This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Educating Our Way Out of the Great Recession

There is no question in my mind that the single most important thing a person can acquire in life is a good education. But as college professor, I can easily be accused of bias on this issue, so it was good to read Nicolas Kristof's Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, in which he laments that the Great Recession is taking its toll on our nation's greatest asset--our educational system.

The United States supports schools in Afghanistan because we know that education is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build a country.
Alas, we’ve forgotten that lesson at home. All across America, school budgets are being cut, teachers laid off and education programs dismantled...The Center on Education Policy reports that 70 percent of school districts nationwide endured budget cuts in the school year that just ended, and 84 percent anticipate cuts this year.
And he hits a target close to my home:
In higher education, the same drama is unfolding. California’s superb public university system is being undermined by the biggest budget cuts in the state’s history. Tuition is set to rise about 20 percent this year, on top of a 26 percent increase last year, which means that college will become unaffordable for some.
The immediate losers are the students. In the long run, the loser is our country.
Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, two Harvard economists, argue in their book “The Race Between Education and Technology” that a prime factor in America’s rise over the last two centuries was its leadership in educating the masses.
American pre-eminence in mass education has eroded since the 1970s, and now a number of countries have leapfrogged us in high school graduation rates, in student performance, in college attendance. If you look for the classic American faith in the value of broad education to spread opportunity, you can still find it — in Asia.
When I report on poverty in Africa and poverty in America, the differences are vast. But there is a common thread: chipping away at poverty is difficult and uncertain work, but perhaps the anti-poverty program with the very best record is education — and that’s as true in New York as it is in Nigeria.
Granted, budget shortfalls are real, and schools need reforms as well as dollars. Pouring money into a broken system isn’t a solution, and we need more accountability. But it’s also true that blindly slashing budgets is making the problems worse. As Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, once observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty, and of achieving modernization and the realization of liberal democracy. We need to support it here in the US, and we need to do whatever we can to support it in other countries as well. There is no investment that will pay off as well as this.

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