Lately, there has been a lot of news about a possible recession in our economy. At first I only cared because I was worried about my stocks and how they would be affected. They didn’t do well, considering almost everything I had invested in posted record-breaking losses for 2007. But I’m over that, and I have now begun to wonder what else this recession will have in store for me and other college students around the country.
Recessions are usually proceeded by decreases in business and consumer confidence. In bad times, people are more cautious with their money and consume less, while businesses, concerned with their bottom lines, tighten spending and investments that have little short-term return.
A decrease in investment is what hurts us the most. Even though we are at a private university, our education is substantially subsidized by philanthropic and commercial investment. The University receives considerable funding from individuals, corporations and the government, which is used to build the University’s endowment and finance our education. While the endowment performed well in the fiscal year that ended in June, I can only imagine that the recent turmoil in investment markets has not been kind to it.
I doubt the University is in financial trouble, though decreased investment and donation could have noticeable effects on the quality of our education. Maybe Robert Goergen wouldn’t have been so generous if the economy had been performing poorly when he pledged $10 million toward the construction of the new BME/Optics building. Alumni donate to scholarship funds, which enable us to afford the part of our education that is financed by tuition.
So what does this mean for us? We know the University is trying to expand, and to do that it will have to increase its faculty substantially. Increasing the size of the faculty is not inexpensive. New office space, laboratories, collaborative research partnerships and professorships may require significant outside investment. A recession makes this harder, and if the economy doesn’t improve, something is going to have to give. With resources spread thin, a poorly financed expansion could lead to a lower-quality education for us and future students.
Also, if you are interested in a summer internship or research position, be prepared for a harder than usual search and expect positions that may have been paid in the past to become volunteer. While businesses know how important it is to get students primed for future employment, internship positions may be the first to go as budgets shrink and companies consider downsizing. Labs that rely on government grants to finance student employment will not be able to hire if money is tight.
Locked up in an ivory tower, it is easy to consider yourself immune from the happenings of the real world. This is especially true of the economy, which has for most of our lifetime seen substantial growth due to technological advancements and rapid deployment of infrastructure. But things may be changing, and while we won’t be devastated by a recession, its effects may certainly be real.
Green is a member of the class of 2010.