Tag Archives: higher education

Coal Use by US Educational Institutions Down 64% since 2008

A lot of higher education institutions are old, and back in the day, things were different. Not only were most schools simultaneously on top of and on the bottom of great snow covered hills, but they were often surrounded by nearly medieval settlement, or at least, pre-industrial ones, that lacked things like central heat, electricity, and so on, even after these things became common and normal.

I remember the legacy of this reality at my Alma Mater, a small university in Cambridge, Mass. Most of the campus had its own heating system, which was built at a time when centrally distributed electricity and such were certainly in place but just as certainly not universal. There, a power plant, which I am going to guess formerly burned coal but later natural gas and oil, made electricity for the general grid, but in so doing also produced steam. The steam was then shipped (mostly) across the river and quite a ways down the road to the campus, where it was distributed to many buildings to provide heat. At several points were grates that gave access to the steam heating system, creating open air warmer micro environment, on which homeless folks would sleep. It was a big deal when the University administration decided to put spiky metal barriers over the vents to keep the homeless people from having a chance to survive a cold winter. There was an outcry. The vents were uncovered in a matter of days.

But I digress.

Today’s news, which comes to us from the Department of Energy, is that educational institutions are using way less coal than they used to. And that makes sense only in the context of the above described sort of thing; educational institutions, as large and demanding places where people both lived in work, with many buildings and a lot of contiguous spaces, were among those places that historically developed their own electricity generation systems, as well as heating systems. Some of those electricity generating systems also fed out to the local grid, so the odd situation developed where among a region’s power plants would be one or more owned and operated by a university or college, or an agent thereof. And, a certain number of these burned coal.

But now

Coal consumption by educational institutions such as colleges and universities in the United States fell from 2 million short tons in 2008 to 700,000 short tons in 2015. Consumption declined in each of the 57 institutions that used coal in 2008, with 20 of these institutions no longer using coal at all. Many of these institutions participate in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Coal consumption has decreased as institutions switch from coal to natural gas or other fuels.

This coal consumption is less than a tenth of one percent of the total US coal consumption, so this may be little more than symbolic to some. But it isn’t. This is fossil fuel not being burned, and it means a lot.

The graph at the top of the post shows the trend.

This is not all good news. It is nice to reduce coal use, but a lot, most, of this coal has been replace with natural gas. However, in some cases, geothermal was used, and some renewable sources of energy have been deployed.

More here.

Higher Education: We are shovel ready!

And I’m not talking about new building projects such as the Bell Museum, though such projects certainly are shovel ready as well.

I’m speaking about the simple fact that funding higher education, mainly by funding students, is one of the best possible ways to stimulate the economy.

The American workforce is under educated and under trained. This is almost always true to some extent, but in times when the centers of gravity in industry and business are shifting, it becomes even more true. The simple fact that the nature of the job market has changed dramatically over the last 20 years demands that we attend to this knowledge and training deficit. A couple of decades ago, we were a society in which most individuals in the workforce trained-up and learned-up for a career, engaged in the career, moved along, or up, in that career, and retired. Now, people often change careers a number of times, for good reasons and not because of any lack on their part. The old fogeys who run things include a lot of pre-transition lifers who do not viscerally understand this new dynamic. But these out-going power brokers are … well, outgoing. Or they are beginning to understand that the new normative career path is a zig zag for almost everyone.

Even without this change the American workforce is poorly educated compared to the European workforce. We are poorly educated compared to the Cuban workforce. Let’s not even talk about Canada and Japan.

So we need more education, and President Obama recognizes this, and during his Big Speech before the Joint Session of Congress said so. He told us that four years of high school is not sufficient for a patriotic American. We need to add to this a minimum of one year of college.

(I love the new patriotism!)

If I was the owner of a road construction company, and stimulus packages were being run through the legislative process in Washington, and the President called a Joint Session of Congress and announced that we would be adding one lane to every road in the nation …. (think about that for a second) … I’d be doing certain things.

I would not be cutting staff. Which is what some universities and colleges are doing. I would not be freezing hires. I would not be raising the cost of services at my business. I would not be panicking. All these are things we are seeing in higher education in one form or another, and it does not make a lot of sense.

Granted, if you live in a state with a history of Republican control, you have no way of knowing if the stimulus money distributed through the states will get to higher ed, because Republicans have long recognized that there is a correlation between education level and liberalism, and thus, they are afraid of education. Granted, if you are a private university that runs on endowments, then you are hopelessly lost in the quagmire that is the free market (during doldrums … to stir my aqueous metaphors). But don’t worry, your endowments will be kicking ass in a few year’s and you’ll own the world again.

But if you are a public university in an “Education State” with a populous supportive of education and a legislature that is not too dumbed down, it is time to paint the waiting room, start finding some extra classroom space, and run a sale on your services.

And most important, crank up the lobbyists and the grassroots power base that you presumably have been cultivating over the last twenty years or so in preparation for this sort of revolutionary eventuality.

(You have been working on that power base thing, right?)

There is some increase available in Pell grants. There is some retraining money that can go for tuition (this has been available for some time). But you will need to go to Washington and get more, because it is worth it. There are states and regions where education is such a big industry that stimultion in this sector alone can alleviate unemployment and enhance the local economy measurably.

And every new customer you get is equal to one or more new customers in every subsequent generation. Parents with college degrees want their children to have college degrees. The best long term investment a University or College can make is in a first-generation scholar. But only if it is done well.

We are higher education and we are shovel ready.