

Judged by today's psychological standards, these 18th century fathers sound harsh and unfeeling. Yet to see the Founding Fathers as flesh-and-blood dads, to glimpse their struggles to rear their children at a time of grave uncertainty and peril, is to appreciate their service and sacrifice anew. Founding a nation meant more than winning a war. It also called upon the nation's Founders to pass on the passion for freedom, educational excellence and civic virtue to their children and grandchildren.

John Adams said it best in a letter to Abigail: "The education of our children is never out of my Mind . . . Fire them with Ambition to be useful and make them disdain to be destitute of any useful or ornamental knowledge or accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid objects."

Ms. Whitehead is director of the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values and co-editor of "Franklin's Thrift: The Lost History of a American Virtue," just published by Templeton Press.

A warning from Copenhagen

A warning from Copenhagen. By stefan
Real Climate, Jun 21, 2009

In March the biggest climate conference of the year took place in Copenhagen: 2500 participants from 80 countries, 1400 scientific presentations. Last week, the Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Congress was handed over to the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen in Brussels. Denmark will host the decisive round of negotiations on the new climate protection agreement this coming December.

The climate congress was organised by a "star alliance" of research universities: Copenhagen, Yale, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, Tokyo, Beijing - to name a few. The Synthesis Report is the most important update of climate science since the 2007 IPCC report.

So what does it say? Our regular readers will hardly be surprised by the key findings from physical climate science, most of which we have already discussed here. Some aspects of climate change are progressing faster than was expected a few years ago - such as rising sea levels, the increase of heat stored in the ocean and the shrinking Arctic sea ice. "The updated estimates of the future global mean sea level rise are about double the IPCC projections from 2007″, says the new report. And it points out that any warming caused will be virtually irreversible for at least a thousand years - because of the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Perhaps more interestingly, the congress also brought together economists and social scientists researching the consequences of climate change and analysing possible solutions. Here, the report emphasizes once again that a warming beyond 2ºC is a dangerous thing:

Temperature rises above 2ºC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.

(Incidentally, by now 124 nations have officially declared their support for the goal of limiting warming to 2ºC or less, including the EU - but unfortunately not yet the US.)

Some media representatives got confused over whether this 2ºC-guardrail can still be met. The report's answer is a clear yes - if rapid and decisive action is taken:

The conclusion from both the IPCC and later analyses is simple - immediate and dramatic emission reductions of all greenhouse gases are needed if the 2ºC guardrail is to be respected.

Cause of the confusion was apparently that the report finds that it is inevitable by now that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will overshoot the future stabilization level that would keep us below 2ºC warming. But this overshooting of greenhouse gas concentrations need not lead temperatures to overshoot the 2ºC mark, provided it is only temporary. It is like a pot of water on the stove - assume we set it to a small flame which will make the temperature in the pot gradually rise up to 70ºC and then no further. Currently, the water is at 40ºC. When I turn up the flame for a minute and then back down, this does not mean the water temperature will exceed 70ºC, due to the inertia in the system. So it is with climate - the inertia here is in the heat capacity of the oceans.

From a natural science perspective, nothing stops us from limiting warming to 2ºC. Even from an economic and technological point of view this is entirely feasible, as the report clearly shows. The ball is squarely in the field of politics, where in December in Copenhagen the crucial decisions must be taken. The synthesis report puts it like this: Inaction is inexcusable.

Related links

Press release of PIK about the release of the synthesis report

Copenhagen Climate Congress - with webcasts of the plenary lectures (link on bottom right - my talk is in the opening session part 2, just after IPCC chairman Pachauri)

Nobel Laureate Meeting in London - a high caliber gathering in May that agreed on a remarkable memorandum which calls for immediate policy intervention: "We know what needs to be done. We can not wait until it is too late." The new U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu participated over the full three days in the scientific discussions - how many politicians would have done that?