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Community Colleges and Worker Bees April 5, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Science.
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Community Colleges are often treated as the poor stepsisters of higher education—less funding, less prestige, and less political clout than 4-year schools.

But it is generally acknowledged that they are essential to the development of a workforce. In terms of sheer numbers, community colleges educate more people than any other component of the higher education system.

And during a recession, we expect enrollments to increase (despite draconian budget cuts) as people who are unemployed use that time as an opportunity to increase job skills or qualifications.

But as Matt Yglesias points out, retraining workers is even more important for pulling us out of this recession than in the past.

…there’s at least one factor indicating that recovery is harder on present circumstances than it was during the Great Depression—our much higher level of human capital…[During the great depression] A majority of Americans hadn’t so much as set foot inside a high school. These days, about 80 percent of Americans have a high school diploma and about a quarter have a bachelor’s degree…

This reflects a large-scale increase in the skill-level of the population which has done a great deal to drive prosperity. But it also points to a problem with recovering from economic downturns in modern circumstances. Unskilled workers do work that, by definition, requires few skills…That means that an unskilled worker can, broadly speaking, be a generalist. If there’s a downturn in demand for maids in a given labor market but an uptick in demand for CVS cashiers, then unskilled workers can shift from one sector to another without much of a problem. Skills, by contrast, tend to be somewhat specialized.

This prolonged recession is likely to produce structural shifts in the economy, as entire industries (e.g. automobiles, newspapers) either disappear or endure severe retrenchment.

That means many more workers will have to undertake extensive re-training, which of course takes time and resources. Community colleges can do it cheaper and faster. But our recovery will be delayed and growth limited if that retraining cannot take place because of budget cuts.

But speaking of cheap and fast retraining, scientists report that:

Female worker bees begin adult life working in the hive, doing such things as taking care of the baby bees. By around 2-3 weeks of age, however – roughly equivalent to middle age in human years -they make a major career change, switching to foraging for nectar and pollen…

Anyway, foraging requires new skills…

Researchers from Brazil and Cuba analyzed hundreds of bee brains, comparing proteins produced at the direction of genes in nurses vs. foragers. The brains of nurse bees have higher levels of proteins involved in caste determination in the complex society of these insects. The brains of experienced foragers, on the other hand, have more proteins linked to other vital activities, such as energy production. Their proteomes (the set of proteins expressed by their genes) are quite different, the scientists conclude.

Apparently, bee brains change in middle-age to enable a job change

Could protein injections be the future of community-college education?

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Comments»

1. Paul Moloney - April 9, 2009

It may be a good thing that the community colleges seemingly have less prestige, at least in regards to philosophy. The community college can give one the opportunity to focus more on philosophy than prestige and status. It is better for a thinker to receive their status and prestige through their thinking rather than through the institution with which they may be associated. Harvard is not, of itself, going to make anyone a better philosopher. People like James, Royce, Santayana and Peirce have given Harvard some of its prestige. One would be better off studying their works than going to Harvard, all things being equal. It is far better to give prestige to an institution than to receive it from an institution. One may have much status in being associated with a certain school while having little, if any, status in being a philosophical thinker.


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