Rutgers University president Richard L. McCormick isn't one to mince words. In a guest column appearing in the March 6, 2011 edition of The Newark Star-Ledger, McCormick gets straight to the point. "Memo to Capitol Hill: As you address a mounting national deficit, do not shut off college to the poor, and do not cut funding for science," he writes. "To do so would put our nation’s future in even greater peril."
The peril of which McCormick speaks comes in the form of a massive rollback in social and economic progress made by the United States since the end of World War II. In its broadest conception, this progress assumes two forms. They are:
On this point McCormick leaves little room for debate, claiming that "there is no question that the nation’s colleges and universities have contributed enormously to America’s pre-eminent economic standing in the world." And he offers compelling justification for his unequivocal position:
Expanding access to a college education through initiatives such as the G.I. Bill and educational-opportunity programs has raised the skill level and the earning level of tens of millions of Americans in the past 60 years. Federal funding for scientific research on university campuses, meanwhile, has yielded innovations and products that have created jobs in virtually every major industry.
McCormick's impassioned defense of student-aid and scientific-research funding comes in response to House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1), a piece of recently tabled legislation. Ostensibly crafted to deal with gaping budget deficits, H.R. 1 promises to accomplish much more than simply setting the federal government on a path toward a black-inked ledger; it would, as McCormick opines, "take the country pointedly and dangerously in [the] direction" of losing ground to such surging competitor nations as India and China.
McCormick specifies H.R. 1 most dismaying practical effects. These include:
Though it rings of solid truth, McCormick's opinion piece overlooks one critical factor that urgently needs addressing: namely, the changing nature of work. Gone are the days of career employment with a single interest. The entire labor market has moved into a configuration in which low-commitment, flexibility, and contingency have had high premiums placed on them. Many workers work on a contractual basis for limited, often short terms, anywhere from eighteen months to three years. Many other workers, finding full-time positions -- positions that come with medical benefits, set hours, vacation, and other perks -- harder to win than ever, work two or three jobs where hours and schedules fluctuate wildly. Couple this need constantly to coordinate these various work responsibilities with responsibilities to family, friends, and community, and the conclusion becomes clear that equally as needful as money for many higher-ed aspirants is time.
Hence an article appearing in the March 6, 2011 edition of The Las Vegas Review Journal, which reports that "many Southern Nevadans are finding that online courses -- which enable workers to take vocational classes at their own speed and on their own schedule, in some cases without ever leaving the house -- can help to make job training mesh with the demands of job and family."
Indeed, the testimony of many online learners suggests that time proves even more valuable than money when it comes to access to higher-education opportunities. People "holding current jobs that prevent them from getting away to attend classes and odd work schedules that make taking on-campus classes impossible," the article continues. "Single mothers ... also cite the cost of providing for child care while they're attending an on-campus class."
The asynchronous nature of most forms of online learning have managed to recover time lost to the form of learning of years past, which required students' physical presence at set times regularly scheduled for a rather considerable duration (an academic semester typically lasts sixteen weeks). If policymakers and legislators can manage to wed the concerns voiced by Rutgers University President McCormick with those of put-upon working stiffs contending with the realities of the postmodern economic order, then the U.S. has a fair shot at defending its title as the planet's premier economic powerhouse against the challenges of any upstart contenders.