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Numbers don’t matter; lives do

Capping enrollment to colleges and universities is slamming the door on many prospective students’ futures while paving their way to unemployment, a strong characteristic of the Great Depression, which is a time many college students’ great-grandparents remember quite vividly.

Mary Walsh, a 96-year-old Boca Raton resident, is no exception.

Her dad didn’t work, but neither did the four other dads in the house. In fact, of the six families living in Mary Walsh’s home in 1930, only one man had a job. He was the one who provided the lone pot of potatoes each night for dinner – and a spoonful of butter if they were lucky.

“There were a lot of people out in the street and there was no help from the government,” Walsh said in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report.

That is an understatement of the 1930s when the unemployment rate was as high as 25 percent.

While the economy today is far from Walsh’s past, the unemployment rate is still at the forefront of almost every college student’s mind.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a college diploma could be the difference in landing a job or not, as all seven fields predicted to grow the fastest in the next few years – including teaching, health care and technology – require a college degree.

That means if the state of the economy continues on the current track, a college diploma could be the golden ticket to not only surviving, but prospering during the tumultuous time.

But as it stands now, Florida officials are making sure only a select few get the chance at a golden ticket.
The State University System enlisted a cap on freshmen enrollment in 2005, allowing just 38,500 first-year students into Florida universities annually.

And after three years and hundreds of complaints by angry parents whose child didn’t get accepted to a university, the Florida Board of Governors is considering lifting the cap.

A great consideration, it is one at odds with Mark Rosenberg, the soon-departing State University System chancellor, who advised the board to “draw a line in the sand for quality,” according to an Oct. 7 editorial in the Lakeland Ledger.

Rosenberg points to increased teacher-student ratios as a hindrance of quality education.

But what the Board of Governors needs to consider is the quality futures they are limiting, not just numbers in a classroom.

Rosenberg and others who support his stance on quality – including University of Florida Provost Joe Glover – have little respect for professors and their ability to educate students. They not only want to limit the number of students in a classroom but limit the ability of professors as well, agreeing professors are incapable of educating a large number of students.

“We can’t just open the floodgates to the university at a time of declining funding,” Glover said.

But Glover and Rosenberg don’t seem to mind opening the floodgates to another depression, as another generation could soon be facing unemployment without a ticket into the fast-growing industries that require college diplomas.

And of those who do acquire a job, a college degree can raise an individual’s earnings by 10 percent, according to a New York Times report.

“For someone earning the national median household income of $42,000, an extra year of training could provide an additional $4,200 a year,” said Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton, in the Times article. “Over the span of a career, that could easily add up to $30,000 or $40,000 of
present value.”

If Walsh’s household added $30,000 – $40,000 to their income during the 1930s, she’d have a lot more potatoes to eat every night.

The Board of Governors needs to consider the futures of those affected by the enrollment capping; it needs to consider lives more than numbers.

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    RyanOct 15, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    $40,000 in 1930 would equal around $487,840 today. I think she would be eating more than potatoes each night.