Bridging a Great Divergence

Alana Semuels at The Atlantic posted a somewhat gloomy assessment of American life, entitled “America’s Great Divergence.” America is separating into different spheres denominated not by race or ethnicity, but by education, and so implicitly, by rural v. urban. In one sense it’s the old problem of how do you keep the kids on the farm?

Jason Ellis wonders if this only one more skewing to the four-year college.

The problem with these statistics is that “college degree” includes Physicians and Nuclear Engineers just as much as the 24 year old with $70,000 in debt and a degree in Literature from a private college who is working at Starbucks. In other words, it’s skewed and a 4 year degree isn’t for everyone regardless what the Higher Ed lobby wants you to think.

That skew is the problem. Post secondary education, whether as a two-year associates or in its variety of certifications is an option that is underplayed (and under-funded).  What Semuels misses  is that the nature of start-up culture is actually distributed, an archipelago of tech, not unlike the way industrialization was spread throughout the midwest. James Fallows at The American Futures project has a lot to say on this.

Technical education, iow, is the key for a longer term  development.

Where does Education Reform go?

The current freakout on the Betsy De Vos appointment to Secretary of Education hides the central questions that actually need to be addressed: how do we improve the educational outcomes in our society, and in particular for those in poverty? The headwind is strong, what do we do?

The Fordham Institute has some ideas.  They pose some interesting questions that may help us assess not only De Vos, but guide us going forward.  Wise readers will see several possible connecting points for those on the left: as a start, we may want to start with the career education question and the vital role of our community colleges.

Rust Belt Chic

Jordan Ballor highlighted an interesting article from Joel Kotkin in New Geography. The quote that caught Ballor’s attention is worth pondering:

“Instead of chasing hipsters, Cleveland urban strategist Richey Piiparinen suggests cities such as his rebuild their economies from the ground up, tapping the strong industrial skills, work ethic and resilient culture deeply embedded in the region. Large factories may not return en masse to Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago, but a strong industrial economy and a culture embracing hard work could stir growth in service-related fields as well.”

This was an interesting piece, given Kotkin’s greenfield, suburban tilt. Hipsters or new urbanists can’t save a community by themselves (the mistake of “Cool Cities”) but they can still play an important role in the revitalization of the city as a diverse community.  Creative, problem solving communities need a certain critical mass to thrive — this is the sociological and economic truth underlying Richard Florida’s work. Communities need to be sticky if they are to thrive.

Of course,  strong, diverse education opportunities are another important part for revival.

Kotkin’s piece also missed the sheer amount of intellectual property generated at the research universities — something that Longworth captured in Caught In The Middle. By most lights it has generally been under-monetized, generating incredible number of patents but falling behind on the development into community building businesses. The model for growth here would be that of Pittsburgh which oddly does sustain a “hipster” community (i.e. Kotkin’s animus blinds him to the realities).

The need to monetize IP through entrepreneurial activity pushes tax and economic policy in one direction in the state, while the need for stronger Community Colleges (the trade school) requires steps in another. Resolving this tension has been politically difficult to date — the elected Republican party has been adverse to these sorts of economic and educational investments — there is a rant here that will be left for some other day.