• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

For the Cost of Space Force…

Some back-of-the-envelope math.

February 12, 2020
 
 

Apparently, the administration’s latest budget proposal includes $15.4 billion for Space Force. You know, start-up money.

Naturally, I fired up my calculator app. I’ll use round numbers.

There are about six million community college students in the United States. Fifteen point four billion divided by six million comes out to slightly over $2,500 per student, per year. That’s all students, including those paying their own way.

Let’s say that we learned a lesson from the original sin of Pell and split the money evenly between institutions and students. With slightly over 11,000 students, Brookdale alone would receive nearly $14 million per year, as would its students. That would be enough to hire far more full-time faculty, success coaches, financial aid staff, librarians and more, with plenty left over to freeze tuition for years to come. The same would be true, pro rata, for every other community college in the country.

And that’s just start-up money.

Budgets reflect priorities.

We could use that money to raise the educational level of the entire country, with disproportionately positive impact on the folks generally shortchanged by the current system. Even better, by beefing up the public option for higher ed, we’d force for-profits either to compete on excellence or to go into another line of work. The dividends from that alone would be dramatic. And over time, the payoff from a better-educated workforce and citizenry would snowball. We’d unlock talent that currently goes untapped. Employers would be able to find good employees, and the rising wage level would create demand that would even create jobs for folks who never set foot in a college. Those jobs lead to family stability, lower crime, higher tax revenues, reduced child abuse and all sorts of benefits that people across the political spectrum agree are terrific.

It would be the sort of thing that an aging society would do if it cared about its future.

Or we can gear up to fight Romulans.

Having spent the better part of the last decade managing austerity, seeing this kind of money proposed for a vanity project is just a bit much.

The last time we had a space race, it spurred investment in education. This time, it’s used as an excuse to squeeze more money out of education. All those rocket scientists have to learn their trade somewhere. The research spillover generated benefits, such as my calculator app, from which we’re still benefiting.

The usual argument about the inevitability of military spending boils down to “there’s a contractor in every congressional district.” There isn’t, actually, but it’s the usual argument. But there are schools in every district. With 435 members of the House, we have over 1,100 community colleges. They’re everywhere.

Space Force is a choice. Austerity is a choice. There’s nothing inevitable about it. The Romulans can wait.

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