Measuring Value

For all but the highest institutions in the country, the coronavirus will affect enrollment, funding, and outcomes of earning a degree.

When considering where the money comes from in community colleges and four year institutions, quite surprisingly it is the use of dorms and on-campus living where some of the largest margins are provided for budgets.

It is hard to imagine that money still being nearly as large in the fall and spring of 2020 and 2021 respectively.

So already colleges and universities are laying off staff that may not have survived in the draconian years to come anyway, but coronavirus has accelerated all that.

It would be interesting to note as a timestamp right now just how many teachers and professors have been laid off, compared to say administrative staff.

Especially considering the precipitous rise in tuition over the past half century.

And considering the ballooning of administrative staff.

All this money and my wife still receives calls from her prestigious university, all but begging for donations. I have always asked how they could possibly need more money, and it seems I have answered my own question.

We have a problem of accurately labeling value in this country. For the caring classes like teachers in revolt over the past year and a half, to the burnout of nurses and physicians, it seems as though the employees who work closest with people in our nation are also the ones paying unduly in stress for the concept of “efficiency.” This word gives the right to 30+ students in a classroom, or having three times the patients as would have been feasible two decades ago, for no other reason than to cut costs, which takes what used to be a robust system of education and healthcare and turns it into a hyper fragile glass house.

First on the chopping block for schools may likely be the arts and humanities, the music classes and the artistic endeavors which cost quite a bit of money for both parents and schools alike to provide instruments and canvases. From there the staff members of schools may offer less AP classes for Government and Economics classes because not enough students sign up, rather than provide it for the six or seven eager ones in smaller 2A or 3A schools. Instead, those teachers will be circled back to teach ever larger sections of the basic requirements: world history and American history. Other teachers will have more students to go around in general, while some teachers will be removed entirely.

The football programs of many southern states will be conspicuously untouched. In fact, if you’re like Allen ISD in my home state of Texas, you might have even expanded your football program by building a 60 million dollar football stadium. Even when horrible design flaws caused temporary closures, and even when football as a sport has been brought under question for its ability to damage the brain and permit unspeakable behavior in its athletes, you may even be tempted to spend 10 million dollars more (or have the designer and architect do it) in such a way as to keep the legacy of football strong.

That is because the question of value is easily seen and measured. Football ticket revenues help supplant lowering budgets for schools. Despite the fact that the United States spends more per capita on students than any other country, acts of desperation and massive restructurings have gone on, and will likely go on, for over a decade.

We have a deeply psychological problem of cost-benefit analysis in this country. One could make the case that, if a student has no interest in pursuing playing the piano, or in doing TikTok dances as a career, why bother at all? There is no real discussion to be had for why young people have desires to participate in artistic pursuits, as clearly the role of these in their lives is doing something, lending credit to the universal truth gained from The Little Prince: “The essential is invisible to the eye.”

And yet rather than embed our love for those things not necessarily productive into our budgets, we choose only to see what we can measure. The map is not the territory in K-12, and it is also not in post-secondary education. Adjunct professors working for $1500 a class with no benefits does not provide for a robust education, it instead discourages talented people from entering education as a noble pursuit. Laying off professors in the liberal arts as a way to curb budgets, in order to further strengthen scientific and STEM research does not create a civilized nation, but further exacerbates the quest for profitable technologies and medications, tainting research by hiding or neglecting negative or inconclusive results.

Externalities of energy decisions are ignored, precipitating a massive jump in carbon emissions.

Social media websites struggle to maintain public decency on their platforms, creating vehicles for rage that allow the most inciting comments to race to the top of views. They claim that their business model does not allow for such moderation. There is too much data, they say. They are a platform, they say.

David Frum has an excellent rebuttal: suppose that a fast food corporation specializing in burgers came to you with the same conundrum. “The way that our business model works, we make millions of burgers a month to consumers. As such, there is simply too much meat to check to ensure its safety and cleanliness.”

We would balk at such a notion.

The value here lies not in the amount of money earned by Mark Zuckerberg, but in the value of a democratized nation to communicate soundly and effectively, and for too long social media companies have been allowed to run lean and accrue massive earnings without employing the moderators necessary to ensure a robust, safe, and effective social media platform.

The end result in America is this – Money is not equal to value.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time looking into Wall Street in the past two decades can confirm this. Financial instruments are a system that allows numbers to go up. Waste disposal workers, if they were to go on strike, would cause such a furor in cities and urban areas as to take us back to an era where horses shit on streets.

If all Wall Street workers were to go on strike…what would the result be?

Crickets chirping?

Utility is not such a simple equation, yet for too long in this country, the real values of love, kindness, forgiveness, and such sacrifices as good parenting, have gone on unrewarded. Unlike in Finland, where each parent is given maternity/paternity leave, here in the United States we have none. We have no gift box of food and clothes given to each new parent.

The research done on parenthood shows a decline in net happiness while raising children. If anyone looked at that chart, they would conclude on some mercenary grounds that having children “is not worth it.”

Yet average happiness is not the same as the top quartile and bottom quartile of happiness, for as parents they experience in those years raising children the highest highs of learning to walk and say words, of seeing in their children the power of learning and developments of personality. They also experience profound lows, with drug use, teen pregnancy, alcohol use and video game addiction, as well as the rebellious teen years of identity formation. There is no escaping these happy and sad outcomes, yet parents do it anyway, because they want it all.

Can we please provide robust financial decisions in the 21st century? Can we please pay handsomely for our caring class? Can we do these things not because it is profitable, but because it is just? I do not know anymore. Because right now, we seem to be making cuts in all the wrong places.

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