A President's Reflections

A Labor Day Reflection

Posted on September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day. 

Hmmm……the sentiment feels off kilter at a time when one in ten Americans is unemployed and there are five applicants for every open job.  Many of those who are working are either worried about their jobs or working more for the same pay or giving up benefits and even salary in some cases.

Scott Simon, one of my very favorite journalists, offered a sad and poignant commentary on the unemployed in his Weekend Edition broadcast Saturday.  You can find it at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129647232.  I found it incredibly moving.

We also finally saw Up in the Air this weekend, a film that in part involves people losing their jobs.  The film included brief and painful comments from “characters” talking about what it means to become employed, only many of the “characters” were actual people talking about their real lives. 

The scope of the problem seems complex and enormous and the political posturing and attacks around our economic crisis only seems to make it worse.  I look again and again to Paul Krugman to make sense of it for me and his analysis in today’s NY Times is not encouraging: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/opinion/06krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion.

So we do what we can and in the case of the university, we should all feel good about the contributions we are making as an organization.  How so?  After our own difficult fall 2009, we have made a strong recovery and now we find ourselves:

  • Adding many new positions across the board at a time when hiring remains largely flat;
  • Increasing salaries 3.5% to 4% a year and receiving national recognition (again) for our benefits program;
  • Building (which puts others to work) and leasing more space in the mill yard;
  • Holding down our costs to families and making more aid available, which keeps the dream of college alive for many of our students;
  • Bringing hundreds more students into the community which in turn supports local businesses of al kinds;
  • Educating more people than ever and thus enhancing their ability to have meaningful and rewarding careers.

These are very real and very substantial contributions.  As a local businessman recently commented to me. “SNHU is one of the few success stories around here these days.” 

The current discussion in the media over whether or not college is “worth it” seems inane when one looks at unemployment data.   While a college degree is not guarantee of a job, especially today, there is a very clear and inverse relationship between degree held and employment.  Simply put, the lower the educational attainment the higher the unemployment figure.  As Northeastern U labor economist Paul Herrington’s research has repeatedly pointed out, the only reliable predictor of lifelong earnings in America today is degree earned. 

I wish I knew the actual number, but I am pretty sure that an inordinate percentage of our faculty and staff were themselves first-generation college graduates.  My parents did not go beyond their 8th grade education (the pre-WW II norm) and none of my siblings have a post-secondary degree.   All of us who have who were the first know in a very visceral way that asking if college is “worth it?” is just about the dumbest question one might ask  in our current policy debates (“How do we make sure college remains within the reach of most families?” is a much better question.). 

At a time when India, China, Singapore, and other are racing ahead in their investments in higher education and global competition remains fierce, we need to ask ourselves how we can educate more students, improve graduation rates, and do a better job of teaching critical thinking.  At a time when public discourse seems at an all-time low in terms of intelligence, respect, and leadership, better education has never been more necessary. 

On this Labor Day, my wish is that we continue our growth and, harkening back to We Are All The Same, our first common book some five years ago, we continue to do what we can in the place we are with the time we have.

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