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Community college delivers real value

 

With the national debate about tax reform heating up, you’ll be hearing a lot about the difference between marginal and average tax rates. It’s an important distinction – and the concept doesn’t just apply to taxes. Postsecondary education is another area where the “fallacy of the average” often rears its problematic head.

To put it simply, what is true “on average” does not necessarily provide useful guidance about what will happen, or what one ought to do, in a particular case.

You experience this difference all the time, even if you don’t realize it. In sports, for example, Jones may be a better player than Smith in general. But if the other team plays Brown, Smith matches up better than Jones, so the coach makes a substitution.

In business, the distinction is critical. The average cost of producing a product is usually different than the marginal cost of producing the next unit of that product because of up-front costs, limited capacity or efficiency gains that come from experience.

To apply the concept to tax policy, it’s important to understand that if income taxes, for example, have a significant effect on the individual decisions of employers, employees, investors and consumers, the effect typically occurs on the margin, not on average. If I work harder, add a second job, add a new product line or make a new investment, how much of the new income can I expect to lose to taxes? This future tax loss may be much higher than the tax burden I already shoulder.

I mentioned that a less-familiar application of the principle can be found in post-secondary education and training. Fortunately, two American Enterprise Institute scholars, Mark Schneider and Rooney Columbus, have just produced a fascinating study that illustrates the effect in the education markets of three states: Florida, Texas and Tennessee.

On average, students who pursue and earn bachelor’s degrees certainly do have higher lifetime incomes than those who earn associate degrees, who in turn make more money than those who get post-high school certificates, who in turn make more money than those whose formal education ends with high school.

But these relationships between averages don’t necessarily mean that any specific person would be better off economically by foregoing community college or the working world and enrolling in a university. Circumstances matter. Some young people who don’t go on to universities have concluded quite properly that they aren’t likely to succeed there – either because of academic preparation, distance from home or preexisting responsibilities. You can’t assume that the population of those already university-bound is equivalent in every relevant respect from the population of those who aren’t – or that any differences are purely matters of finances that can be eliminated by larger subsidies.

More importantly, students don’t get an “average” bachelor’s degree. They get degrees in particular subjects from particular schools. It turns out that there is a very wide variation in post-graduation earnings, a variation that is masked by “average” lifetime incomes.

For some careers and individuals, it makes more sense to pursue less-expensive education or training at community colleges. One report estimated that 28 percent of holders of associate degrees have higher incomes than the median income of those with bachelor’s degrees.

In their own study, Schneider and Columbus looked at careers with the highest rates of return on investment. Many of them required community college, not university training, such as allied health and electronics technicians in Florida, fire protection and quality-control experts in Texas and automotive technicians and computer-assisted designers in Tennessee.

Boosting personal incomes and the overall economy aren’t the sole purposes of higher education or even the most important ones. I think the study of arts and sciences has great intrinsic value (although it need not occur in expensive campus settings). For many young people deciding what to do after high school, however, career preparation is a high priority. They shouldn’t let the fallacy of the average obscure what North Carolina’s ubiquitous and impressive community colleges have to offer.

 

FTCC offers advice on phishing emails: 'Think before you click!'

 

42PhishingTen years ago, most of us had never heard the term “cybersecurity.”  Now, the term surfaces across our news feeds on a monthly, weekly, or – unfortunately – daily basis. As an instructor at Fayetteville Technical Community College, I like to use the catch phrase “think before you click” with my students. With the influx of mobile technology combined with years of using computers, we tend to click away well before we have the chance to think about the possible repercussions of that action. Let’s face it, technology today is woven into American society from the home, the workplace, government and private-sector business. 

Every October, we computer nerds pay homage to this situation through National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. So I chose this topic to promote cybersecurity and remind everyone to think before you click.

One area we all deal with daily is email. Most organizations work hard to prevent malicious email from showing up in inboxes. But no matter how hard the good guys work to stop malicious email, the bad guys also work hard and are savvy. Eventually, some emails will make it through the system. Some of the most effective attacks have come from phishing emails. Just do a web search on this term, and you will be surprised. A phishing email is an email created to look like a valid email with the goal of tricking the recipient into sharing sensitive information or clicking on something that could allow malicious software to be loaded onto a computer.

What can you do to prevent becoming a victim of a phishing attack? 

1. If you do not recognize where an email comes from, consider deleting it or report it to your technology department before opening it.

2. Remember that no reputable bank is ever going to email you and ask you to click a link to reset your password. Some emails are sent out during tax season telling recipients they owe money to the IRS or were made to look like employee benefits would be lost if the desired action is not taken. The people who orchestrate cyber attacks know that fear is a powerful tool. If you receive an email about sensitive information (banking, taxes, insurance, etc.) and it looks legitimate, before taking any action with the email, simply call your company representative to speak with an actual person who can confirm that they sent the email. 

3. Make sure to use good passwords, change them frequently and do not use important banking passwords for leisure websites.

4. Have an antivirus program on your machine and keep it up to date. 

5. Most importantly, avoid clicking on any hyperlinks or popup windows unless you are 100 percent positive they are safe. The bad guys write software code that can launch malicious software on your machine even if you think you are simply clicking on that little “x” to close the window. 

Keep in mind that your phone is just as vulnerable to cyber attacks as your computer, so make sure to follow the same safety protocols no matter how you are accessing the internet.

Remember, a phishing email could look like anything. So how can you be sure you don’t become a victim of a cyber attack? Simply think before you click. For more information about cyber security, go to Stop Think Connect Toolkit from the Department of Homeland Security. You can learn more about FTCC’s Systems Security and Analysis program at www.faytechcc.edu.

 

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