Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.

Six Years Later, My Question is Answered

You would have to be a Coyote Blog old-timer to remember back in January of 2007 when I asked

Is there any state where a college men's football or basketball coach is not the highest paid state official?

Robert Fischer-Baum, via Ilya Somin, has the answer.  In forty states, the highest paid state employee is a university football or basketball coach.  In all fifty states, the highest paid public employee works for a state university.   Which brings us back to my post earlier today.   Government student loans are to university payrolls as quantitative easing is to stock prices.

The Plan For Universities to Raise Tuition to Infinity

Via the WSJ, President Obama is proposing debt forgiveness for student borrowers

The White House proposes that the government forgive billions of dollars in student debt over the next decade, a plan that cheers student advocates, but critics say it would expand a program that already encourages students to borrow too much and stick taxpayers with the bill.

The proposal, included in President Barack Obama's budget for next year, would increase the number of borrowers eligible for a program known casually as income-based repayment, which aims to help low-income workers stay current on federal student debt.

Borrowers in the program make monthly payments equivalent to 10% of their income after taxes and basic living expenses, regardless of how much they owe. After 20 years of on-time payments—10 years for those who work in public or nonprofit jobs—the balance is forgiven.

Already, it's pretty clear that many students pay little attention to size of the debt they run up.  Easy loans for students have essentially made them less price sensitive, however irrational this may seem (did you make good short - long term trade-offs at the age of 18?)  As a result, tuition has soared, much like home prices did as a result of easy mortgage credit a decade ago.  The irony is that easier student debt is not increasing access to college for the average kid (since tuition is essentially staying abreast of increases in debt availability), but is shifting student's future dollars to university endowments and bloated administrations.  Take any industry that has in the past been accused of preying on the financially unsophisticated by driving them into debt for profit, and universities are fifty times worse.

So of course, the Progressives in the White House and Congress (unsurprisingly Elizabeth Warren has a debt subsidy plan as well) are set to further enable this predatory behavior by universities.  By effectively capping most students' future financial obligations from student debt, this plan would remove the last vestiges of price sensitivity from the college tuition market.  Colleges can now raise tuition to infinity, knowing that the bulk of it will get paid by the taxpayer some time in the future.  Just as the college price bubble looks ready to burst, this is the one thing that could re-inflate it.

Postscript:  By the way, let's look at the numbers.  Let's suppose Mary went to a top college and ran up $225,000 in debt.  She went to work for the government, averaging $50,000 a year (much of her compensation in government is in various benefits that don't count in this calculation).  She has to live in DC, so that's expensive, and pay taxes.  Let's say that she has numbers to prove she only has $20,000 left after essential living expenses.  10% of that for 10 years is $20,000 (or about $13,500 present value at 8%).  So Mary pays less than $20,000 for her education, and the taxpayer pays $205,000.  The university makes a handsome profit - in fact they might have given her financial aid or a lower tuition, but why bother?  Mary doesn't care what her tuition is any more, because she is capped at around $20,000.  The taxpayer is paying the rest and is not involved in the least in choosing the university or setting prices, so why not charge the taxpayer as much as they can?

Postscript #2:  It is hard to figure out exactly what Elizabeth Warren is proposing, as most of her proposal is worded so as to take a potshot at banks rather than actually lay out a student loan plan.  But it appears that she wants to reduce student loan interest rates for one year.  If so, how is this different from teaser rates on credit cards, where folks -- like Elizabeth Warren -- accuse credit card companies of tricking borrowers into debt with low initial, temporary rates.  I  find it  a simply astounding sign of the bizarre times we live in that a leading anti-bank progressive is working on legislative strategies to get 18-year-olds further into debt.

The Shifting Concept of "Dystopian"

Some professors are arguing about online education.  I will not comment on that particular topic right now, though it sounds a bit like two apatosauruses arguing about whether they should be worried about the comet they just saw.

I did, however, want to comment on this, from an SJSU professor to a Harvard professor, I assume pushing back on online course work designed by Harvard.  Emphasis added.

what kind of message are we sending our students if we tell them that they should best learn what justice is by listening to the reflections of the largely white student population from a privileged institution like Harvard? Our very diverse students gain far more when their own experience is central to the course and when they are learning from our own very diverse faculty, who bring their varied perspectives to the content of courses that bear on social justice…

having our students read a variety of texts, perhaps including your own, is far superior to having them listen to your lectures. This is especially important for a digital generation that reads far too little. If we can do something as educators we would like to increase literacy, not decrease it…the thought of the exact same social justice course being taught in various philosophy departments across the country is downright scary — something out of a dystopian novel

I would have said that teaching social justice at all and requiring students to take it at many universities was something out of a dystopian novel.  In fact, the whole concept of social justice, wherein it is justified that certain groups can use the coercive force of government to get whatever they may fancy merely by declaring that there is a right to it (e.g. health care), actually underlies a number of dystopian novels.

Postscript #1:  If find it hilarious that the SJSU rejects Harvard-created course materials because they are the product of white privilege.  I cannot speak to Harvard undergrad, but my son is at Amherst which could certainly be lumped into the same category (any college named after an early proponent of biological warfare against Native Americans has to be up there in the white privilege category).  My son actually gave up his earlier plan to study history when he looked at the course catalog.  It was impossible to simply study, say, the political and economic history of Western Europe.  All the courses are such things as "the role of women in the development of Paraguayan aboriginal rights."

Postscript #2:  I don't have the larger context for this letter but it strikes me the professor is stuck in the typical leftist technocratic top-down and centralized single mandated approach to anything.  Why is it that online courses would end up with no viewpoint or content competition?  The Internet has increased the access of most people to a diversity of ideas that go beyond what they got in the morning fish-wrap and from Uncle Walter on TV.  Why would it have the opposite effect in education?  Or perhaps that is what the professor is worried about, a loss of control of the education message by the current academic elite, to be feared in the same way the Left hates Fox News.

Moms with Ivy League Educations

Apparently it is somewhat unethical in the feminist world for women to go to the Ivy League and then become a full-time mom.   I know several women who have Ivy League undergrad or graduate degrees and have, for at least part of their lives, been full time moms.  I am married to one, for example.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. People change plans.  Life is path-dependent.  Many women who ended up being full time moms out of the Ivy League will tell you that it still surprises them they made that choice.
  2. Why is education suddenly only about work?  I thought liberal arts education was all about making you a better person, for pursuits that go far beyond just one's work life.  I, for example, get far more use of my Princeton education in my hobbies (e.g. blogging) than in my job.   The author uses law school as an example, and I suppose since law school is just a highbrow trade school one might argue it is an exception.  But what is wrong with salting the "civilian" population with non-lawyers who are expert on the law?
  3. Type A Ivy League-trained full-time moms do a lot more that just be a mom, making numerous contributions in their community.  I am always amazed what a stereotyped view of moms that feminists have.
  4. If spots in the Ivy League, as implied by this article, should only be held by people seriously wanting to use the degree for a meaningful lifetime career, then maybe the Ivy League needs to rethink what degrees it offers.  Ask both of my sisters about the value of their Princeton comparative literature degrees in the marketplace.  By this logic, should Princeton be giving valuable spots to poetry majors?
  5. I can say from experience that the one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent.  I can help my kids develop and pursue interests in all different directions.  One's love of learning and comfort (rather than distrust) of all these intellectual rubs off on kids almost by osmosis.  In other words, what is wrong with applying an Ivy League education to raising fabulous and creative kids?
  6. The author steps back from the brink, but this comes perilously close to the feminist tendency to replace one set of confining expectations for women with a different set.

Oh and by the way, to the author's conclusion:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I would argue the opposite -- the fewer people of both sexes who go to law school to be in the Senate by 40 and the White House by 50, the better.

Update:  My wife added two other thoughts

  • Decades ago, when her mom was considering whether she wanted to go to graduate school, her dad told her mom that even if she wanted to be a stay at home mom, a good graduate degree was the best life insurance she could have in case he died young.
  • Women with good degrees with good earning potential have far more power in any divorce.  How many women do you know who are trapped in a bad marriage because they don't feel like they have the skills to thrive in the workplace alone?

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