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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
25 July 2019
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What are Universities Good For, Anyway?

If Jessica Biel, Michael Dell, Robert Downey, Harrison Ford, Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Steve Jobs, Alicia Keyes, Kanye West, Steve Wozniak, and Mark Zuckerberg can do without a college degree and still go on to make the big leagues, who needs a college degree? Or even a college education, asks Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, who launched a mentorship program for students who wanted to bypass the whole college thing. Indeed, some polls indicate a decline in the perceived value of a college degree.

But despite all this anecdotal evidence, the statisticians disagree, and anyone familiar with the history of modern medicine knows the value of statistical evidence.

  • So What is a College Degree Good For, Anyway? Just looking at subsequent standards of living, on average, college graduates do better. For details, see below or click here.
Meanwhile, we follow up on last week's story.
  • What Does Alaska Need a University For, Anyway? It is politically possible for a state to shaft its own university. For details, see below or click here.
There is a related but distinct issue: why should society - in particular, tax dollars - pay for higher education? We will turn to that in the first fall issue of the Biweekly, coming out on 29 August 2019. Enjoy your August vacation!

Chapter Meeting Tomorrow in Temple Terrace (near USF Tampa)

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon at CDB Restaurant at 5104 E. Fowler Ave., just east of USF Tampa. There will be pizza (and salad); all UFF members are invited to attend. Come and check us out.

This is the last chapter meeting this summer. We will resume on Friday, August 30, at noon, location TBA. This fall, we will meet on alternate Fridays, at noon, locations TBA. Come and check us out.

Upcoming Events for UFF Members

Tailgate at the August 30 Game. UFF will host a tailgate tent at the August 30 football game between the USF Bulls and the University of Wisconsin Badgers. This NCAA game will be at the Raymond James Stadium, and attendees are responsible for getting their own tickets to the game. The UFF Tailgate Tent will is free to all UFF members and their families (we will have membership forms for UFF USF employees who want to join on the spot), and will open three hours before the game in Area 6D. Since we need to know how much food to order (and since attendees will probably want directions to the tent), please RSVP to the Tailgate organizer by August 15.

Join UFF Today!

Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or litigation); special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. Come and join the movement.


If you have been the victim of a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you have thirty days from the time you knew or should have known of the violation to file a grievance. If you are, and at the time of the violation were, a dues-paying member of the United Faculty of Florida, you have the right to union representation. To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, go to the online contact form. For more information, see our web-page on grievances; see also the recent article accompanying the announcement of a Grievance Training Workshop on Thursday, June 13, 9:30 am, at Perkins Restaurant on 5002 E. Fowler Avenue, just east of USF Tampa. We will provide breakfast, and all UFF members are welcome.

Visit Us on Facebook

Visit the United Faculty of Florida at USF Facebook page. This page is a place where UFF members can exchange thoughts and ideas. The page is "public", but only dues-paying UFF members are eligible to post items on the page. If you are a UFF member, ask to join on the page, or contact the Communications Committee. The Committee will invite every UFF member that asks to join. So check us out. UFF members are welcome to join, and non-members are welcome to look.

So What is a College Degree Good For, Anyway?

As the federal government and state governments shift the cost of higher education onto individual students and their parents, rising fees and tuition (and consequent rising student debt, now $ 1.6 trillion) have made the cost of higher education more visible than it was in the good old days, when much of the cost lurked quietly in state budgets. With graduates (and, alas, non-graduates) bearing more and more of the cost, prospective students and their families are asking if it is worth the expense.

The simple financial answer seems to be: on average, it is. In 2014, Pew reported that among adults ages 25 - 32 working full-time, college graduates earned about $ 17,500 more than non-graduates. A Georgetown study concluded that the difference in lifetime wages between workers with BAs versus high school diplomas was about a million dollars. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that as of last month, the unemployment rate for (job-seeking) adults without a high school diploma was 5.3 %, for high school graduates with no college it was 3.9 %, for adults with some college it was 3.0 %, and for college graduates it was 2.1 %. And for prospective students inspired by the impressive finances of Jessica Biel, Michael Dell, et al, Forbes columnist Derek Newton observed that "a college graduate is 177 times more likely than a high school graduate to earn $ 4 million or more" during their lifetimes. Celebrities who recommend that youngsters skip college are not giving good financial advice.

But that is now, and our students are preparing for the future. So is college likely to be useful - or necessary - for the coming half century? Prediction, warn the Danes, is difficult, especially when dealing with the future, but the McKinsey Global Institute is willing to try.

And the bottom line: "We find that individuals with a high school degree or less are four times more likely to be in a highly automatable role than individuals with a bachelor's degree or higher-and as much as 14 times more vulnerable than someone with a graduate degree."

But there is a point. Some major computer firms have been hiring a lot of non-graduates, including Apple, and Apple CEO Tim Cook complained about a "mismatch between the skills that are coming out of colleges and what the skills are that we believe we need in the future." Of course, there is a longstanding shortage of youngsters who can write computer code, but less parochial businessmen focus on more basic skills: the latest survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers had writing as the most desired skill, with computer skills as twelfth.

In fact, despite the current popularity of STEM among pundits and politicians, there is considerable demand for liberal arts graduates. But there is a difference between the desiderata for STEM versus humanities majors: a computer science major hired for coding skills will very likely apply thier computer language knowledge and skills explicitly developed in the classroom. On the other hand, a humanities major hired for critical thinking and communication skills will not be applying the knowledge developed in the classroom so much as the analytic and synthetic skills developed for dealing with that knowledge. So future employers will be more interested in a new hire's ability to analyze what they learned in college than in that knowledge itself.

From a personal and mercenary point of view, despite the rising costs, college is still a worthwhile investment. But shifting the financial burden restricts access for students and families of modest means. Pundits, politicians, and plutocrats who advocate these shifts may prefer to tell the public that, never mind, the grapes were sour anyway. But of course, that's not what they tell their own kids.

What Does Alaska Need a University For, Anyway?

The previous Biweekly reported that Alaska Governor Michael J. Dunleavy vetoed $ 135 million in appropriations for the University of Alaska, which on top of a $ 5 million cut by the Legislature, added up to a 41 % cut in state appropriations. That cut is about a sixth of the university's budget. Many had hoped that the Legislature would override the governor's vetoes, but amidst a squabble over where the Legislature is supposed to meet (!), the vetoes stood.

There is brave talk about getting the Alaska government to change its mind, but meanwhile, the university is exploring options, Moody's has downgraded the university's bond rating from A1 to Baa1, explaining that, "With this unprecedented single year cut in state appropriations, there is a high likelihood of a material reduction in the university's liquidity over the next year as it uses cash to fund programs pending restructuring of operations, and for the associate costs of that restructuring." And the Alaska Board of Regents responded by declaring financial exigency, which enables faculty layoffs and major-league budget cuts.

Since the cuts affect infrastructure, faculty on research funding, and instruction, the effect will almost certainly result in a budget reduction by a lot more than a sixth. Meanwhile, the cuts also affect financial aid, and the Chronicle reported that Thousands of Alaska Students Scramble With Scholarship Money in Jeopardy.

As one columnist observed, the question for Alaskans is their vision of the future of the state. Are they content with being a source for natural resources? Or do they want to be at the frontier in the Twenty-first century? We will turn to such questions - and not just for Alaska - in the next Biweekly issue on August 29.


Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, July 26, at noon, at CDB Restaurant, 5104 E. Fowler Ave., Temple Terrace. We will have lunch at the meeting. All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.

Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.

NOTE: The USF-UFF Chapter website is http://www.uff.ourusf.org, and our e-mail address is uff@ourusf.org.

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