Follow the money!

CTE could benefit if funds for education were allocated equally

A few months ago, I wrote about the U.S. demographic crisis. I delved into the shrinking national workforce and highlighted aspects of this quagmire are naturally occurring (as in declining birth rates), but some things are nearly entirely self-inflicted (such as the U.S. immigration policy).

And by “self-inflicted,” I mean government-inflicted by policymakers who choose to enact one set of policies versus another. For example, with immigration, policymakers have made it practically impossible to immigrate legally and then, seemingly shocked, spend billions to also try and stop immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally. All the while, nearly every U.S. industry can’t find enough workers. As our modern Socrates, Forrest Gump, tells us: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Many have written about our nation’s immigration woes and potential fixes, but there’s another aspect of government-inflicted pain I’ve been talking about lately as I visit with people in the industry: preparing our youth to live successful, independent lives.

Education policy is one thing, and I won’t discuss it here. But the U.S. government’s resource allocation to help put kids on a path to the American dream, well, stinks.

This notion first hit me during Roofing Day in D.C. this past April when I was discussing career and technical education policies with hundreds of participants before they visited members of Congress, and it’s been festering in me ever since.

I’m a data nerd, so I looked to the National Center for Education Statistics to gather some facts. And because the most natural way for me to make my point is with math, here is the best way to explain the situation:

Let’s start with 100 typical 18-year-olds.

Of those 100 kids, 86 will graduate high school.

Of the 86 students who graduate high school, 57 will enroll in college. Of the 57 who enroll in college, only 36 will graduate within six years (that’s 63% of those who enrolled).

So of the 100 18-year-olds who are taking those first crucial steps on life’s path and are starting to pour the foundation upon which they’ll build their futures … 36 graduate from college.

OK. That’s fine. College isn’t for everyone (or, evidently, for most everyone).

But here is my main point about government-inflicted pain. Just like the anonymous source from the Watergate scandal says in All the President’s Men (or any prosecutor of a corrupt Illinois politician knows): Follow the money.

In 2018, $149 billion went from the federal government to higher education institutions.

That’s billion with a B. That was just in one year, and that was just from the federal government.

If you add in state spending, donations, contracts, etc., the total dollars spent on higher education goes over $1 trillion.

States and private individuals can do their thing, but let’s keep concentrating on Washington, D.C.

The federal government spent $149 billion to get those 36 18-year-olds college degrees. What did Washington do to help the 64 remaining 18-year-olds who didn’t make it to commencement from a four-year university?

Well, not a whole heck of a lot. In fact, President Biden only asked for $1.35 billion for CTE state grants this past year. That is less than 1% of what is sent to colleges and universities. Looked at another way, 99% of the money went to 36% of the population.

For those on the left who rail against “the 1%,” why isn’t this 1% part of their rallying cry? For the deep-blue congressional districts that espouse “raising everyone up not just the elites who are already born on third base,” how can they justify spending so much on so relatively few who, more often than not, are the same individuals they are saying are already born on third base?

For those on the right who bemoan fiscal waste and government inefficiency or seek to cut welfare expenses, food stamp costs and unemployment payments, what’s the rationale or return on investment on spending 99% of funds on just 36% of the population? I don’t know many roofing workers on welfare, and I don’t know any roofing workers making so little they can’t afford groceries. However, I do know a few humanities degree graduates with these problems.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I’d say it’s not. It’s a glaring bipartisan issue. Bipartisan neglect. Bipartisan ivy-washing. We’ve told ourselves as a nation that the only way to succeed is via college, and policymakers have backed that up with their budgets.

For an article related to this topic, see “A fight for funding,” June 2021 issue.

Now, before haters start to hate, I’m not anti-college and know several roofing professionals with multiple degrees. Some have degrees in engineering or business, and I recently visited with someone with a degree in English(!) running a longstanding, successful company.

Data shows the highest likelihood of having a successful, American Dream come true is via a college education. But is that because college is so good or because we do so little to help get everyone else started whose American Dream doesn’t begin with a cap and gown?

This column is part of News + Views. Click here to read additional stories from this section.




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