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!
All posts by Dr. Michael Forster
More than 170 invitation-only attendees, a solid program and slate of presenters, and serendipitous timing (the day before a special legislative session on Medicaid reauthorization!) all helped make yesterday’s Mississippi Health Summit 2013 a big hit with participants, and further solidify the College of Health’s reputation for leadership in the health and wellness arena.
Focal topics included access to primary care, the emerging health insurance marketplace, and the perennial favorite of partnership and collaboration to improve health outcomes in our very health-challenged state. Speakers were all top-notch; among them – cardiologist Michael Mansour, internist and media personality Rick DeShazo, state epidemiologist Thomas Dobbs, and state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney.
Kudos to Ryan Kelley, CoH external relations director and chief organizer, his local support team, the steering committee that planned the program and lined up speakers, and everyone else that made this third annual Summit a super event. The feedback has been nothing but positive.
I spent a delightful 90 minutes over coffee and green tea yesterday with new College of Business dean Faye Gilbert. It was barely her fifth day on the job, but the USM alumna was, clearly, already deeply engaged with the myriad tasks of immersion in new place, people, and priorities. Bringing back to her alma mater benefits of academic and administrative experience outside the great state of Mississippi, Dr. Gilbert looks to have what it takes to make good programs great. We can soon expect a lot more happening with CoB than a new building.
I confess to mixed feelings about the recent decision of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure the administration of Southern University Baton Rouge for its 2011 dismissal of 19 tenured professors.
On the one hand, as the thorough investigation of the AAUP amply demonstrated, Southern University administrators botched the job. The declaration of financial exigency used to justify cuts was itself unjustified according to the university’s own rules, with faculty members more-or-less completely absent from the decision-making process. While some life-and-death emergencies may indeed require throwing out the rule book, dealing with university financial problems, however severe, is not among them.
On the other hand, I empathize with the administrators charged with making ugly decisions to terminate programs and personnel – especially after having endured multi-year cuts here at Southern Miss, as well as an agonizing two years of study and analysis purported to inform the cut process (implications of which continue to reverberate). Fortunately, neither Southern Miss nor the Mississippi public higher education system as a whole has had to endure the withering assault on its finances that Southern University and the Louisiana schools generally have. Let’s hope we never do.
Some argue that the AAUP does more harm than good in its efforts to play watchdog in this way. After all, it’s precisely the job of administrators to watch out for the best interests of the institution, is it not? Why interfere and make an already difficult and painful job still more difficult and painful? But here is an instance where the famous question attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal seems to apply perfectly – “Who watches the watchmen?” If the AAUP doesn’t keep an eye on the actions of university administrators, who will?
Higher education remains a good investment jobwise - at least according to aggregate numbers. Young people with a bachelor’s degree suffer only about half (approximately 11%) the unemployment rate of those with only a high school education.
But this good news really isn’t all that good, unfortunately. While the overall unemployment rate is a distressing 7.6% or so, the rate for those under 25 is a whopping 16.2%, and workers between the ages of 18 and 34 make up about 45% of all those who can’t find work.
A study by the Economic Policy Institute, “The Class of 2013,” points to the simple, if harsh, reality – the economy isn’t producing enough jobs matching the qualifications of new higher education graduates. Supply exceeds demand, making things tough not only for the college graduates, but for those with less education who are “outcompeted” for jobs further down the skill scale.
Contrary to the claim that America suffers a mismatch of skills and job demand, the real culprit is weak demand for goods and services that can’t absorb the stream of new graduates. Worsening the picture is a fairly dramatic decline in consumer purchasing power; the EPI study found that between 2000 and 2012, wages of college grads actually fell 8.5 percent, adjusted for inflation. Even non-economists like me can figure this much out – people without money don’t buy stuff, especially “big stuff” like houses.
It’s not a pretty picture. Especially for graduates saddled with high student debt, unemployment or underemployment can impact not only the young workers, but the economy as whole, for decades. No wonder there’s growing skepticism about the economic “payoff” of a college degree.