October 30, 2009

The Time for Investment Has Passed; Now We Need to Produce

Justin Katz

Can't Republicans at least agree that the last thing the state needs is more government "investment"?

Governor Carcieri Friday morning said Rhode Island must invest more in higher education and mentoring programs if it wants to encourage young, educated people to stay here for the long haul.

"As you invest in higher education, you make a statement to young people about what you value and what's important to the state," Carcieri told the crowd at the Knowledge Retention Symposium, a gathering at Brown University focused on preventing what's known as brain drain in the Ocean State.

Even within the brief article is evidence that the governor is misassessing the actual problem, with the following from Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley:

"I hear this all the time and it drives me crazy. They come to Rhode Island to these great institutions and they fall in love with Providence and the state of Rhode Island, but they don't think this is a place they can stay. They think this is a launching pad to New York or Boston, or Chicago and Washington, and it's critical to the future of our state that our students, when they come here, think 'This is a place I can stay.' "

The students are already coming; the problem is that they leave, and to the extent that further government investments (read: taxes and bonds), regulations, and mandates continue to hinder the Rhode Island's private sector, the state will continue to circle the bowl and graduates will flee before they're sucked in.

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I am a parent of two A students. One graduated in the top ten percent of the class; the other is currently in the top five percent of the class. My niece is currently the #1 student in her high school class.

What have I learned from the success of these exceptional children? That the academically successful Rhode Island student must hide his or her academic success from their fellow students in order to avoid making themselves a target for derision. While the USA has always been known for its anti-intellectualism (does any other culture have so many insulting names for the intelligent? i.e. geek, nerd, egghead, etc), the anti-intellectualism in Rhode Island is overwhelming. Rhode Islanders both young and old are proud of their wilful ignorance of math, science, and the liberal arts. When the USA was wealthy, Rhode Islanders could get away with their strange love of cultivating their own stupidity. But now, Rhode Island is competing with people who take pride in knowledge and understanding. These people will bury us unless we change the culture here.

Posted by: Alois Schumer at October 30, 2009 3:50 PM

Normally I stay away from the type of statement I'm about to make, but this warrants saying:

The people we're complaining about losing tend to be liberal, or libertarian.

Why would either one of them stay in Rhode Island, where the governance is overwhelmingly socially conservative? Sure, we spend money like it's nobody's business, and the legislature is 85% 'Democrat', but this place is far more socially conservative than anywhere I've enjoyed visiting.

I'll give an example: By banning texting -only-, and not phone use as a whole, we've just unfairly alienated a bunch of young folks. It should be 'no handheld or dash-mounted electronics, and no earbuds or headphones of any type while driving' or nothing at all. Singling out texting is just a slap in the face to the youth.

The other thing is that there really are so few good jobs here. Most of my educated friends have left, and those who stayed are making ends meet at coffee shops until their parents wrestle them state jobs from friends 'on the inside'.

Downtown was 'renovated' as housing for retired East Siders who thought it would be 'cool' to live in the heart of the city, but we've outlawed happy hour, pub crawls, and even obstructed bars opening in the 'nightclub district'.

Car insurance rates are positively -astronomical- for young people. I've never had a ticket or an accident, I drive a cheap car, but I paid $2,400 per year to insure it from age 18 through 24, that's -four times- the national average. Luckily it dropped after I bought a home, and I now pay 'only double' the national average.

80% of the houses in my city are uninsulated, meaning they can cost upwards of $600/month to heat in the winter months. Where did the millions upon millions of dollars for weatherization go? Most likely, it's 'insulating' neighborhood non-profits financially, instead of insulating people's walls.

The mayor of my city recently decided to not allow a totally harmless, off-street, indoor, adult sex-education business from opening because 'he felt that it wouldn't be appreciated by the neighbors', meanwhile, not a single neighbor has voiced a complaint yet.

Building or renovating anything in the city requires political connections, litigation, or envelopes of cash. Many subcontractors boast of how they can 'do this cheaper by not meeting the crazy code' since they have 'friends at city hall'. I don't care if it's 'crazy code' or 'cronyism', there's obviously something wrong!

The storm drains all over Providence have been overflowing with sand, dirt, and leaves for years. I've never seen the honeysucker trucks. North Main St. floods every time it sprinkles. We pay well above-average for our city services, and this is what we get for it? The same goes for schools. I know I'm not having kids here until I can afford to send them to private school.

In closing... Why -would- anyone stay here, except to collect an inheritance or participate in the cronyism?

I suppose the beach is nice, but it's not -that- nice.

Posted by: mangeek at October 30, 2009 4:14 PM

...and the scales fall from yet another soon-to-be-ex-Rhode Islander's eyes.

I wonder -- Do the NEA, AFT, Poverty Institute, etc. all celebrate when yet another critic leaves the state (only to bad mouth it wherever he or she ends up)? Do they have any idea of what is happening around them?

Or have they all just decided they can't or won't try to stop the process, and will focus their attention and remaining power on trying to get as much as they can before the final crash, before they too move to Flahridda?

Cynically, I think the latter is the case for way too many of our "public servants."

You wonder how they can look in the mirror.

Posted by: John at October 30, 2009 4:39 PM


Rhode Island support for Higher Education

F2009 Appropriation=$162.3M (47th in the nation)

F2009 per $1000 income=$3.74 or (47th in the nation)

F2009 per Capita= $154.5 (48th in the nation)

Five-year Change= -5.2% (50th in the nation and the only negative change nationwide)

Source: http://www.grapevine.ilstu.edu/

I think Alois may be on to something

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at October 30, 2009 7:28 PM

Forgot to add..... I am not sure, but I highly suspect that the above figures do not reflect any of the mid-year "take-backs" of appropriated money that have happened mid-year for the last few years.

Posted by: thomas Schmeling at October 30, 2009 7:47 PM

Motivated young people go to where there is opportunity.

Rhode Island crushes opportunity. It is hostile to business (which = opportunity).

It resents success and seeks to "bring it back down to size" with punitive taxation.

It has a culture of "working the system" to "get yours" rather than honest labor -- hence the highest "achievement" in Rhode Island being to pull strings and get a "state job." This is what is considered aspirational in Rhode Island - not pulling oneself up by the bootstraps or being a successful entrepreneur.

Which is why Rhode Island is going to remain an economic backwater, deluding itself with a pretty facade and a rationalization that its "great quality of life" will somehow bail it out in the end.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at October 30, 2009 7:50 PM

Dr. Schmelling,

While we're on the subject of Alois' comments, what do you (who teaches at RIC, right?) think of his comments about RI's aggressively anti-intellectual, anti-cognitive achievement culture? Do you observe it in the classes you teach, and the students you encounter at RIC? Any thoughts on Root Causes? Or solutions?

Posted by: John at October 30, 2009 9:03 PM

If RI wants to keep college grads, the number 1 need is pretty simple: have jobs in the most popular fields available. Without jobs in their field, recent grads have no reason to stay in RI. It would make most sense to analyze the most popular majors and then try to attract businesses that would hire graduates in those areas. RI has a high unemployment rate and I suspect that a dearth of employment opportunities in popular fields of study most affects the decision to leave town. After 4 years (or more) of study and the probable accumulation of student loans, I doubt many recent grads are going to be content to work the counter at the local Dunkin' Donuts.

Posted by: Tabetha at October 31, 2009 5:31 PM

I fear that Tabetha has things precisely backwards. Students should study in fields where there are jobs. It is not realistic to try an import jobs to match the most popular fields of study.

I am reminded of a friend who wanted to be a Marine Biologist. In one of his first classes the Professor announced "I hope you enjoy playing with Dolphins because there are no real jobs in this field".

For myself, I once wanted to be an archeologist.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 31, 2009 10:50 PM

The jobs may be out there. They just may not be in RI. That is my point. While I don't advocate studying a subject with no future, there are certainly areas where jobs exist but RI has not attracted the businesses that offer such jobs. Thus grads will leave and follow the jobs. If students were to limit themselves only to careers available in RI, they would find paltry offerings. In a state with the second highest unemployment rate in the country, young people cannot be expected to stay unless the economy has some more attractive offerings. Either the RI economy will rise to meet the needs of young people, or young people will continue to use RI as a place to get an education and then go somewhere else to find a lucrative job. I was not being facetious when I make the Dunkin' Donuts statement; of the few job offerings in RI, many are low-paying, low-level service industry jobs that college-bound young people do not want. As for state and local government jobs (which is where most of the more lucrative RI careers can be found), you often need to know someone to get these positions. Young people from out-of-state are at a disadvantage. So, yes, I think RI should focus on trying to attract businesses that might offer desirable career choices to young people.

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Posted by: Seinc at December 5, 2009 5:56 PM