Volume V, #19
The summer is over, thank goodness. Although this may be heresy to beachgoers and people like me who enjoy the opportunity to wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it has become gospel for political panjandrums. At the end of August I wrote about Donald Trump, whose appeal to the worst in human nature may be exceeded only by a handful of historical figures. But nature abhors a vacuum, and Trump has ably filled the vacuum created by a raft of uninspiring and visionless would-be leaders.
In college, I was a member of the Yale Political Union, the bastard stepchild of a real debating society, the Oxford Union. At Yale, the PU existed as a political version of Dungeons & Dragons, which for cynics provided reasonably good training for a career in government. But instead of killing monsters, the object was to run for one of a panoply of meaningless PU offices.
I headed the Progressive Party, a group that nominally followed the teachings of Teddy Roosevelt, but in reality existed to play pranks on the serious parties like the knee-jerk Liberal Party and the fascists in the Party of the Right. As our social action project one semester, we took on the graffiti painted on New Haven’s East Rock by painting it “rock color” (amazingly, the Parks Department provided the paint). In any event, when uninspiring and visionless would-be leaders sought the endorsement of the Progressive Party, we had a sophisticated system for screening candidates, like giving them a dumb dichotomy like “MSG: Madison Square Garden or Monosodium Glutamate?” (Answer: Monosodium Glutamate) Or ordering a footlong sandwich at Subway with every ingredient, with “extra” for each one of the sauces, and then informing them they needed to eat the “sandwich of life.” I’m told that after we graduated, the hazing progressed to blindfolding candidates, sticking them in the back of a U-Haul, and driving them around New Haven at breakneck speed. Perhaps similar treatment would do this lot of presidential candidates some good.
It seems like being taken seriously as a presidential candidate requires making a speech about college affordability. Just last week, Joe Biden visited Miami-Dade College to talk about the Obama administration’s plan to pay for the first two years of community college. Hillary Clinton released her plan called the New College Compact, which Andrew Kelly at American Enterprise Institute aptly renamed: Something (expensive) for everyone. As Kelly says in his review of Clinton’s plan, she “would spend $350 billion over ten years on a laundry list of priorities designed to bring the price of college down.”
There’s no question that college is expensive. But when nearly half of all students who undertake degree programs fail to complete, and where defaults are concentrated amongst non-completers, it’s hard to argue that affordability should be the end-all and be-all of higher education policy, let alone the basis for a $350 billion commitment. To paraphrase the current Secretary of Education, debt is not catastrophic if students end up with degrees.
For their part, Republican candidates are less focused on abolishing debt, and more focused on abolishing the Department of Education, the “French work week” for college students, or the “cartel” known as accreditation.
Where is the vision? Not on the campaign trail. Consider the following:
Economic growth has two ingredients: physical infrastructure and human capital. We are facing an unprecedented human capital gap that has the potential to significantly hinder economic growth. Although the political discussion to date leaves much to be desired, if we can close the human capital gap, the 21st century could become a second American century.
This is the context for an important new book, America Needs Talent, by Jamie Merisotis, CEO of the Lumina Foundation. In addition to providing inspiring stories of his family, America Needs Talent presents a clear and achievable plan for closing the human capital or talent gap. Merisotis isn’t focused on scoring political points. Rather, his plan is straightforward, won’t cost $350 billion (Merisotis describes a different $310 billion plan to improve higher education as a “fantastical number”) and capable of engendering support from all sides, perhaps even Donald Trump.
While I hope you read the book, which Merisotis helpfully divides into “Five Ways to attract, educate and deploy talent,” I summarize his recommendations into 10 achievable steps:1.Use technology to guide students to areas that they’re strong in.
America needs talent. And America needs leaders who understand the importance of talent to economic growth and prosperity. Maybe some party can throw a few candidates in the back of a U-Haul with copies of America Needs Talent, drive around a bit, and see if we can’t make some progress.
University Ventures (UV) is the premier investment firm focused exclusively on the global higher education sector. UV pursues a differentiated strategy of 'innovation from within'. By partnering with top-tier universities and colleges, and then strategically directing private capital to develop programs of exceptional quality that address major economic and social needs, UV is setting new standards for student outcomes and advancing the development of the next generation of colleges and universities on a global scale.