New York spends over 80% more per public school pupil than the national average (Educational Finance Branch, 2017). The state aggressively pushes students into the public university system hoping to gain a competitive edge in what many economists refer to as the “Brain Race”. Despite such exorbitant use of taxpayer funds, young New Yorkers continue to depart the state in droves, seeking better opportunities than those found locally.
Perhaps more troubling is the stratification of populations gains and losses across the state. Downstate New York has enjoyed slight growth and economic gains, while upstate New York has experienced population decline and economic stagnation. Unfortunately, the trends have not offset the impact to the state as a whole- a definite harbinger of future economic calamity.
This paper will examine the role of public education, with respect to both K-12 and state level universities, and how these resources have reached the current state of inadequacy. Additionally, through this publication, suggestions will be offered at how New York can become greater educational innovators and reverse the dismal state of the Department of Education.
As such an economic powerhouse, it is difficult to understand why, in more recent years, New York has suffered from a troubling population drop. According to the Empire Center for Public Policy (Blaine, 2017), during the twelve-month period ending on 1 July 2016, the population in New York’s downstate region, including The City and its suburbs, grew by less than 22,000 over the previous year. This was not enough to cover the shortfall from the number of people leaving upstate New York- a trend that has continued over a span of time. While downstate sees moderate population growth, upstate often loses more substantial numbers of residents, resulting in an overall flat-to-negative population growth.
Generally speaking, variances in population are an indication of a lacking job market which makes employment opportunity, or the lack thereof, an excellent gauge of a state’s competitiveness. New York saw unemployment decline to 4.6 for fiscal year 2016 (DiNapoli, 2017), however, it is imperative to note that the distribution of these ostensible employment gains was incredibly stratified.
The majority of these gains were enjoyed by The City (4.2% unemployment rate) and 11 metropolitan suburbs including Ithaca, Dutchess and Putnam counties. While this is a slight boon for these areas, regions including Mohawk Valley, central New York, western New York, North Country and the Southern Tier saw lower rates of unemployment not as a function of economic growth, but of population loss. In short, unemployment fell simply because there were fewer residents in these areas. There are numerous reasons for this decline, but one major cause stems from the lack of relevant training for necessary skills that fulfill employers’ needs in the modern job market.
Among economists there is a belief that the growth of job market competition is no longer being driven by the advantages of cheap labor and abundant resources. Instead we see expansion driven by the pace of technology and innovation (Lane, 2012) and employers’ desire to harness these tools as well as the individuals best equipped to utilize them. Therefore, states that wish to remain at or near the top of the hill are expected to invest heavily in their higher education systems, and, by extension, in the lower division schools that feed their universities. In this great “brain race”, each state seeks to gain an advantage over others by increasing the number of qualified, educated workers available in their respective workforces.
While a discussion of how this dynamic works between states would is a worthy endeavor, it is outside the scope of this brief study. This “brain race” can also occur intrastate- between divergent and specialized regions. As a result, the state legislature pushes policy that is focused on supplying public and private universities with an ever-growing number of students in the hopes of creating international and domestic economic advantages.
In a twist of fate, has emphasis on higher education contributed to a lack of economic competitiveness within our state? Before answering this question, special consideration must be given to how the state funds secondary schools and the relationships between secondary schools and the higher education sector.
Although education is wholly considered a local issue, it is susceptible to influence by federal and state matters due to reception of funding at these levels. For fiscal year 2017-2018, the NYC Department of Education spent some $30.8 billion on public schools, minus $6.5 billion for the serving of pensions and other debts (NYC Department of Education, 2017). In total, the state spent nearly $60 billion- averaging $20,744 per public pupil. While this is down from the $21,206 in 2014-2015 (Empire Center for Public Policy, 2017), it still represents a level of spending far beyond the national average. From this sum, $14,769 per pupil went to instructional salaries and benefits which was 114% higher than the national average for instructional salaries and benefits, a figure that was higher than the entire Pre-K through 12 spending in 42 states.
As previously mentioned, the 700 school districts across New York spend 86% above the US average per pupil. To put this in perspective, the state of Texas educates nearly twice as many students as New York and spends $44 billion per year. With the vast difference in per pupil outlay, surely New York students have performed better than their peers from states with less money invested in education? Although apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult due to the wide variances in reporting performance indicators from state to state, data derived from metrics that are roughly standardized across the board suggests the results are contradictory:
It is apparent that the generous outlay of funds going towards public K-12 education does not generate superior results, or aid in the state’s economic competitiveness. Now we will examine the current state of the public university system. In 2017-2018 ,the State University of New York system (SUNY) was comprised of 431,855 undergraduates, 391,417 graduate students, and 1.1 million adult education students distributed among 64 campuses statewide. Its state-funded, NYC-bound counterpart, the City University of New York (CUNY), has roughly 270,000 students enrolled across 24 campuses, making it the third largest public university system behind the State of California system, and SUNY.
Between SUNY, CUNY, and the community colleges attached to them, the state provides roughly $7 billion in direct assistance, as well as $1 billion in financial assistance to students via scholarships, tuition assistance and loan forgiveness programs (NY State Division of the Budget, 2017). Additionally, the Excelsior Scholarship program provides tuition-free attendance for students whose families make up to $125,000 per year. An additional $700 million has been set aside for capital and innovation improvements via the SUNY and CUNY 2020 programs.
Of course, the greater portion of university funding comes via tuition and fees, which, for native New Yorkers in 2017-2018 was an average of $7940, with tuition and fees for out-of-state students at approximately $19500 (College Board, 2018). Both of these statistics fall well below the median figure for tuition at publicly funded colleges and universities.
As this paper has already suggested, the issue with these enormous state expenditures promoting the enrollment of millions of college graduates, is a question of legitimate demand. At any given time, there are 1.2 million students in New York’s public university system, yet by 2024, there will only be an additional 3.5 million jobs within the state that require a degree of some kind. Most of these opportunities will be concentrated within The City, around Rochester, or within the government sector in Albany. The market cannot absorb all of these graduates which creates a situation with many indebted and disenchanted college graduates unable to find work commensurate with their education. This has resulted in the current hard-pressed job market we see in New York- we have become a state persistently losing people with a less competitive state economy within the national market as well.
Ironically, there is a shortage of qualified labor on the other side of the scale. Skilled trades including carpenters, electricians and machinists face an aging workforce, that is confronted with a lack of replacements to fill the rate of retirements (Division of Research and Statistics, 2016). The average age of workers within this sector is higher than the average age of all employees within the state (42), with the median skilled tradesmen falling between the ages of 45 and 54 years old.
Of special importance is the fact that at $45,830, the median salary for these trade occupations, is approximately 8.3% higher than the median salary of all other occupations, which is $42,340.The spread in NYC is even more pronounced; median salary for these middle-skill jobs is roughly $31.88 per hour, with the median hourly living wage (the theoretical hourly wage needed to meet basic needs as a function of the local cost of living) is $20.93 (JPMorgan Chase & Co., 2014) More importantly, 10-year growth projections are consistently 4% higher than that of non-skilled trades.
If the demand for skilled laborers remains flat, there would be 25,000 openings a year, with 13,110 of those requiring a replacement from outside the current workforce. However, demand is expected to actually grow by about 17% by 2024 with an even greater likelihood of exceeding such projections. The reason for suggesting such growth stems from a direct relationship between the demand for such trade professionals and the number that is available within the pool of employees. Unfortunately, the lack of replacement workers negates the possibility of this potential expansion.
The vast majority of these jobs which require specialized training or apprenticeships do not require a college degree. Moreover, apprenticeship programs often aid the economic well-being of students by offering an opportunity to earn income while they are training. These programs typically offer a combination of classroom and on-the-job educational components.
We simply cannot afford to continue spending 86% more than the national average per pupil only to feed a public university system that heavily subsidizes college education. An education that comes at such a great expense to students who then receive degrees that will not actually culminate in employment.
There are too many graduates for too few employment opportunities, and with the notable exception of STEM graduates, that is not likely to change. Additionally, we cannot afford to continue having those students in whom we have invested so much leave our state for better opportunities elsewhere- a future the old New York can no longer promise. Of course, providing a recitation of the problem is all too easy. What solutions can we offer?
We propose to add an extra element of choice into the system- one that addresses both the need for additional college graduates as well as the need for growth in the that number of skilled tradespeople. Most people will have an average of five careers over the course of their lifetime. Instead of coercing students onto a college path that leaves them with unjustified debt and an inability to find gainful employment, we will encourage students to peruse several additional options that are economically sound for the future of a new New York.
Beginning with the K-12 paradigm, we propose leaving the current system as it already is up to the 10th grade. At that point, most of the major schoolwork has already been completed and most remaining courses are electives and, for many students, college prep. Grades 11 and 12 disappear under this paradigm, with specific caveats. Students may go to a BOCES (facilitating in-state movement and familiarity), trade school, work, college, or any other option they find advantageous.
A range of options would be made available for students following the completion of the tenth grade. These alternatives would repurpose the funding normally used for the students’ final two years of secondary school education for in-state job-training programs at the prevailing out-of-state tuition rate. If choosing an apprenticeship, the students’ funding can help defray the training costs incurred by the employer. If the student elects to directly enter the workforce these funds would be earmarked for the students’ later use if and when the decision is made to advance their education.
Moreover, for those who would like to begin college, an option to use the final two years to earn an Associate’s degree at in-state colleges would be available. To ascertain readiness, all students will be offered the General Education Diploma (GED) exam, the Regents Examinations, and the international baccalaureate exams free of charge. To prevent colleges from raising tuition due to respond to a potential increase in the demand for higher education, high schools could also offer college courses offering direct competition for community colleges and universities, and a productive use for otherwise empty rooms. This would also help curb potential layoffs for secondary school teachers.
Another added benefit results from aiding students in making better decisions sooner- more specifically, the recognition of whether or not college is right for them at the beginning of their career path. Most importantly, it would help ascertain this before they are tens of thousands of dollars in debt having obtained a degree that they may have to leave New York to use. Such paradigms generate a consistently bad returns on educational investments for our state, which, as previously indicated, results in a lack of competitiveness that is not sustainable. It also benefits publicly funded colleges and universities, by guaranteeing more qualified local entrants, and attenuates the costs of a full university education by two years. It will also encourage the members of our publicly funded educational systems to cooperate and share resources, further negating overall costs in this sector.
This is only the beginning. While we are not naive enough to believe that that this will solve all of the problems within New York’s Department of Education, we are certain these policies will create a better way for students to choose how to best utilize our budgetary constraints. The outcome is the creation of a more competitive market for all students, so they may enjoy a full and useful education while discovering valuable skills necessary to supply the local job market with qualified employees. We need men and women who can operate and maintain farm and mining equipment just as much as we need analysts on Wall Street, or engineers in Rochester, and, more importantly, we need to keep them all in New York.
This begins by changing the range of choices made available to New York students. The market is not creating enough jobs for us to continue a bachelor’s or bust mentality. We are perpetuating an inadequate educational system if we do not incorporate options to fund the training and apprenticeship for non-degree jobs- employment opportunities that will increase in both demand and salary. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being active participants in the “Brain Race”, there is everything wrong with pursuing single-minded advantages that it results in a total brain drain.
We are New Yorkers. We set trends. We innovate. Most of all, we lead while creating a path for others to follow. We must cease following and get back to leading our state to the educational outcomes required for a new New York.
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College Board. (2018). 2017-18 Tuition and Fees at Public Four-Year Institutions by State and Five-Year Percentage Change in In-State Tuition and Fees. Retrieved from Trends in Higher Education: https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/2017-18-state-tuition-and-fees-public-four-year-institutions-state-and-five-year-percentage
DiNapoli, T. P. (2017). Labor Force Trends in New York State. Albany, NY: Office of the New York State Comptroller.
Division of Research and Statistics. (2016). The Skilled Trades in New York State. Albany, NY: New York State Department of Labor.
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Educational Finance Branch. (2017). Public Education Finances: 2015. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/econ/g15-aspef.pdf
Empire Center for Public Policy. (2017). NY’s stratospheric school spending. Albany, NY: Empire Center for Public Policy. Retrieved from https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/nys-stratospheric-school-spending/
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (2014). CLOSING THE SKILLS GAP: PREPARING NEW YORKERS FOR HIGH-GROWTH, HIGH-DEMAND, MIDDLE-SKILL JOBS . New York: JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Lane, J. E. (2012). Higher Education and Economic Competitiveness. In J. E. Lane, & D. B. Johnstone (Eds.), Colleges and Universities as Economic Drivers: Measuring Higher Education's Contribution to Economic Development (pp. 1-20). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
NY State Division of the Budget. (2017). FY 2018 Executive Budget Briefing Book. Albany, NY: NY State Division of the Budget.
NYC Department of Education. (2017). DOE Overview: What Is in the Overall Budget. Retrieved from NYC Department of Education: http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm
Perry, M. J. (2018, May 8). Putting America’s enormous $19.4T economy into perspective by comparing US state GDPs to entire countries. Retrieved from American Enteeprise Institute: http://www.aei.org/publication/putting-americas-enormous-19-4t-economy-into-perspective-by-comparing-us-state-gdps-to-entire-countries/
MAY 12, 2018
LARRY SHARPE FOR GOVERNOR | https://www.larrysharpe.com
 For more information on state and local school funding, visit: http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm
 BOCES, or Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, are shared educational programs between different districts within the state of New York. Created by the legislature in 1948, the program allows smaller districts to pool resources, as well as students to move between districts.