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Former Clinton adviser praises affordable education during UI visit

BY JANET LAWLER | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Investment in higher education offers hope in the shadow of the great recession, some experts say.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich emphasized affordable university education as a key to a prosperous economy during a preliminary interview Thursday, before speaking in the IMU on Wednesday evening.

“What happens in Iowa is extricable to what happens in the national government,” Reich said referring to the health of the Iowan economy Thursday.

Associate Professor of Economics John Solow said Iowa’s economy has definitively turned away from agriculture and physical labor and agreed with Reich when he said investing in higher education was an investment in human capital.

“More and more people are making their living with their brains,” Solow said.

However, after a 5 percent tuition hike at the University of Iowa last March, investing in higher education is becoming more costly to students.

“It’s just silly to think you can maintain a higher quality education for less expense,” Solow said. “The state of the job market isn’t that bad for highly educated people, but worse for more semi-skilled laborers.”

The state unemployment rating is currently 6 percent compared to 9.1 percent nationally. Reich attributed the economic slump to the impotence of the last stimulus package, saying the government should bolster a demand system through direct spending, not tax cuts.

Although students’ investment in higher education doesn’t mean those jobs will be there when they graduate, Solow and Reich agreed having an education naturally makes an individual more desirable in the workforce.

“Students who will be graduating this coming June will have to be patient their job search will be longer than others before them,” Reich said. “University grads will end up with good jobs because they have the right education.”

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, the chairman of the House Education Committee, disagreed. He said Iowa’s strong agrarian presence in global markets is what keeps the state afloat amid fluctuating economic pressures.

He also agreed higher education was greatly valued for the economy but the problem with it is affordability.

“One goal is to ensure students graduate in four years quickly and efficiently,” Forristall said.

One way to do this is strengthening the partnerships with universities and community colleges he said, so students can transfer midway through and save money.

The committee recently met with the governor’s assistants to restructure K-12 education and raise salaries for beginning teachers in an attempt to create a professional teachers corps, he said.

“We are glad to attract industries like Google and Microsoft into Iowa to attract young people to stay in Iowa,” Forristall said.

Solow maintained that many students will move out of the state into larger U.S. cities in order to find places to implement their skills and that Iowa is doing nothing to keep them here.

“Universities provide problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneuring, and the demand for that is growing,” Solow said. “Students aren’t spending four or five years to work on an assembly line.” 

Although Reich’s lecture focused on national government spending, he lauded the attempts of students reaching for higher education.

“Have no fear the economy will turn up and university grads will be at the head of the queue,” said Reich.


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