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Josh King ask A good question this week: “Why does there seem to be a shortage of employees everywhere in the country except for higher education?”

I remember that in the late 90s, during the first Internet boom, I wanted to know the same thing. The academic job market in liberal arts is cruel, even if Pets.com is booming. This disconnect is now even more pronounced.

But I will add some qualifiers to this question. From the perspective of a community college, some fields are easy to recruit, while others are much more difficult.

For example, last year we opened three full-time positions for the School of Nursing. We have three applicants. This makes the interview process relatively simple, but I admit that crossing your fingers is good. (They are. Wow!) We have been trying to fill a full-time automotive technical position for a year. We have conducted many searches for cyber security instructors, but so far have been unsuccessful. At the same time, when we post a position in English, we will receive dozens of highly qualified applicants.

As far as I know, the common denominator in areas that are difficult to hire is strong industry demand (and the high salaries that come with it). As nurses, nurses can make more money than they can teach us, so we must hope that this job is attractive enough and worth the sacrifice. In contrast, in many humanities and social sciences, there are not so many high-paying alternatives to choose from.

In the environment of collective bargaining, there is a need for salary consistency across fields within the college, but inconsistent salary across fields outside the college is opposed. I have had many frustrating experiences when they realized the seriousness of the pay cut they had to accept and let other interested and very attractive candidates leave.

Strangely, this phenomenon-well known to practitioners in this field-is completely absent in most policy discussions on labor development. If we are to prepare students in fields such as cybersecurity-we know that this field is in great demand-then we need qualified teachers. Those who are qualified to teach it can make more money elsewhere. We need to significantly and continuously increase operating capital to attract and retain these people. In a collective bargaining environment, we either need to target a particular category in certain fields, or we need enough money to pay everyone in the size of the field with the highest demand. I can prove from direct experience that it is not common to ask people who earn 200k in this field to work for us 65k. Therefore, the areas that many policy makers most want us to emphasize are actually outside the scope of the discussion, or limited to a very small scale. Economic hotspots in these areas make it more difficult for them to recruit.

Nevertheless, the initial problems still exist in many traditional academic fields. We know many basic reasons: Baumol’s cost disease, the pyramid structure of graduate education, public divestments, and (in many fields) the decline in the number of 18-year-olds all play a role. Tenure will also reduce turnover. When you combine negative growth in enrollment with systemic low turnover, slow recruitment is a predictable result. The climbing wall and the lazy river are red herrings. If these are important, community colleges will be hiring frantically. they are not. The same goes for “administrative” expenditures. If this is the problem, community colleges-the lowest administrative level so far-will be hiring frantically. they are not.

At the cultural level, part of the problem is the spread of market fundamentalism, which is deeply skeptical of any defenseless public enterprise. If you have money, hiring is easy; the core of the problem is that we have decided not to channel funds in this way. This tendency has ugly roots, but many of its supporters do not understand its history or consider its impact. The most effective ideology is that you don’t even know the ideology you hold; you just treat it as a fact. You would think that the history of the 20th century will warn people to stay away from despotism, but market despotism still exists. It survived the Great Depression and is often referred to as “realism”. But this is a mistake, because despotism is often like this.

A more pragmatic version of realism may admit that training staff for high-paying jobs needs to lure teachers out of these high-paying jobs. This requires high salaries, and these require funding. If we summarize from the English department, we may not see this.

Thanks to Josh Kim for asking the right question. I hope we can start to make this question moot in some way.

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