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Invest in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians own their state universities.

That university system is an important investment. By failing the universities, we fail ourselves. I will compare the university situation with an issue endemic to American corporations.

My own Lock Haven University is in special trouble.

Enrollment has declined more steeply than the population. The chancellor says we must lay off faculty and integrate with Mansfield and Bloomsburg universities.

The community is wary of a downward spiral.

Losing families who earn middle class wages is bad enough.

We will also teach more online.

This will affect dorm revenue, sports, bands, clubs and sidewalk life.

You will less likely meet people from big cities or from Russia and Africa. You will less likely meet your mate here.

Of course, nobody wants to attend a dead college, so more students will go online if they go to college at all.

Colleges previously performed these integrative functions. When we whittle the institution down to online education it will be yet another degradation of our civic and mental health. That is the last thing we need.

The counties surrounding Lock Haven are some of the poorest. Enrollment has dropped in lockstep with increases in tuition.

We have increased tuition because we are getting less money from the state.

This is why Lock Haven University lost so much so quickly.

People are bewildered.

Pennsylvania now ranks near the bottom in funding its state universities.

This might sound like good management because it sounds like savings. But spending on higher education is an investment; money is returned to you. It comes back in higher morale, higher salaries, more stable marriages, more stable childhoods, better mental health and cleaner streets.

According to economist Phillip Trostel, the state and federal governments get back nearly a half million dollars in taxes and saves about $85,000 in welfare benefits per graduate.

The state and federal governments are you.

For perspective, we will spend nearly $2 billion dollars on corrections — locking people up. That is about four times the amount we spend on the university system. I have yet to see corrections correct anything.

As a sociologist who studies industry and managers, this upside-down world makes some sense. Politicians and managers do not like to spend money because it sounds like a burden. Nobody favors a spender.

There are parallels in the corporate world.

Managers of a company, for example, often starve a facility of long-term maintenance and operate on a shoestring. Sociologists call this “milking a plant.”

They are often the ones promoted because they look good on paper. After they leave for higher positions and more salary, the plant falls apart and costs much more than if they would have maintained it properly.

Sociologists call this “outrunning your mistakes.” At that point, decisions are made for you. Blame the new manager and spend bigger money.

This intellectually-impoverished management style happens in states.

We neglect education on the front end of life because it sounds like we have a choice in that decision.

We do not have a choice later in life when it comes to policing, courts and corrections.

You simply cannot have criminals running the streets. At that tail end, the society, like the manager’s plant, has fallen apart.

The chancellor is playing the hand he was dealt, and he is striking when the COVID iron is hot.

We may end up spending more on integration than we save.

It is up to the taxpayers and politicians to invest in themselves.

That is above his pay grade.

Greg Walker is professor of sociology and chair of Sociology, Anthropology and Geography at Lock Haven University.

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