Sunday, July 1, 2012

Higher Education, Or Just Bogus Coursework...

Back in February 2012 the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index had doubled from September 2011 to February 2012 in builder confidence in the construction of new single-family homes nationwide.  Lots of real estate professionals - developers, builders, contractors, lenders, suppliers, you get the idea - were happy about this and keeping their fingers crossed.

This month The Sarasota Herald Tribune checked with Anchor Builders, whose head honcho confirmed that things are better now than they were last year.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal checked with the division-marketing manager of Taylor Morrison, who confirmed that Florida appears to be in the early stages of recovery.

Business Week Magazine checked with Gainesville builder Barry Rutenberg, who confirmed that the NAHB report is showing the reality of a gradual improvement in the housing market—but expect this from Rutenberg, since he’s also chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. And Rutenberg went on to say that as soon as the housing business is back on it’s feet, he expects to see the economy and jobs market recover.

What?  That’s not how it works.  The jobs have to come back to make the economy correct, and then—and only then—will the new home business get back on it’s feet.  Here in Florida, we’ve been hit harder than almost any other part of the country in this housing crisis and it’s not going to be a fast recovery no matter how much we would all like to see that happen.  But jobs have to come first.

But let’s take a minute to look between the headlines—what will it take to get the jobs back?  Rutenberg suggests more college education will be needed to fill the jobs that will keep America strong.  On the one hand, it’s great to hear some leaders, at least, are anxious to keep America in the forefront of worldwide business.  On the other hand, the diploma business (formerly called higher education) has become another of our outdated and over-rated business, populated with over-paid administration and under motivated instructors, teaching required courses that have almost no application to real world use.
There was a time when a willing employee first took on an apprenticeship and learned a business from the ground up.  Granted this probably has more application to manufacturing than to high technology, but the apprenticeship made sure the employee knew the ropes (as they used to say on tall ships).  Today an apprenticeship can be found in military service, or perhaps in a Jr. college with internships.  But generally, when a newly minted graduate accepts a job, he or she is really not ready to contribute, and must still undergo some kind of additional company training.
So much for all the student loans, expensive text books, courses of study that lead nowhere, crappy apartments and beer drinking contests.  After four years of what college has become, it’s no wonder that we get the Occupy Wall Street types who are now certain they should get free education forever, and law graduates who sue their law college for misleading them that they would get a good job upon graduation.
Come on people, there’s no free lunch.  Take a long look at college presidents and bloated administrators who make huge salaries every year running institutions that turn out over-educated disgruntled 20-somethings.  It’s time to forget the 4-year programs that don’t prepare students for real jobs and get back to teaching what’s needed for the student to become personally successful and will make that graduate aware of what’s needed in the American work force. Make it a one or two—or even a three year diploma, but make it count for something.
Advances in robotics and software, are already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America.  Consumers want to “Buy American”. Web-enabled cell phones, notebooks and tablets are creating vast new possibilities and today bring high-quality, low-cost education not just to every community college and public school but also to every home.  And with that, plain old Americans can afford to acquire the skills to learn 21st-century jobs. Cloud computing is giving anyone with a creative spark cheap, powerful tools to start a company with very little money.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional practicing in Florida and New Hampshire.  You can reach him by email at or on the web at

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