There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, though unfortunately the tunnel appears to miss Kansas.

A frontpage article in today’s Wall Street Journal reports state legislatures around the country are experiencing revenue growth, with 47 states reporting increased tax revenues last year.  Recognizing the returns on investment in education, many state legislators are increasing budgets for higher education.  Although these allocations did drop in nearly all states following the 2007-8 financial meltdown, 32 states increased funding to public colleges and universities last year, up from 17 states the year before.  Current year state budgets are not yet known.

I have reported on the positive effect a college degree has on graduate employment and earnings.  Rates of return from an educated population are more difficult to quantify, yet are evident in community decision making and local quality of life measures.  Returns on research often initiated in university labs and offices has been quantified, with social rates of return on agricultural research (pardon my bias) reported to be between 40-60 percent.  Links between Silicon Valley, the Highway 128 corridor, and the Research Triangle and their local university clusters have been confirmed in many analyses (”University entrepreneurship and technology transfer” – Special Issue. Management Science, January 2002).

Universities around the country have sought tuition increases to offset state cutbacks.  Students in Wisconsin are even debating raising tuition on themselves to increase faculty salaries.  This is a very nice gesture and reflects the students’ awareness of the value of a motivated faculty to their education, but should embarrass Wisconsin state legislators.

In short, like other businesses and institutions, universities have gone through the necessary budget challenges necessitated by the financial shortfalls of the last six years.  It is reassuring to know, that in some states at least, state legislators are recommending the budget improvements to drive their state economies forward. 

It is now the Department’s turn.

The University has published its draft of the Vision 2025 plan.  As all know, the University has targeted seven major themes:

  1. Research, scholarly, & creative activities and discovery
  2. Undergraduate educational experience
  3. Graduate scholarly experience
  4. Engagement, extension, outreach and service
  5. Faculty & staff
  6. Facilities & infrastructure
  7. Athletics

Discussion of the themes and objectives and targets for their achievement are included on the K-State website: http://www.k-state.edu/2025/.

The College of Agriculture and KSRE have published their draft V25 plan, and is currently inviting feedback.  College V25 information is available at http://www.strategicplan.ag.ksu.edu/. Changing the format from the University’s approach, the College and KSRE has set a vision of being one of the top five colleges of agriculture in the nation, and KSRE will be among the leading destinations for education, research, and extension.  Four College/KSRE goals are identified:

  1. “Provide students and citizens with the knowledge and education needed to lead and advance agriculture and related fields;
  2. “Contribute integrated solutions for meeting and adapting to the “grand challenges” in dryland plant, animal, and food systems;
  3. “Enhance the quality of life and livelihoods of people and their communities; and
  4. “Build our human capacity and infrastructure to meet our vision and goals.”

Please read the College draft plan and make comments and suggestions as needed before the April 26 deadline.

The Department must finalize a plan guiding our directions consistent with the University’s (Top 50) and the College’s (Top 5) vision.  I will meet with the program coordinators to discuss a planning approach.  I anticipate laying out an approach before the end of the semester, thinking a lot this summer, and then solidifying a departmental V25 plan during the fall.  As I said at the faculty meeting a week ago, we have numerous outstanding traditional and emerging programs resulting from faculty, student, and staff efforts.  Although we are at the preliminary stages, the planning process will allow us to fit these pieces together in defining who we are, how we meet our mission, and what we need to do to achieve a multiplicity of goals, including V25 goals, providing moral, financial, and facility support for faculty and staff, maintaining and improving our excellent undergraduate and graduate programs, and ensuring positive impacts of all of our educational, research, and extension efforts on the people of Kansas, the nation, and the world.

It was very rewarding to spend the day yesterday in Salina at the North Central Board meeting of the Kansas Farm Management Association.  Coupled with the biannual meeting of the full Board were interviews of two candidates for a replacement fieldman position in the Association, returning the Association to its traditional complement of three economists.  Following the candidates’ presentations, the Board spent considerable time debating which of the candidates should be hired.  Ultimately, there was general agreement that both candidates could be excellent additions to the Association.  Offers were thus extended to both candidates, and there is a likelihood that the number of KFMA fieldmen in the North Central Association will increase by one.  Underlying this decision was an agreed sense of the value of the economic analysis that KFMA provides the individual farmer-members of the Associations.

Although the objective is to improve the quality of the analysis the Department’s Fieldmen can perform and not just increase member numbers, both statewide membership and the number of families and/or individuals served by KFMA have increased about 5% between 2007 and 2012.

As I mentioned, the Board’s discussion and perception of value was very rewarding.  KFMA has been in existence since 1931, has undergone numerous changes since its inception, and is now poised to further improve the quality of analysis useful to members.  Many of the recent changes have resulted from adoption of a new data management system and expansion of the whole farm and enterprise budget reports members now receive.  The data has also allowed a number of research projects by faculty and students in the Department to analyze trends facing the state’s agricultural industry. 

KFMA continues to serve as an ideal partnership between this public university and the many private farms contributing time, effort, and financial support to ensure the program’s viability.

Cherie Hodgson gave me a fascinating set of numbers this morning.  We talk of the pig in the python with respect to new student enrollments.  Some are saying that certainly 2012 was the last year we will see such a big incoming class: new student numbers will start falling.

Well, maybe this will happen next year.  According to Cherie’s numbers, new freshman and transfer student numbers at the beginning of February, 2013 are 44% higher than they were a year ago.  Of the 137 new admissions this year (so far), 77% are in agribusiness and 23% are in agricultural economics.

We discussed filling our teaching needs with respect to Orlen’s December retirement in a meeting the other day.  We have not yet solved the problem of meeting program needs in AGEC 318, AGEC 420, and AGEC 115.  Add to these imminent gaps the soon-to-be-seen teaching gaps in micro-economics principles, in AGEC 202, 220, 505, 520, and in AGEC 632.  Whether courses that provide service to students throughout the College, required courses for our own majors, or electives for the advanced preparation of our students, we have a long tradition of providing high quality learning experiences for the students in our classes.

Growth in demand sure beats the alternative. However, we do need to address how to meet either continuing growth or at least a continuation of large numbers of students selecting AGEC courses.  New hires will be necessary, and can be justified by the large number of Student Credit Hours (i.e., tuition dollars!) that we generate.  Adoption of new technologies to enhance learning and increase efficiency, greater reliance on non-faculty teachers and teaching support, and realignment of teaching responsibilities are a very small part of the set of all options we should be considering.  Think of this as a constrained optimization problem which, as economists, we are very good at solving.

This will be a continuing dialogue as we fulfill our mission over the next few months and far into the future.

     Thomas Friedman, author of, among other titles, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World is Flat, and Hot, Flat, and Crowded, published a column in this morning’s New York Times extolling the revolutionary potential of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The column reports the growth in these online courses, citing, for example, the increase since last May of just students enrolled in Coursera’s offerings from 300,000 in 38 courses to current, January 2013 enrollments totaling 2.4 million, in 214 courses, taught by faculty at 33 universities around the world. Access to such rich academic resources is currently free. Courses mirror material taught in the traditional classroom, with the added advantage of chats involving thousands of students from cafes, dorms, study halls, and libraries all over the world.

     Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School, author of The Innovative University, predicts widespread bankruptcy over the next decade among standard universities. Christensen continues to predict a possible competitive strategy for remaining schools would be to integrate a “second, virtual university” into their existing structure. Sebastian Thrun, giving up his tenure at Stanford last year to found Udacity, predicts that in 50 years there will be only 10 universities left in the world. 

     A number of MOOC start-ups now exist such as Udacity, Coursera, Harvard and MIT’s edX, and even the small Marginal Revolution University launched by economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason. Although scale and the reputation of participating universities may limit entry, I was struck at the time by a comment by Steve Sonka at the 1996 AAEA meetings in San Antonio: given the rise of the internet, we are now competing with the best minds in the world. The direction of educational delivery is obvious: the world has indeed become flat.

     As an experiment, many of our Risk Management Fellows will be joining a few faculty (and hopefully a few industry partners) in enrolling and participating this semester in a Coursera course, Financial Engineering and Risk Management. This course is being led by two instructors affiliated with the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at Columbia University. The course begins Monday, February 11, and is ten weeks long. I intend to have listening sessions in Waters for students and faculty taking the course. We will also work collaboratively on assignments (though not tests!). Those wishing K-State credit are enrolling in AGEC 750, and will have additional assignments and testing commensurate with a 3-credit problems course.  Although R and MATLAB are mentioned as helpful on some assignments, the Columbia instructors maintain assignments can all be completed using spreadsheet software such as Excel.

     I mention this exercise for two reasons: 1. I hope to have a broad range of students and faculty taking the Coursera (and hopefully the AGEC 750) class, and 2. we need to assess how our academic programs might benefit from integrating a “second, virtual university” into our structure. Like it or not, the future is here.

We warmly welcome Amanda Erichsen to the department.

Amanda started as our new Communications Coordinator on Monday, January 7th.  Amanda earned her bachelor’s degree at K-State in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, with minors in Agronomy and Animal Science.  After completing her degree at K-State in 2004, she moved to Kansas City to work as Communications Coordinator for Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity.  In 2006 she decided to attend Oklahoma State, earning an MS in Agricultural Communications.  For the past several years, Amanda has been working in a role similar to her current position in Oklahoma State’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.   

Amanda will continue the long-running tradition in the department to make sure all of the faculty, student, and staff accomplishments are widely known.  The position responsibilities focus on design and development of teaching, research, and outreach promotional materials, including reliance on electronic and print media and social networks.  She is also available for supporting all of the department’s faculty and staff in developing web- and social media-based tools and resources. 

Her appointment is split among responsibilities to the Center for Risk Management Education and Research, assisting the METSS program run out of Vincent’s shop, and departmental teaching, research, and outreach duties.  She is already employed more than full time in upgrading the various websites, newsletters, and other media outlets necessary to herald the department’s accomplishments. 

If you haven’t already, please be sure to stop by her “office” in Waters 342 and introduce yourself.

The K-State Alumni Association has selected Professor Andrew Barkley as this year’s recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Ron Iman Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching.  Andy is being honored at a celebration in the Tadtman Board Room at the Alumni Center on Tuesday, November 27, at 4:00 p.m. All students, staff, alumni, and faculty are invited to this recognition ceremony.

In the nomination letter, numerous awards earned by Andy during his 25 years at K-State are listed, including the AAEA teaching award, the WAEA Distinguished Scholar Award, the K-State Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, and the K-State Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  Even more important are the support letters from past students detailing the learning environment Andy created in his classes and in individual sessions with students.  Andy is certainly contributing to our goal of having our undergraduate programs recognized among the Top 5 of similar Colleges of Agriculture across the country.

Congratulations to Andy, and please circle November 27th on your calendars as we celebrate Andy’s Award.

The RMER program continues to forge ahead.  First of all, we are still working on adding the “C” to our title. We are working closely with leaders from the respective departments, colleges, and the university to frame details of the Center concept. The university administration is supportive of this program.  We expect official university approval and sanctioning of the Center in the near future. The K-State Foundation has also been instrumental in helping to secure industry support for the Center. 

Regardless of the formal establishment of the Center, Ted, Sean, and Emilie Fink have been very successful in soliciting financial backing from the companies they have visited.  We have sufficient funds to begin the Risk Management Student Fellows program this spring.  At this time, we have accepted seven undergraduates into the Fellows program (4 Ag Econ and 3 Industrial Engineering) and three graduate students (all from Ag Econ).  We are planning a mixer before finals week to introduce the students to one another, and to invite faculty and those industry supporters who are able to come.  Although content is still uncertain, a 1-credit problems course will be set for these students in the spring to present risk management concepts from various disciplines and to understand how industry frames and manages risk. Several of the students already have internships for the summer.  We will encourage and help those currently without internships to land one.  The Fellows will work as teams next year to thoroughly dissect, analyze, understand, and suggest management alternatives to risky problems defined by faculty mentors and our industry partners.

I spent yesterday at a conference in Kansas City sponsored by Agriculture Future of America and the Farm Foundation that focused on supply and demand conditions in the market for human capital in agriculture and agribusiness.  As usual at these conferences, much was said, and much of what was said was useful.  Especially relevant to the discussion was what the Risk Management Education & Research initiative will accomplish:

  •    The program will succeed because we have faculty and students who believe in what we are doing;
  •    It is not just a disciplinary program, but includes the thoughts and energies from people across campus;
  •    This effort combines the strengths of the academy (education and research) with the strengths of industry (the real-world need to understand and to manage risk); and,
  •    Finally, the RMER initiative will enhance human capital through experiential learning, collaboration, and research that will be important to our students, industry participants, and faculty throughout their professional careers.

 We currently have participation from Ag Econ, Finance, and Industrial Engineering.  There have also been people in other Ag units (e.g., food science, plant pathology, grain science and industry), from psychology and economics, and from other people in Engineering and Business who would like to partner on large scale risk problems from a diversity of perspectives.  Ted and Brad Kramer in IE are working on an informal meeting of faculty with interest in risk to come together and seek areas of collaboration.

Thanks to Ted and to all who have moved this initiative forward.

Selected highlights of the C-FARE (Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics) fall Board meeting, Washington D.C.

The AAEA meetings will be held in D.C. August 4-6, 2013.  C-FARE and the AAEA are striving to make the location of the meetings in the nation’s capital an opportunity to involve industry and NGO lobbyists, legislative staffers, and agency personnel with responsibilities in food, agricultural, and resource programs to interact with traditional AAEA members.  C-FARE’s six Blue Ribbon Panels (Global competitiveness, Energy, Food, Rural development, International development, and Environment & Natural Resources), composed of applied economists around the country, are specifically invited to submit proposals for organized symposia, invited paper sessions, and/or pre- or post-conference workshops.  Proposals are due to the AAEA by December 7.

Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of NIFA, spent an hour visiting with the Board Tuesday morning.  Sonny (department head of Entomology at K-State a few years ago) has ambitious plans for growing the research investments for food, agriculture, and the environment.  He is also very pro-social science, and wants to ensure that, where appropriate, there is economic involvement in the research proposals received under the various AFRI programs.  This is a major and a refreshing change from ten years ago, and reflects the efforts of numerous people in convincing scientists and granting agencies of the need for considering the economic and human implications of research.

Our responsibility, in addition to working with other scientists in preparing grant proposals, is to make sure that economics is well-represented on the review panels for the different AFRI program areas.  If you have any interest in serving on a review panel, please let Robbin Shoemaker at NIFA know you are willing and able, and he will steer you to the right person.

In response to numerous listening sessions around the country, there will be less reliance on the gigantic, multidisciplinary CAP-type research programs at NIFA in the future.  Focus will return to smaller grants, with fewer scientists, schools, etc. involved in specific projects.  Unfortunately, there is an overhang from commitments to these large projects, and approximately 1/3 of the $265 million of the current competitive grant allocation is “mortgaged” to these previously approved projects.

On a more local scale, we are again in the position of looking for a departmental Communication Specialist.  Yes, Ashley Martin is leaving.  Our program leaders and I will be meeting Friday morning to identify important elements to include in a position description.  Please see John C, Hikaru P, Art B, Allen F, Judy M, or me if you have ideas of how we might most effectively employ a Communication Specialist in the Department.

Finally, thanks to all of you who participated in and had a role in making our Scholarship and Distinguished Alumni Banquet a success.  I’m always amazed when hearing of the many accomplishments and successes of our students, our alums, and our faculty and staff.  Great job!

The University of Kansas hosted a full-page in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education to promote the publication of their newest strategic plan, Bold Aspirations.   After a year of discussion with students, faculty, staff, and KU stakeholders, the strategic plan identified six goals for guiding investment and development from 2012 to 2017.  Goals roughly correspond to energizing the educational environment for students, elevating doctoral education, elevating research, promoting applied research and service to the public and to the business environment of Kansas, improving the lives of and opportunities for KU’s current and future faculty and staff, and improving the university’s infrastructure.

The overall aspirations of KU are identified in the report, “to be recognized as a top-tier international research university.”

Although both located in Kansas, the goals and functions of KU and of Kansas State University differ.  KU has a medical school.  KSU does not.  KSU is a Land Grant University, with responsibilities and funding for ensuring research discoveries are extended to our stakeholders, “necessary to advancing the well-being of Kansas, the nation, and the international community.” (KSU mission statement).  Kansas State University has a basketball team and a football team.

Nevertheless, there are gems in the KU Bold Aspirations document that bear consideration as we move forward in our own strategic plan development.  Especially pertinent are the metrics identified to measure progress towards the goals of the KU strategic plan.  I would recommend that our volunteers to Dean Floros’s Vision 2025 theme committees peruse these metrics.  I also believe that we already excel in these metrics in Agricultural Economics or that we are aware that further progress towards meeting these metrics define how we as a department achieve international recognition.

More information about the KU plan development, implementation, and new resources can be accessed at foundation.ku.edu.

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