Thoughts on the Obama higher ed plan

First, I’ve never been impressed with government ability to pick winners and losers (NIH and NSF are such successful agencies precisely because they emphasize peer review). Second, as Tyler Cowen pointed out, there will be colleges that game the system–just as they do with the US News ratings today. Third, in my opinion, the underlying problem is the macro-withdrawal of state support for the public institutions that used to be the core of affordable higher ed. This withdrawal is what has generated the large increases in tuition–this contrary to much of the conventional wisdom on this issue. The Obama higher ed plan without any substantive change in state support creates a zero-sum game for the colleges, but it’s not going to be able to magically solve the problem.

Finally, I can’t conceive that this plan will be able to make its way through the paralyzed Congress–at least now.

So I’m skeptical.

Stay tuned….

Fall arrives at the Krasnow Institute

In the last 36 hours, the weather has changed here in the Washington D.C. area. Here at the Institute, ¬†you definitely need a jacket to head outside and the tulip poplar trees outside the great room are now turning bright yellow. It makes for a nice natural¬†amalgam of Mason’s university colors.

As if to echo the pathetic fallacy of the seasonal change, the presidential campaign has also undergone a phase shift following the first debate…the outcome of the election seems much more uncertain than it did last week, with potentially important consequences for the fiscal cliff, generally, and science funding specifically.

If Romney were in fact elected President a month from now, I would view a lame duck Obama administration as much more likely to agree to substantive compromise on the Bush tax cuts. Were that to be true, then perhaps the draconian cuts to science funding might be avoided.

On the other hand, it might be that a lame duck President Obama might view allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as a legacy contribution towards fixing the fiscal problems of the country…

Back to the grid

Later this afternoon, I’m headed back to DC from Wintergreen. It’s been an incredibly relaxing week (I finished Obama’s book “Dreams from my Father”) and greatly enjoyed the fact that Ken DeJong, our Associate Director, was running the Institute for Advanced Study with a fine steady hand.

I’m pleased to report that there were no bear sightings this time around, just lots of deer and of course the diversity of warblers that makes the Blue Ridge famous.
In the coming week, I’ll be thinking a lot about the Decade of the Mind initiative in the context of what’s now being called Science 2.0–analogous to Web 2.0. What might “mind sciences” accomplish through greater collaborations, better data-sharing and some powerful databases (like NeuroMorpho.org).
Jim