Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.

Fighting Grade Inflation

Rick Perry has an interesting post on a Texas proposal to require that college transcripts show, along with the student's grade in each class, the average grade in the class.

I think this is an excellent idea -- simple and effective -- though I am not big on a state mandate on private institutions but this is totally reasonable for public institutions and would likely force private colleges to follow suit voluntarily.

To the extent that colleges squeal about this, it will be entirely hypocritical.  Why?  Because colleges will not seriously consider the grades on a high school transcript in their admission process without a guide from the school listing such things as average grades.   Colleges demand exactly this type of benchmark for grades, without which a transcript would be almost meaningless.  They should not balk at providing the same.

SAT Scores Are Bad Education Evaluation Data

I am happy to see the public school system coming in for much-deserved criticism.  I don't have anything to add to this article that I have not already said about schools many times.  But I want to make one complaint about a chart used in the blog post:

sat-scores

 

SAT scores are a terrible metric for measuring academic performance over time.

First, I am not at all convinced that the test scoring does not shift over time (no WAY my son had a higher score than me, LOL).

But perhaps the most important problem is that all students don't take the SAT -- it is a choice.  Shifts in the mix of kids taking the test -- for example, if over time more kids get interested in college so that more marginal academic kids take the test -- then the scores are going to move solely based on mix shifts.  Making this more complicated, there is at least one competitive test (the ACT) which enjoys more popularity in some states than others, so the SAT will represent an incomplete and shifting geographic mix of the US.  Finally, as students have gotten smarter about this whole process**, they gravitate to the ACT or the SAT based on differing capabilities, since they test in different ways.

To me, all this makes SAT scores barely more scientific than an Internet poll.

** If you have not had a college-bound student recently, you will have to trust me on this, but parents can spend an astounding amount of time trying to out-think this stuff.  And that is here in flyover country.  Apparently private school parents on the East Coast can be absurd (up to and including hiring consultants for 6 figures).  A few years ago it was in vogue to try to find your kid a unique avocation.  Violin was passe -- I knew kids playing xylophone and the bagpipes.  A friend of mine at a high profile DC private school used to have fun with other parents telling them his son was a national champion at falconry, the craziest thing he could make up on the spur of the moment at a cocktail party.  Other parents would sigh enviously, wishing they had thought of that one for their kid.

I Am Going To Frame This And Put It On the Wall for the Times My Wife Is Ready to Kill Me

"I wish I had ended up with a Princeton man"

source

How To Achieve A Titillating Headline

Glenn Reynolds linked this titillating headline:

NINE PERCENT OF YALE STUDENTS SURVEYED SAY THEY’VE ACCEPTED MONEY FOR SEX

Of course, when you read the article (of course I clicked through, I have no pride),  you find that:

  • The sample size is approximately 40
  • The sample was from a group of people who self-selected to attend a seminar by the owner of a sex-toy business

The "3% who participated in bestiality" is actually 1 person out of 40 who have a self-selected interest in pushing sexual boundaries.  With a little larger sample size, a bit poorer math, and a bit more work goal-seeking to a desired outcome, this might almost meet the standards of climate research.

Which is all a relief to me -- after 30+ years of being a Yale hater, I was afraid I might have to admit it was a more interesting place than I thought.

Uh Oh.

STUDENT LOANS VS CREDIT CARDS

source

 

Why the Government is Bankrupt

I couldn't resist clicking through to this article supposedly laying out a "trend" that increasing numbers of women were finding "sugar daddies" to pay for college.  I was considering an article calling BS on the whole trend when my attention was diverted.  I found the best single-statement illustration of the attitude that is bankrupting this nation.   First, the basic story:

Nearly 300 NYU co-eds joined the site’s service last year seeking a “mutually beneficial” arrangement with rich older men — a 154 percent jump over 2011.

It was the second-highest number of new members for any college in the country.

Hundreds more young women from Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse universities also have recently signed up for the service, the site said.

“I’ll admit that I’ve thought about doing something like that,” said a Columbia junior who gave only her first name, Karen.

“It would be easier in some ways than working, taking classes and then spending years paying back loans.”

The writer is obviously trying to get me to be outraged, but all I can do is shrug.  There are a lot of worse things in the world to worry about than people entering into "mutually beneficial relationships."   But this is the line that stopped me short:

“Clearly, we need more financial aid if those are the lengths people are going to pay for school,” sniffed Ashley Thaxton, 20, an NYU theater major.

God, is there ever going to be  a non-problem that doesn't require more government spending.  How about lowering tuition?  Cutting back on bloated administrative staffs?  Eliminating useless academic departments?  Channeling less money to the football team?  Or how about we just accept that some people make personal choices that might be distasteful to us, but are really their own god damned business.

Office Space, University Edition

The movie peters out a bit at the end, but the first 30 minutes or so of Office Space are a classic, and if you have not seen it, go find it somewhere.  If you have seen the movie, you will likely recognize this job description from an article on university administrative staff bloat:

 One $172,000 per year associate vice provost had been hired to oversee the work of committees charged with considering a change in the academic calendar-a change that had not yet even been approved.  Since the average Purdue graduate leaves school with about $27,000 in debt, the salary of this functionary is equivalent to the education loans of six students.
This new administrator blithely told the Bloomberg reporter, "My job is to make sure these seven or eight committees are aware of what's going on in the other committees."

 

The entire article is excellent.  For example:

A recent paper by two respected economists, Robert Martin and R. Carter Hill, shows that the fiscally optimal ratio of administrators to faculty at research universities is one full-time administrator for every three faculty.    Deviations from this ratio produced significantly higher costs per student.  The unfortunate reality as Martin and Hill found is that the ratio has almost been reversed--2 administrators to one faculty.  Martin and Hill's findings suggest, moreover, that about two-thirds of the growth in higher education costs between 1987 and 2008 can be attributed to the rise of administrative power during this period.

Teach for America

One of the charities my family supports is Teach for America.  Among other things, we sponsor a local teacher in the program.  A bunch of our friends were kind enough to chip in with gifts for the kids in her class and my wife and I delivered them last week at the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school in South Phoenix for 5-8 graders.

The fun of delivering the presents was reduced later on finding out that at almost that same moment, another group of kids was being killed in Connecticut.  But through a strange series of articles that seemed to have used the Sandy Hook massacre as an argument for teacher unionization and against charter schools (yeah, I don't get the connection either), I found out that teachers unions hate Teach for America.  Which means that I will likely double my contribution next year.

Postscript:  Teach for America began as a senior thesis at Princeton.  Its key idea is to make teaching a viable job option, as least for a few years, for top college grads.  The program is quite selective, and combines talented highly motivated young people with a proven teaching approach.  They then drop these teachers into the public school system, often in classrooms with a high percentage of kids who qualify for school lunch programs (ie low income).

It's clear from the article that teachers union and education establishment types hate these teachers.  Since they make a contrast by calling themselves "professionals", the presumed implication is that these young people are unprofessional.  Its amazing to me that anyone who has spent even ten minutes in a room with a group of TFA teachers could be so hostile to them.  I have met many of them, and they are a consistently amazing bunch who are both smart and genuinely love their kids.

I was skeptical, and still am a bit, of the notion of throwing great teachers into a failing public school system.  They clearly help individual kids, which is why I am still behind it, but they do nothing to help the overall system.  It's like sending great engineers into Solyndra  -- at some level, it seems like a waste (though I am impressed with this particular charter school, which seems to be doing a good job with the limited resources it has -- it gets far less money per pupil than the average public school in Phoenix but does a better job given the demographic of its students).

Administrative Bloat

Administrative bloat is a natural tendency of organizations.  I am not entirely sure why, though I understand some of the drivers.  Never-the-less, I have seen it in nearly every organization I have worked in or consulted for.

Even the best-run private companies still have this problem.  To remain competitive, then, they have to come through every few years and wield the ax on these growing staffs, almost like trimming back a hedge that keeps trying to overgrow your house.  I spent a depressing amount of time as a consultant helping them.  It is uncomfortable, sometimes heartbreaking work, and one wonders the whole time why there is not some better way to keep staff in check.  To my mind, there is a still a great academic work to be written on this topic some day.

The alternative, in organizations that can get away with it, is administrative bloat.  Like, for example, in this public institution:

via Mark Perry, now at AEI

That staff adds up to an incredible billion dollars in administrative salaries, or nearly $21,000 a year per full-time student.  And remember, if this is just salaries, the actual cost is much higher because they all need offices, supplies, travel, etc.

Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.

Creative Destruction

On UVA from Walter Russel Mead via Glenn Reynolds

As the NYT article points out, universities all over the country are facing a world of rapid change. This is going to be hard to face. Universities are structured to adapt slowly—if at all. Typically, university presidents have only limited controls, while faculties have a lot of power to resist. Management is usually decentralized, with different schools and departments governed under different rules and accountable to different constituencies. The fiscal arrangements of most universities are both byzantine and opaque; it can be very hard for administrators to understand or properly and fairly value the true cost and contributions of different parts of the institution.

The structural problem our universities face is this: confronted with the need for sweeping, rapid changes, administrators and boards have two options — and they are both bad. One option is to press ahead to make rapid changes. This risks — and in many (perhaps most) cases will cause — enormous upheavals; star professors will flounce off. Alumni will be offended. Waves of horrible publicity will besmirch the university’s name.

Option two: you can try to make your reforms consensual — watering down, delaying, carefully respecting existing interests and pecking orders. If you do this, you will have a peaceful, happy campus . . . until the money runs out.

This kind of organizational change issue is NOT unique to public institutions.  I think if one were a fly on the wall at Sears, or RIM/Blackberry, or AOL, one could describe exactly the same dynamic: insider constituencies were and are successful under the old model, so consensus processes involving these same constituencies seldom lead to change since these changes are inherently threatening to these same constituencies.  A simpler way of saying this is that it is really hard to obsolete oneself.  Just go ask Blockbuster Video.

But there is one difference in the world of public institutions.  In the private world, new success models in the worlds of Sears and AOL and Blackberry are already out there and growing really fast, run by outsiders who have absolutely no stake in the success of the old model (in fact by folks who have a strong economic stake in killing the old models).  But there is no parallel to capital markets and entrepreneurship in the public space.  There is no venue for new-model proponents to get capital and support outside of the old-model institutions.  In fact, if anything, public institutions will rally their political clout, up to and including sponsoring new legislation, to make sure new models are strangled in the crib.

If I were in the VA legislature and really cared about education innovation in the future, I would give up on UVA driving it and instead take 20% of its funding and hand it off to a brand new parallel entity, say UVA 2.0, run by an entirely new team.

Government Spending Bait and Switch

New taxes are frequently sold as protecting police, fire, and education, though these together represent barely 25% of all US government spending.  Where does the rest go?  It's a giant bait and switch, made worse by the fact that even within these categories, new headcount is more likely to be added in administrative and overhead roles rather than in promised functions such as "teachers".  This is the subject of my Forbes column this week:

There is a way to reconcile this:   While increases in education spending are sold to the public as a way to improve results in the classroom, in reality most of the new money and headcount are going to anything but increasing the number of teachers.

Let’s start with an example from the city of Phoenix, New York.  Why this town?  Am I cherry-picking?  In fact, I was looking for data on my home town of Phoenix, Arizona.  But I have come to discover that while school districts are really good at getting tomorrow’s cafeteria menu on the web, they are a little less diligent in giving equal transparency to their budget and staffing data.  But it turns out that Phoenix, New York, which I discovered when I was looking for my home town data, publishes a lovely summary of its budget data, so I will use it as an example that helps make my point.

The city’s budget summary for 2012-2013 is here.  Overall, they are proposing a 0.4% increase in spending for next year, which initially seems lean until one understands that they are projecting a 4% decline in enrollment, such that this still represents an increase in spending per pupil faster than inflation.  But the interesting part is the mix.

What are the two things politicians are always claiming they need extra money for?  Classroom instruction and infrastructure.  As you can see in this budget, only two categories of spending go down:  classroom instruction and facility maintenance and cleaning.  Administrative expenses increase 4% (effectively 8% per pupil) and employee benefits expenses increase just under 1% despite a total decline in staffing.  Though I am not very familiar with the program, one irony here is that the fastest growing category is the 8.7% growth (nearly 13% per pupil) in spending with BOCES, a New York initiative that was supposed to reduce administrative costs in public schools.  In other words, spending increases are going to everything except the areas which politicians promise.

I don’t think these trends are isolated to this one admittedly random example.  The Arizona auditor-general recently did a study on trends in education spending in the state.  They found exactly the same tendency to reduce classroom spending to pay for increases in administrative headcounts.

Read it all, as they say.

If It's May, It Must Be Time For Another Valedictorian Fight

Yes, yet another group of school kids and their parents are battling it out over whose little darling should be valedictorian.   I like the approach taken by my son's high school.  All the seniors, on dates scattered through the year, must make a 10-15 speech to the school.  On anything.  This year there were speeches on topics ranging from the Holocaust to the banking crisis to "why I love my dog" to "why the rumors of my crying at that formal dance Freshman year when my date abandoned me are greatly exaggerated."

The speeches are a fun event.  The speaker's friends leave an offering of food and balloons on the stage.  When they are done, much of the school comes up on stage and congratulates them.  It is great experience, and (within the context of public speaking, which is stressful for many) the school works to lower the pressure on the kids -- in fact, there are no grades for the speeches that hit any transcript.

The only grading is simple -- whoever is judged to have given the best speech, both in subject matter and in presentation, gives the speech at graduation.

Of course, this could only work at a private school, where the school and teachers can actually exercise judgement without having to defend their decision in court.

PS-  My son's speech included, among other topics, one of the four subjects listed above.  If you really must know which, see the 23-minute mark here.

College Grade Inflation

Apparently the news of the week is that the letter grade "A" is now the most common.  Mark Perry has more on college grade inflation.

I am actually a fan of the grading system at Harvard Business School when I was there.   15% of the students in each course get the top grade (category I) -- no more, no less.  10% get the bottom grade (category III) -- again by rule, no more and no less.  All the rest are in the middle.  It effectively acknowledges that for most folks, the point is to demonstrate you have satisfactorily learned the course material, while still allowing folks to distinguish themselves on both ends.  Budding young executives who complain that it is unfair to automatically "fail" the bottom 10% of each course are reminded that this is exactly how many Fortune 500 companies run their HR systems, seeking to constantly weed out the bottom 10%.

Update:  The argument usually is that students need high grades to compete with other kids from grade-inflated schools in the marketplace.  I just don't think this is true.  Colleges themselves deal with this all the time in admissions.  When they get a high school transcript, attached to that transcript is a fact sheet about the high school that gives its distribution of grades.  That way the recipient can discount the GPA as appropriate.  Every company doing hiring should demand the same of colleges.

Here is a personal anecdote.  My son Nic's school grades hard.  Something like 2 kids over the last 2 decades have graduated with a 4.0.  One could argue my son's grades could have been higher at another school, but knowledgeable consumers of high school GPA's know how our school works and we have never felt he somehow was at a loss due to the school's grading policies (but Oh God can type A parents fret about this incessantly among themselves).   [edit:  took out brag about my son.  Nothing more boring than other people bragging on their kids.]

A Modest Proposal

I spend my business life taking over operations from bloated public agencies, so I suppose I should not be surprised at this picture (via Carpe Diem)

The PPACA has a provision that private insurance companies cannot spend less than 80% of premium on care (vs. administration) or money has to be rebated.  I am not a big fan of this provision, believing a free market is a better mechanism for enforcing price and cost discipline than some arbitrary metric like this.

But, since Congress and this Administration thinks this is such a good idea, here is my modest proposal:  Public universities may not spend less than 80% of tuition directly on teaching of students, or else they must rebate excess tuition back to their students.

 

A Modest Proposal

The PPACA instituted a cap on health insurance spending such that at least 80% of health insurance premiums must be spent on care. Academics like Elizabeth Warren love this idea.  So here is my modest proposal -- let's require that public universities spend at least 80% of tuition on classroom instruction.  If they spend more than 20% on administration and overhead, it gets rebated back to students.  Having nearly universally supported such a provision in the PPACA, academics surely can't oppose this, can they?

U. of Rochester Solar Table -- 3,846 Years To Break-even

Professor Rizzo was keen that I check out the $12,000 solar picnic table at University of Rochester

Most kids use this to hook up their laptops.   Here are a few assumptions

  • 3 hours of use per day (heroic, I am pretty sure it is less than this)
  • 65 watt draw from one laptop
  • 160 days with sun (Rochester is apparently in the top 10 US cities for number of heavy cloud days)
  • 10 cents per kw-hour

This means the table would produce 31,200 W-hr per year or 31.2 KW-hr per year.  This yields an annual electricity savings of $3.12, giving the table a payback time on its investment of 3,846 years.  If one assumes a cost of capital anywhere north of 0.026% per year, then the sun will go dark before this table pays itself off.

There Be Crazy People Here

Yes, our Arizona legislature keeps cranking out the hits

In what has to be the most hilariously unconstitutional piece of legislation that I've seen in quite some time, senators in the Arizona state legislature have introduced a bill that would require all educational institutions in the state -- including state universities -- to suspend or fire professors who say or do things that aren't allowed on network TV. Yes, you read that right: at the same time the Supreme Court is poised to decide if FCC-imposed limits on "indecent" content in broadcast media are an anachronism from a bygone era, Arizona state legislators want to limit what college professors say and do to only what is fit for a Disney movie (excluding, of course, the Pirates of the Caribbeanfranchise. After all, those films are PG-13!).

Amazing.  I had thought the nominal reason for the FCC standards was because non-adults might watch TV and hear a bad word that they likely hear 20 times a day at school.  But college kids are generally adults.  This is just bizarre.

The Huffpo article did not mention the bill's sponsor, but how much do you want to be its a Conservative who has in the past lamented political correctness on campus?  [update: sponsors here]

Outsourcing the HR Department

I thought this was an interesting hypothesis, that the inability of coporations to use aptitude tests on potential hires (something that has been effectively killed by civil rights suits) has led to the increased reliance on college credentials as a screening mechanism.

I think there is an element of truth to this, but I suspect this would have happened anyway as the presure to cut costs caused companies to push their candidate evaluation and screening onto other institutions.  As I wrote a while back

There is some rationality in this approach [to hiring mainly from the Ivies] – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

I don't know if these percentages are entirely correct - I would argue the education / skills component of my mechanical engineering degree was higher than 10%, but that may be just my personal bias - but the basic approach seems sound

Peter Thiel describes higher education as a "giant selection mechanism" and estimates that only 10% of the value of a college degree comes from actual learning, and 50% of the value comes from selection (getting into a selective university) and 40% comes from signalling (graduating from a selective college becomes known to employers).  If employers could use intelligence tests instead of college degrees as measures of aptitude, it might be a lot more efficient and more cost-effective than the current practice of using very expensive four-year college degrees that add very little in terms of educational value (at least according to Thiel).

The True Cost of the Education Bubble

I hinted at it in my last post, but have addressed it in more depth in my column this week at Forbes.  A brief excerpt:

The theme from all these failures is distorted signals and corrupted communication.  People, no matter how savvy, cannot possibly research every nook and cranny of the economy before making an investment.  They make decisions, therefore, based on signals – prices, interest rates, perceived risks, and the profit history of other similar investments.  If these signals are artificially altered or corrupted, bad decisions that destroy wealth and growth will result.

Which brings me back to education.    I will tell you something almost every business owner knows:  We business owners may whine from time to time that banks won’t lend us money, but what really is in short support are great people.  Nothing has more long-term impact on an economy than amount and types of skills that are sought by future workers.  That is why everyone accepts as a truism that education is critical to economic health.

Unfortunately, there is good evidence that our education policies have already done long-term harm.   The signals we send to kids making their higher education plans have disconnected them from reality in a number of fundamental ways, causing them to make bad decisions for themselves and the broader economy.

Examples follow.  Read it all.

Wage Stagnation in One Chart

Student Loan Bubble

Via Zero Hedge:

A key reason why a preponderance of the population is fascinated with the student loan market is that as USA Today reported in a landmark piece last year, it is now bigger than ever the credit card market. And as the monthly consumer debt update from the Fed reminds us, the primary source of funding is none other than the US government. To many, this market has become the biggest credit bubble in America. Why do we make a big deal out of this? Because as Bloomberg reported last night, we now have prima facie evidence that the student loan market is not only an epic bubble, but it is also the next subprime! To wit: "Vince Sampson, president, Education Finance Council, said during a panel at the IMN ABS East Conference in Miami Monday that lenders are no longer pushing loans to people who can’t afford them." Re-read the last sentence as many times as necessary for it to sink in. Yes: just like before lenders were "pushing loans to people who can't afford them" which became the reason for the subprime bubble which has since spread to prime, but was missing the actual confirmation from authorities of just this action, this time around we have actual confirmation that student loans are being actually peddled to people who can not afford them. And with the government a primary source of lending, we will be lucky if tears is all this ends in.

When you mess with pricing signals and resource allocation, you get bubbles.  And one could easily argue that OWS is as much about the student loan bubble bursting as about Wall Street.

I must say that I never had a ton of sympathy for home buyers who were supposedly "lured" into taking on loans they could not afford.  The ultimate cost for most of them was the loss of a home that, if the credit had not been extended, they would never have had anyway.  US law protects our other assets from home purchase failures, and while we have to sit in the credit penalty box for a while after mortgage default or bankruptcy, most people are able to recover in a few years.

Student loans are entirely different.  In large part because the government is the largest lender via Sallie Mae, student loans cannot be discharged via bankruptcy.  You can be 80 years old and still have your social security checks garnished to pay back your student loans.   You can more easily discharge credit card debt run up buying lap dances in topless bars than you can student loans. There is absolutely no way to escape a mistake, which is all the more draconian given that most folks who are borrowing are in their early twenties or even their teens.

I can see it now, the pious folks in power trying to foist this bubble off on some nameless loan originators.  Well, this is a problem we all caused.  The government, as a long-standing policy, has pushed college and student lending.  Private lenders have marketed these loans aggressively.  Colleges have jacked costs up into the stratosphere, in large part because student loans disconnected consumers from the immediate true costs.  And nearly everyone in any leadership position have pushed kids to go to college, irregardless of whether their course of study made even a lick of sense vis a vis their ability to earn back the costs later in the job market.

Public service note:  Their are, to my knowledge, five colleges that will provide up to 100% financial aid in the form of grants, such that a student can graduate debt free:  Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Amherst.  These are obviously really hard schools to get into.   I don't think a single one has a double digit percentage admissions rate.  But these are the top schools that hopefully establish trends.

I am thrilled my alma mater is on the list.  For years I have argued that they were approach severe diminishing returns from spending tens of millions of dollars to improve educational quality another 0.25%.   If an institution is really going to live by the liberal arts college philosophy -- that a liberal arts education makes one a better human being irregardless of whether the course of study is easily monetized after graduation -- then it better have a way for students who want to join the Peace Corp or run for the state legislature to graduate without a debt load than only a Wall Street job can pay off.

By the way, my other proposal for Princeton has been this:  rather than increasing the educational quality 1% more to the existing students, why not bring Ivy League education to 3x as many students.  I have always wondered why a school like Princeton doesn't buy a bunch of cheap land in Arizona and build a western campus for another 10,000 kids.

My son and I spent the last year touring colleges.  One common denominator of all the good and great private colleges:  they are all over 100 years old.  Rice was probably the newest, when a rich guy toured the great colleges of the world and thought he could do as well, and started Rice  (Stanford is older but has a sort of similar origin story).  Where are the new schools?  The number of kids with the qualifications and desire to go to a top private college have skyrocketed, and tuition have risen far more than inflation, but there is no new supply coming on the market.  Why is that?

My Highest Recommendation

I have pimped the Teaching Company (now called the Great Courses) for years on this blog.  I have done over 20 courses, and am nearly addicted to their offerings.  Nothing bums we out more than to read their catalog and find nothing new I want, except when that happens I order something random I don't think I want and usually love it.  I listen to music a lot less than I used to because I often have a Great Course on my mp3 player instead.

Via Econlog comes a great article about the Great Courses, and make me feel a bit better that I am not alone in my obsession.  Its one of those really interesting stories about an entrepreneur who sticks with his vision, right down to his last dollar.

But it is also a depressing read for someone who may soon be sending his kid to a small liberal arts college.  Some excerpts related to current college education:

the company offers a treasure trove of traditional academic content that undergraduates paying $50,000 a year may find nowhere on their Club Med–like campuses. This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, and the intellectual influences on the country’s founding. There are lessons here for the academy, if it will only pay them heed....

The Great Courses’ uninhibited enthusiasm is so alien to contemporary academic discourse that several professors who have recorded for the firm became defensive when I asked them about their course descriptions, emphatically denying any part in writing the copy—as if celebrating beauty were something to be ashamed of....

So totalitarian is the contemporary university that professors have written to Rollins complaining that his courses are too canonical in content and do not include enough of the requisite “silenced” voices. It is not enough, apparently, that identity politics dominate college humanities departments; they must also rule outside the academy. Of course, outside the academy, theory encounters a little something called the marketplace, where it turns out that courses like “Queering the Alamo,” say, can’t compete with “Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition.”...

In its emphasis on teaching, the company differs radically from the academic world, where “teaching is routinely stigmatized as a lower-order pursuit, and the ‘real’ academic work is research,” notes Allen Guelzo, an American history professor at Gettysburg College. Though colleges ritually berate themselves for not putting a high enough premium on teaching, they inevitably ignore that skill in awarding tenure or extra pay. As for reaching an audience beyond the hallowed walls of academe, perhaps a regular NPR gig would gain notice in the faculty lounge, but not a Great Courses series. Jeremy McInerney, a University of Pennsylvania history professor, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998 that he wouldn’t have taped “Ancient Greek Civilization” for the company if his tenure vote had been in doubt: “This doesn’t win you any further respect. If anything, there’s a danger of people looking down on it, since many people are suspicious of anything that reeks of popularism.” So much for the academy’s supposed stance against elitism....

Further, it isn’t clear that the Great Courses professors teach the same way back on their home campuses. A professor who teaches the Civil War as the “greatest slave uprising in history” to his undergraduates because that is what is expected of him, says University of Pennsylvania history professor Alan Kors, will know perfectly well how to teach a more intellectually honest course for paying adults.

While I took a fair number of liberal arts courses, being an engineer really sheltered me from this kind of BS.  But my kids interests run more towards liberal arts, and while I am working to enforce the double major approach (you can take whatever major interests you as long as you double it with economics or something useful), I still despair that they really are going to get what they think they will get at college.

College Bleg, Wesleyan (CT) Edition

My son is being recruited, at a minimum, at Bowdoin, Vassar, Wesleyan, Haverford, Kenyon and possibly Amherst and Pomona to play baseball.  We have a pretty good handle on all these schools except Wesleyan in Connecticut, which we have visited but we are having a hard time getting a read on.

In the 2011 Insider's Guide to the Colleges, Wesleyan is described as an extreme example of a college dedicated to politically correct intolerance.  The book says that the classes tend to be mainly focused on teaching kids to be radical activists rather than any traditional subject matter.  Social life is portrayed as revolving around marijuana and hallucinogens.   It is by far the most negative review we have read (well, I suppose this would not be negative to some).

We are trying to get a read on the accuracy of this.    Any of you know this school or attend it?   Is there truth to this, or does the writer have an ax to grind?   He is not naive to what he will find politically at New England liberal arts colleges. The question is not whether there is a lot of leftish political correctness - that is a baseline in all such schools.  The question is whether this school is unusually extreme.  The book makes it sound like it is Kos Kidz Academy.    Comment or send me an email.

Update:  Hmm, based on the comments, I explained myself poorly.  Nic will likely never play pro ball.  If that were his goal, we would definitely be looking to ASU or Texas.  He has decided he wants to go to a small liberal arts college.  Baseball has two synergies - one, he would like to play in college.  Two, being recruited for sports helps in the admissions process at selective schools.

There is money set aside to pay for college, from a source such that it needs to be used for college, so arguments about price-value issues with college are not immediately relevant.

The Administration's War on Due Process

Obama's Department of Education has been issuing a series of new rules to colleges that accept government funds (ie pretty much all of them) that going forward, they will be required to

  • Expand the definition of sexual harassment, forcing it to include even Constitutionally-protected speech.  Sexual harassment will essentially be redefined as "somehow offending a female."
  • Eliminate traditional protections for those accused of sexual harassment under these new definitions.  The presumption of innocence, beyond a reasonable doubt guilt standards, the ability to face and cross-examine one's accuser, and the right of appeal are among centuries old common law traditions that the DOE is seeking to eliminate in colleges.

Unfortunately, this is a really hard threat to tackle.  Most of those concerned with civil rights protections outside our small libertarian community are on the left, and these same people are often fully vested in the modern feminist belief that all men are rapists.  It also puts libertarians in the position of defending crude and boorish speech, or at least defending the right to that speech.

But at the end of the day, the DOE needs to be forced to explain why drunk and stupid frat boys chanting crude slogans outside the women's center on campus should have fewer rights as accused than does a serial murder.

Michael Barone has more today in the Washington Times:

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).

All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?

Given the prevailing attitudes among faculty and university administrators, it's not hard to guess who will be the target of most such proceedings. You only have to remember how rapidly and readily top administrators and dozens of faculty members were ready to castigate as guilty of rape the Duke lacrosse players who, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded, were absolutely innocent.

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude. "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen would approve.

As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other options. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.

Women'g groups all the time say things like "all men are rapists."  That's pretty hostile and degrading to men.  My guess is that somehow this kind of gender-hostile speech will not be what gets investigated by these kangaroo courts.

I wrote about related events at Yale here.