President Obama – certainly with good reason for feeling frustrated these days – seems to want to take that frustration out on higher education. In today’s speech on the economy, the president assailed higher ed for pushing students and families ever deeper into debt, and promised to aggressively “shake up” an “undisciplined system where costs just keep going up and up and up.”
But one doubts here that Obama is taking care to distinguish between “cost” and “price.” A close look at public universities, especially in poor states like Mississippi, might reveal that the actual cost to educate students has in fact, when adjusted for inflation, gone up very little, while the price to students has indeed jumped dramatically. But why? Not because public universities have been wasteful, become more inefficient, bloated their administrative ranks, etc. etc., but because legislatures, exhibiting a market-based consumerist, shrink-government-spending perspective, have steadily “disinvested” in higher education. With fewer state dollars coming to public universities like Southern Miss, the student tuition burden (and hence the debt burden) has steadily risen.
Yes, there has to be accountability and transparency. But don’t put it all on higher education, Mr. President. Be generous; spread it around to all the responsible parties.
With last week’s surprise notification that a much-anticipated new School of Human Performance and Recreation director (a bright, untarnished new penny from abroad) will not be joining the unit after all, the School suddenly faces a major challenge of leadership. Already into the new fiscal year with a new academic year fast approaching, the choice itself seems simple enough – either draw once more an interim director from the faculty, or manage the unit – the largest and most diverse in the CoH – through the dean’s office, with I myself as de facto director.
There are definite shortcomings of either approach. Absolutely clear, however, is that we cannot stand still, or worse, fall backward from the gains of the recent past. There’s far too much at stake, for HP&R, for the college, and for the university. Whoever leads must succeed in simultaneously uniting and pushing past current ‘comfort zones.’ Ideas and suggestions are still flowing in from faculty and staff this week. But decision and movement must come quickly.
Suicides are climbing among U.S. Baby Boomers, often touted as the healthiest, longest-living, and most “positive outlook” generation in history. Between 1999 and 2010, the suicide rate for adults ages 50-64 jumped a whopping 45% overall, with the highest increases for men in their 50s (48%) and women 60 to 64 (60%). This according to an AARP analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
What gives? The biggest factor appears to be quite simply money, or the lack of it. Many in a population expected to remain affluent through old age find themselves in a bad and deteriorating financial condition. In addition, a huge slice of the boomer demographic is uncomfortably ”sandwiched” between the demands of caring for aging parents and of continuing to support adult children (and grandchildren) who have their own financial problems.
If anything highlights the critical importance of attending continuously to mental health concerns throughout the entire life cycle - not to mention the deepening U.S. crisis of wealth and income inequality - this does.
Collaboration of some meaningful kind between the College of Health and William Carey University’s College of Medicine makes too much sense not to happen. Beyond just sharing the vision of a healthier region, I can feel a philosophical kinship between a holistic, community-oriented approach to medical care (theirs) and a range of programs aiming at disease prevention, health promotion, and well-being (ours).
WCU Dean Jim Turner and I had a good long chat yesterday, incorporating a tour of building expansion underway after just three years of medical school operation. Research connections seem a natural starting point for doing some work together, but perhaps no more so than offering a Master of Public Health program tailored to the needs of WCU medical students (Dr. Turner himself is currently a student in our executive format MPH), or jointly sponsoring professional development opportunities. We shall see how things develop.
July 1. The new fiscal year commences today, and, at least on paper, the college is again flush. Unfortunately, with the (important) exception of some new faculty hires, the FY 2014 budget is pancake flat, leaving CoH in its all-too-familiar state of chronic underfunding. If there’s a new wrinkle in this old fabric, it is (in addition to the still-new presidency of Rodney Bennett, of course) the appearance of Doug Vinzant, our recently appointed VP for Finance and Administration, Dr. Bennett’s first cabinet hire. The widespread expectation is that Dr. Vinzant will bring fresh analytic focus and a vigorous emphasis on strategic planning to the entire budgetary process. New year, new hope!