Faculty Predictions: What’s in store for 2024?

12/19/2023

MicrosoftTeams-image (5).pngWith a new year upon us, our collective gaze is fixed on the impending presidential election, its outcome poised to shape not only the political landscape but also reverberate down the ballot. Simultaneously, the mysteries of artificial intelligence (AI) captivate our minds, prompting a communal struggle to grasp its implications. And, while the economy defies expectations, uncertainty lingers—will this prosperity endure amid global shifts? Standing at the threshold of 2024, we face a tapestry of anticipation and trepidation, beckoned by uncharted terrain.

Yet there are a number of areas in which we can feel a bit more certain. The public should see prices for certain drugs continue to come down. There are glimmers of hope that Americans are becoming more financially literate. And it looks like the state of Ohio will benefit as new energy sources become more widely accepted.

Below, University of Akron faculty members share their predictions for what’s to come in the next 12 months. 



Mechanical Engineering Prediction: The transition to electrified transportation and building infrastructure will help boost the economy, especially in Ohio
 

ChrisDellaCorte1.jpgBy Dr. Christopher DellaCorte, Timken Endowed Chair, professor of mechanical engineering and director, Akron Engineering Tribology Laboratory, College of Engineering and Polymer Science

"People are naturally skeptical when it comes to the adoption of new and expensive technology, until they aren’t. The photographic leader Kodak invented electronic “film” cameras in the 1980’s. They were big, slow, and expensive. Film gave better results at lower cost. But film was a mature technology with no more room for advancement. By 2003, digital cameras were equal to or better than film and within five years, nearly everyone had made the switch. There was no turning back. Kodak and many other firms that relied upon film-based photography struggled, faded or disappeared entirely. 

My prediction for 2024 is that the electrification of our lives has reached a switchover point from which there is no turning back. New commercial buildings and homes are being built with highly efficient, long-lasting electric heat pumps. Many of these get their heating and cooling capacity from the ground and are more efficient that other approaches. Rooftop solar panels further reduce energy bills. Plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars are now commonplace. Their costs are dropping at the same time battery range in improving. It sure looks like a classic technology maturation process is underway, which is good news for our region and our state. It is also a welcome change for our students, particularly those in engineering.

 The transition to electric homes, buildings and cars is a primary driver for the new battery and chip-making plants under construction in our state. The country’s leading manufacturer of heat pumps is in western Ohio. These factories need engineers to meet the inevitable technical hurdles that accompany new technology transitions. Our College of Engineering and Polymer Science graduates will be critical links in this electrical renaissance. Along with my UA colleagues, our university will meet the challenge of educating the next generation to usher in these new technologies that benefit of us all. I am looking forward to it!"



Health Care Costs Prediction: Consumers will see lower drug costs as the pharmaceutical industry moves to minimize impact of price negotiations
 

By Dr. Daniel Friesner, dean and professor, College of Health and Human Sciences Friesner Headshot 1.jpg

"In August 2022, President Joe Biden formally signed the Inflation Reduction Act. One of the primary objectives of this legislation was to use medication price controls to reduce both the social costs of healthcare and health care expenses for individual families facing major and sometimes chronic medical conditions. The legislation empowered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and more specifically the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), to directly negotiate medication prices for plans under the purview of the CMS. In August 2023, CMS announced the ten medications for which it will seek to negotiate prices for patients covered by Medicare Part D plans. They include Eliquis (blood clot prevention and treatment), Jardiance (diabetes and heart failure), Xarelto (blood clot prevention and treatment), Januvia (treatment of diabetes), Farxiga (treatment of diabetes, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease), Entresto (treatment of heart failure), Enbrel (treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and psoriasis), Imbruvica (treatment of blood-related cancers), Stelara (treatment of psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis), and various injectable insulin products for the treatment of diabetes (Fiasp, Fiasp FlexTouch, Fiasp PenFill, NovoLog, NovoLog FlexPen, NovoLog PenFill). Negotiations will occur over the next two years, with the implementation of price controls taking effect in 2026.

My predictions are threefold. First, major players in the health care industry will pivot prior to 2026 to prospectively minimize the expected impacts of price negotiations – and presumably lower payments for those medications – long before the negotiated prices take effect. Pharmaceutical manufacturers will proactively adjust their pricing for these medications, and directly note these pricing changes in their marketing efforts. Insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) will adjust medication coverage and the copayments required for these medications. Health systems will adapt their formularies to account for the changing prices of these medication to achieve cost control. As a result, many households will see their medication usage and/or overall health care expenses change because of these price negotiations, but before any negotiated price controls take effect.

Second, some of these adjustments – for example, the change in prices for these 10 medications – will be direct and obvious. But many adjustments will be more subtle and indirect. For example, insurance companies and PBMs may adjust payments to pharmacies and other health care organizations for all medications, in a manner that offsets any potential losses due to lower negotiated prices for the 10 medications. That is, prices for other medications may cross-subsidize reduced prices for these 10 medications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers may negotiate different rebates with insurance companies (i.e., payments for emphasizing or encouraging the preferential coverage – and subsequent patient use – of specific medications) with insurance companies and PBMs. Clinicians may respond to changes in coverage and formularies by recommending and/or prescribing alternative, appropriate therapies for their patients. These are but a few of the possible indirect effects. While it is difficult to precisely predict which of these indirect effects will occur, it is reasonable to predict that at least one of these effects will occur.

Third, over the long run, privately owned insurance companies (for example, organizations offering Blue Cross Blue Shield plans) will mimic the government’s strategy and negotiate prices for these medications that mimic those negotiated by CMS. Whether this occurs before or after 2026 depends critically on how quickly and efficiently CMS negotiates prices with the manufacturers of the 10 medications."



 Artificial intelligence Prediction: Multimodal artificial intelligence will go mainstream
  

JoeFox1.jpgBy Dr. Joseph Fox, director, Fitzgerald Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, and assistant professor of entrepreneurship, Department of Management, College of Business

"The past few years in generative artificial intelligence (AI) for mainstream audiences has focused on text and image generation. Consumers, professionals and institutions have been experimenting with what capabilities exist when using AI, considering both how it can help or detract from completing tasks. Many of these tasks have centered around the domain of text generation or evaluation.

In 2023 there was an increase in the availability of multimodal foundation models through examples like OpenAI’s GPT-4 with vision, Google Gemini, as well as open-source software models like Llava-Plus. These types of models allow for a user to pass along a combination of text, images or other input types as part of a request to an AI model. This continues down a path of accessible AI that uses a variety of inputs, such as text, images, audio and video that can produce a variety of different output types.

When these foundation models are more widely available to build upon, we will likely see an increase in companies and developers building downstream applications of such technology trained to work in specific-use cases. The result will be additional generative AI features becoming available in consumer-facing applications and platforms."


Reproductive Rights Prediction: Abortion will continue to be an issue in Ohio even after voters passed a constitutional amendment
 

By Tracy Thomas, Seiberling Chair of Constitutional Law, School of LawTracy Thomas1.jpg

"Ohio voters by a majority of 57% passed in November 2023 a state constitutional amendment protecting reproductive freedom. The amendment went into effect on Dec. 7, 2023. The exact effect of this amendment will still need to be taken up by the courts as to what specific existing laws will be overturned. The amendment should invalidate the six-week abortion ban and Down syndrome ban, and may also limit the extent of waiting periods and procedural barriers to healthcare. It will also likely require a revision of the 22-week ban currently in effect to replace the time limit with a medical standard of viability.

Yet some legislators continue to challenge the implementation of this new law. Some had threatened to limit the courts’ jurisdiction to enforce the amendment, thus cutting off the main avenue for making the state follow the terms of the law. Most have backed off, for now. But political opponents have suggested another redo amendment in a few years, after the presidential election of 2024 when supporters of reproductive choice might determine the election.

Abortion will continue to be an issue at the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Questions about the federal government’s authorization of abortion pills are pending. Questions about the Comstock Act, a 19th century obscenity law prohibiting the mailing of information about women’s physiology, health, pregnancy or birth control, are also being raised as a bar to mailing abortion pills.

Abortion has been a contested social and legal issue for over 50 years. And it will continue to be so, despite clear democratic messages from every state where voters have directly weighed in that preserving choice is an important value."



Financial Literacy Prediction: A growing number of Americans will better understand where their money goes
 

TaufiqQuadria1.pngDr. Taufiq Hasan Quadria, assistant professor of instruction, Financial Planning Program, Department of Finance, College of Business

"Financial literacy, the cornerstone of informed decision-making regarding financial matters, remains a crucial aspect of individual well-being. Understanding income, budgeting, saving, investing, interest rates and credit scores empowers individuals to shape a more secure financial future. The importance of financial literacy is underscored by studies revealing significant gaps among U.S. adults, which impacts savings, debt management and broader financial decisions. As we look toward 2024, two pivotal questions emerge: Will overall financial literacy among US adults increase, and will there be sufficient progress in making personal financial education widely accessible?

Recent studies such as the 2022 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index indicate a pressing need for enhanced financial literacy. On average, respondents correctly answered only half of the basic money questions, with one-fourth unable to answer more than one quarter of the questions. This knowledge gap has real-world consequences, affecting how individuals manage their finances.

Experts emphasize that financial education should commence early, and recent progress is evident. Right now, 24 states mandate personal finance coursework by Grade 12. Encouragingly, the Center for Financial Literacy's 2023 report card highlights positive strides. Seven states have earned an “A” grade by requiring a semester-long personal finance course, signaling a commitment to improving financial education. The report card anticipates 23 Grade-A states by 2028, reflecting a positive trajectory in integrating personal finance education into high school curricula. Legislators are also responding to the changing landscape, with families facing financial pressures and a growing recognition of the crucial role personal finance knowledge plays in navigating today's complex financial world.

In summary, the outlook for U.S. financial literacy in 2024 is one of cautious optimism. The question of whether overall financial literacy will increase hinges on sustained efforts. While challenges persist, the momentum in integrating financial education into high school curricula and broader societal awareness provides hope for increased financial literacy. The year 2024 will likely see ongoing efforts to bridge financial knowledge gaps and empower individuals with the skills necessary to navigate their financial futures successfully."



National Politics Prediction: Democrats, Republicans face election challenges that could impact outcomes up and down the ballot
 

By Dr. Cherie Strachan, professor of political science and director, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics Cherie Strahan.jpeg

"The national political stage for 2024 will be characterized by the upcoming presidential and congressional elections.

Despite the lack of a “red wave” and unprecedent success in the mid-terms, Democrats still face significant challenges in their efforts to appeal to their base and mobilize new voters. Recent polling reveals low levels of enthusiasm for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, with likely voters reporting skepticism over his age and his ability to improve their economic well-being. Low enthusiasm for the top of the ticket may suppress Democratic voter turnout, limiting a presidential coattail effect for down-ballot Democrats running for Congress, state legislature, and local offices in 2024. Biden has struggled in particular to maintain support from the progressive wing of his party, and especially with young progressives, who over-performed in 2020 and 2022. Their lukewarm support for Biden and other moderate Democrats is, and in all likelihood will continue to be, eroded by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Democrats’ success in 2024 may hinge on their ability to re-engage young progressives by brokering if not a cease-fire, at the very least far more humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 

Republicans face their own difficulties in the upcoming election cycle. First among these is the overwhelming popularity of former President Donald Trump among Republican primary voters. Trump seems likely to secure the Republican presidential nomination even if he is convicted on criminal indictments. Far less certain is his ability to translate this popularity with the Republican base into a successful general election campaign – especially given the lackluster performance or Trump-endorsed candidates in 2022. This “Trump effect” could suppress support for down-ballot Republicans as well. Like Democrats, Republicans also face issues likely to erode support in the general election. The most obvious of these are laws in Republican-led states that severely restrict access to reproductive care and abortion. Ongoing controversies over implementation of these laws in states like Texas and Kentucky will keep this issue in the news and on the minds of voters, and especially women’s minds, well into the 2024 election season."



U.S. Economic Forecast Prediction: Economy looking stronger than anticipated, but mild recession is still possible
 

NickGlenn.pngBy Dr. Nick Glenn, assistant professor of instruction, Department of Economics, College of Business

"The Federal Reserve has successfully fought off the worst inflation the U.S. has experienced since the early 1980’s. In order to do this, the Fed gradually raised the federal funds rate target from 0.25% to its current rate of 5.5% in just over a year. As a result, inflation has dropped from a high of 9% to just above 3%, where it has stayed for the last few months. There was some fear that accelerating wage growth would frustrate the Federal Reserve’s efforts, and the resulting further rate hikes would lead to a recession. However, further rate hikes were not necessary and the U.S. economy has proven to be resilient with unemployment hovering just below 4%.

With the federal reserve putting a pause on rate hikes, it may seem that the economy is in the clear and the Federal Reserve was able to achieve a soft landing. However, there is a case to be made that economy is not completely out of the woods yet. Macroeconomists will be quick to bring up the fact that the full impact from monetary policy can often occur after a significant lag. It may be the case that the Federal Reserve was only partially responsible for lowering inflation, and we have not seen the complete result of the recent rate hikes. Consequently, with inflation under control, the Federal Reserve should begin cutting rates, but my prediction is that they will not do so.

The failure to lower rates could increase the stress that the economy is already experiencing. For instance, credit card debt saw the largest increase ever last year and delinquencies are at a 12-year high. With rates remaining high, this could worsen and really temper the level of consumer spending for next year. Additionally, the high interest rates on servicing the U.S. debt could put more pressure on lawmakers to make budget cuts to slow down spending growth. The combined decrease in consumer and government spending would be a most unwelcome shock to the economy, which leads me to predict that the U.S. economy will experience a mild recession toward the end of next year."



International Relations Prediction: Domestic U.S. politics may decide the fate of Ukraine in 2024
 

Kaltenthaler-Karl-200.jpgBy Dr. Karl Kaltenthaler, professor of political science, Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies

"The war in Ukraine, right now, is a stalemate. Russia cannot, at this point, make a major breakthrough in Ukrainian lines and win the war. But neither can Ukraine decisively defeat the Russians and expel them completely from the country. This does not mean, however, that Ukraine cannot be overrun by Russia in the future and lose its freedom.

The decisions that could tip the war in Russia’s favor or keep Ukraine as a sovereign country will most likely be made in Washington, D.C. As soon as 2024, the United States’ support for Ukraine could be reduced or ended completely. If that happens, Ukraine will almost certainly lose the war. If the American opponents of supporting Ukraine against Russia are able to stop supplying arms to Ukraine, the Ukrainian military will run out of ammunition and other much-needed battlefield supplies. Europe will not be able to make up for the loss of American military supplies because Ukraine is very dependent now on American artillery ammunition and weapons systems. This is a conflict in which artillery is crucial in deciding battles. Even now, the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition as partisan squabbling in Washington delays new American aid to the beleaguered country. The next year will be crucial to Ukraine as Washington decides whether European security is a major priority for U.S. foreign policy."


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