Monday, November 14, 2011

Does your school need a football team?

60 Minutes did a good profile of UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski last night.  These aspects of UMBC stand out:

"Much of the hard work at UMBC is in science, engineering and math which accounted for 41 percent of the bachelor's degrees earned there last year - well above the national average of 25 percent. Nationwide, most college students who start off in the sciences either change to a different major or don't graduate. UMBC keeps undergrads engaged by including them in research typically left to graduate students...Students can also get jobs and internships at one of 76 companies located on campus. Most are technology startups...(But) one thing you won't find at UMBC..."

A football team. The chess team is great, but there is no football team.  

Hrabowski: "People talk about that. Right. I mean, well-- well, first of all, it takes a lot of money for a football team to win." (emphasis mine)

The rest of the piece is worth reading or watching. So long as the U.S. is graduating fewer math and science majors than it did 25 years ago,  the less it is accumulating capital and productivity growth for the future. UMBC is pushing the other direction, and to do so it recruits and invests in training students and measuring themselves by whether they actually graduate rather than devoting millions to developing "student-athletes" who may never graduate (I put "student-athlete" in quotes since it is a term invented by the NCAA with huge legal ramifications as pointed out in the Taylor Branch piece I think everyone should read).

As a nation, we need to figure out what we want more of-- a higher standard of living or just better sports.  I vote for the former. 

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