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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The risk of attending college

We don’t generally talk about the risk of attending college. But it is a big investment for the individual, his parents, and taxpayers that subsidize the average college student at least $10,000 per student per year (via guaranteed student loans, state and federal grants, state subsidies of colleges and tax deductions for donations to colleges). And big investments involve risk and reward. A college education is no sure thing even though we frequently here much more about the rewards than the risks.

Two alternatives to college are for junior to work right after high school or start his own business. Why is it risky for junior to experience real work and the business world before he enters academia?

The analysis is quite different for college entrants than they were for my grandfather when he headed off to UC Berkeley in 1917. Few high school grads back then had a chance to attend college, and college graduates were a rare commodity. It didn’t cost nearly as much (relative to the cost of living), virtually nobody borrowed to attend college and those families wealthy enough to be able to afford this luxury were already in the top economic tier. My grandfather graduated in 1921 with no debt and a head start over his high school mates that had worked on the farm during the same four years.

But today the college “investment” is different and far riskier. Here are the three main risks involved with going to college today right after high school:

1) You won’t finish. Today only about half of those entering college have graduated within six years. (If you graduated in the bottom 40% of your high school class and went to college then 76% won’t earn a diploma). For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even scarier: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree.

2) You will pile up far too much debt to pay off your student loans with the rewards of the college education you have earned. Americans now owe more on their college student loans than on their credit cards.

3) You studied a “fun” or interesting degree rather than one in demand in the job market. So you have graduated but no one but the fast food chains want to hire you. Modern Dance or Sociology sounded interesting when you selected your major as an 18 year old but no one ever warned you that after all the time and money you invested in earning your degree, you were destined for poverty.

Perhaps the lesson today isn't that you shouldn't go to college, but that you should approach it like you would any other investment: with caution.

“It’s a very risky investment,” said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University and president of Economic Security Planning Inc., which makes financial planning software.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

America's Waiters and Cashiers Are Over-Educated

Good article at

And not only are America's waiters over-educated - they are deep in debt because of their college student loans. I don't really buy into the notion of being over-educated; I just don't want to pay for your study of esoteric and impractical subjects. If you are going to pay for it, I could give a flip what and how long you study.

Not everyone should go to college and if one goes to college, it should not cost nearly as much as it does today. And we should not be borrowing (as governments, parents and students) for this education. Let the market function; eliminate all the borrowing and the subsidies and we can then sort this mess out.

Not all education is created equally. A BA in Art History will not afford you the same opportunities as a BS in Electrical Engineering. Even if the former is at an expensive private Liberal Arts College at $50,000 per year and the later is at the State U for $8,000 per year.

Let's get rid of the government subsidies for college. This by itself will lower the cost, and help focus colleges and students on education that will pay for itself.

Going to an Elite College Won't Get You More Money; Being Good Enough to Get Accepted at One Will.

In 1999, economists from Princeton and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation compared students at more selective colleges to others of “seemingly comparable ability,” based on their SAT scores and class rank, who had attended less selective schools, either by choice or because a top college rejected them.

The earnings of graduates in the two groups were about the same — perhaps shifting the ledger in favor of the less expensive, less prestigious route.

Friday, December 24, 2010

100 Percent Of College Football Players Are Receiving the Benefits Of Being College Football Players

An exhaustive three-year internal investigation has confirmed that a full 100 percent of college football players receive the advantages that come with being a college football player, the NCAA reported Friday. "We were frankly stunned at the benefits athletes received when it came to classwork, housing, transportation, tuition, even food.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Word of mouth is an important factor in sustaining the “image” of a college

This article in the Huffington Post is the kind of drivel that we hear too frequently on the cost of college.

The author, David Skorton, the President of Cornell University talks about the “net price” of college as being less than the sticker price. But if one adds the cost of all the subsidies (parent, government and donations) of at least $10,000 per student per year (in governmental subsidies alone) the “actual cost” of college today is actually much higher than the sticker price. The student may experience a lower net price but only because someone is picking up the rest of the tab.

This article never asks: 1) What in the heck are students actually studying today at college? 2) Why have we combined minor league football and college? Why not move minor league football outside of college like we have in professional baseball? 3) Why are we paying professors more for their esoteric “research” rather than their effectiveness in educating our youth? 4) Why do we have to invest so much in the ambiance of the campus (large park-like settings with resort dorms and meals that are fit for a cruise ship)?

College should be tough and we should have standardized tests that allow us to determine who is producing the most useful education for the dollar spent (this is called productivity).

Word of mouth is an important factor in keeping up the “image” of a college. So the author points to a recent study by the American Council on Education that says 89% of alumni reported that “their college experience had been worth it”. First, many of these grads have not paid for their education yet and so it is too early for them to experience buyer’s remorse. And more importantly, with what do these unemployed, deep-in-debt, Sociology majors have to compare their college experience? Once you drink the Kool-Aid, you are vested in getting the next poor schmuck to drink the Kool-aid as well. Do we really expect the recent grad to say: “I was an idiot, and my parents were morons to push me into attending six years of college to pursue my dream of an Ethnomusicology degree. I am working at Kentucky Fried Chicken right now but at least I can now better understand the rhythm and the melody of a hard working fast food operation.”

Skorton goes on to state: “The increasing emphasis on higher education in China, India and other emerging economies is testimony to the near-universal agreement that success in this world, not to mention national competitiveness, requires more, not less, higher education. Thus, we as a country need to expand, not contract, the availability of higher education and increase public investment in colleges and universities.” In other words, because others agree with our madness, do not give up the ship. And he insinuates that we need the existing college establishment to do this expanding.

The author states: “We can no longer avoid true, tough and thoroughgoing reviews of faculty productivity and quality, including after tenure is granted.” But how does tenure help provide a great education at a competitive price? If we move towards a market based system where we see what institutions and entrepreneurs transmit the most education for the dollar spent then tenure and public employee unions will be left in the dust.

And then Skorton goes on to opine: “Given our continuing uncertain economy, I call on my colleagues in higher education to reduce the rate of rise of our operating costs through focus, connectivity, accountability and administrative streamlining.” What do you mean reduce the rate of rise? How about cutting your costs at Cornell by 50% (tuition alone is now $39,450 for undergraduate nonresidents of New York)?

Skorton’s comments would be akin to the former CEOs of Braniff, Eastern, and PanAm airlines explaining: “We will be charging $1,000 per trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas because the rate of inflation and the tenure agreements we have with our pilots have resulted in our costs going up at twice the rate of inflation.” And then expecting Southwest Airlines to just sit back and do nothing. Instead Southwest blew the competition away by challenging the basic value proposition. They were the first to say: “We won’t give you meals; we will give you peanuts. We won’t assign seats instead we will give you an incentive to show up early and line up so we can turn our planes around faster than the old school.” Guess what Dr. Skorton - you are the old Brantiff Airlines. You are an old unionized and protected industry that needs to face and adapt to real competition.

We need outsiders and new entrants to challenge the way incumbents deliver college education. We have to be careful about listening too much to 18 year old students complaining about their dorm rooms and tenured professors bitching about not having enough time for their “research”.

Dr. Skorton deals little with basic supply and demand principles because of all the subsidies built into the US college system. Perhaps he should go online for a free refresher course in how the Khan Academy and Google Books are educating the world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What combination of services might provide a far less expensive college education?

The Khan Academy might be at the center of the new college experience. It is a free online not-for-profit organization with a mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere.

At Khan one can study subjects from Calculus, Chemistry, Economics, Finance, Physics, Probability, Statistics, & Biology. They even have some History classes. But alas they currently offer nothing in Ethnomusicology, Sociology, Physical Education, Recreation Management or Gender Studies. And all of their programs are free.

So why are some college students spending $50,000 a year to study some of these same subjects? Well first the “college experience” is given much credence. And second, it is not the learning that is valued by our society nearly as much as the eventual “degree”. And third, students are greatly subsidized (by parents and government) and usually don’t have to start paying off their college loans for several years so they tend to be indifferent to cost comparisons while at college.

If cost-effective learning is the goal, then between online education, and some complimentary for-profit services including private live laboratories, the “education” component could be achieved at a much lower cost.

Look at the Advanced Placement classes and exams that high school students are taking at an ever increasing rate. These high school students get college credit for demonstrating the mastery of a subject and at a cost that is much less than college. And the mastery of the subject is confirmed via a standardized exam.

But a class in Advanced Engineering Mathematics at one college may not be equivalent to the learning achieved at another institution. We can easily compare the cost; we just can’t compare the learning achieved for the money spent.

The broadly accepted notion that everyone needs to “attend” college, and that college is a great investment no matter the cost or the field of study are finally getting challenged. And with all the subsidies given to those attending college (both the hidden and obvious that currently add up to at least $10,000 per student per year) has allowed the cost to go through the roof.

We rely on the traditional lecture where we pay an expensive professor (or his less expensive graduate assistant) to instruct a class in the method that has been used (with very little adaption) in universities for centuries. We have also combined minor league football, resort living (beautiful campuses, great recreation facilities, comfortable dorms and excellent food), “research” and some very expensive education together into today’s college. But what we haven’t emphasized is preparation of our youth that makes graduates and therefore America more competitive in the world economy.

In addition to the Khan Academy, Google labs, Google books, YouTube, Wikipedia and the internet in general make an infinite amount of information, views, writings, speeches, lesson plans, tests and teachings online and usually for free. I am not suggesting that a student does not need some occasional tutoring and coaching. But is that better achieved in a meeting in the professor’s office or online or via a Skype conference? And if the test results are the measure of success, then it is more straight forward to determine who is getting the education job done and who is failing.

Let’s say instead that one managed one’s own degree in Mechanical Engineering that complemented an unpaid (25 hour per week) apprenticeship program. You work on real world problems at the apprenticeship, while studying online materials, and seeing online lectures with some down-to-earth laboratory work. You pay a coach for occasional career and academic, industry contacts and learn what subjects are in demand in the real world from this adviser. And perhaps there develops a whole online tutoring business where the student can get online assistance on technical subjects at a reasonable rate. And finally numerous chat rooms emerge where similarly situated students discuss Solving Linear Equations or understanding Photosynthesis and learn the material in greater depth by virtue of teaching each other the material.

All told the elements of this new college education might consist of the student hiring an advisor for $1,000, paying $5,000 for lab time ($50 an hour times 100 hours), $2,500 for lab exams (5 exams times $500 per exam), $5,000 for online tutoring ($50 an hour times 100 hours) and $1000 for ten standardized final exams at $100 each. For a total of $14,500 for a Mechanical Engineering certificate. I use the term “certificate” because I also question the concept of a four year “degree” - seems like an arbitrary length and appears extended to meet some unknown goal.

Perhaps over four years a student earns certificates in Chemical Engineering, Physics and Accounting and future employers know by virtue of his standardized test scores how well he knows the material.

Now many in the college establishment won’t like this proposal. They will point to the importance of the contacts made at college (as if this is the only way to meet others in your field) and the broad learning (in other words liberal indoctrination) that is achieved on campus. They will point to the importance of the research on America’s college and the fall off in education that will result if we leave education to the greedy private sector. But they will not say a thing about cost. Because the existing college establishment is infinitely more expensive than a lesson learned online at the Khan Academy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The case against college

What if President Obama (along with many others) has it backwards? What if America is sending too many people to college?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Change in college - this is what we need to do and think about

Just wanted to review what we hope to accomplish in changing the way we think about college. Here are our goals:

 Encourage more high school graduates to consider alternatives to college.

 Get more college students to study majors that will serve them well in increasing their ability to move out of their parents house.

 Make the economic return of college degrees more transparent and more available to students.

 Make the US more competitive via a workforce better prepared to meet the demands of the job market.

 Discourage students from going deep into debt to obtain degrees with little or no hope of financial returns. In fact, going deep into debt for any reason is almost always a bad idea!

 Get more people to question the assumption that the more one spends on college the more successful one will be.

 Reduce the cost of college – this does not mean providing more college subsidies. It means putting more economic pressure on colleges and universities to manage their costs much more aggressively.

 Hold colleges and universities to the same financial standards, expectations, and measurements that the rest of our economy has to deal with. In short, they need to provide a better (and more relevant) education at a lower cost.

 Help students who do need to borrow money for college, to do so wisely.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A certification in Electron Microscopes

Here is a two year certification program in Electron Microscopes at San Joaquin Delta Junior College in Stockton, California.

So, what is an electron microscope? An electron microscope is a special type of microscope used to look at things regular light microscopes cannot. Light has certain wavelengths it travels at... BIG wavelengths. This means you can only see things that are as big as the wavelength of the light. Light microscopes are only able to magnify things around 2,000 times but the wavelength of an electron is much, much smaller. This means you can see extremely small things with an electron microscope can magnify an object several million times.

In this program you learn:
1) Use of the Equipment
2) Sample preparation
3) Practical theory of the Electron Microscope

One can get a certificate specialized in Biological, Materials or both.
And most importantly the job market for trained microscopists is very good and very well paying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The case for studying almost anything in college – NOT!

This opinion piece (by a fourth-year architect at Cornell) tries to make the argument that one should study something that you love rather than something practical in college. All things being equal, I would agree that it is an advantage to be studying something one loves, but if there is zero demand for what you love then you need to be one hell of an entrepreneur to create a demand. Or you better learn something practical. Or how about this for an idea: study something practical while you are studying Comparative Literature. Add a double major in Mechanical Engineering to your degree in Medieval History to do your part in reviving our economy while ensuring your own independent future.

The study of English may teach critical thinking and probably does teach one to better express oneself. Yet that is not sufficient. How about also learning advanced engineering mathematics, electrical engineering, biomechanical science, supply and demand theory, logic and statistical analysis in college? There is little evidence that many Liberal Arts majors are spending much time on these more practical studies in their 4-6 years of college today. The argument is, of course, if one is interested in Liberal Arts, then one may not be interested in the more practical fields. That is fair, and probably accurate. But this won’t address the fact that an overwhelming number of our college graduates are woefully unequipped to enter the job market of the 21st century.

If you were lost on a winter backpacking trip, would you rather have learned the basics of starting a fire or be able to debate if Chaucer should be credited as the first author to demonstrate the artistic legitimacy of the vernacular Middle English? I am all for broad learning but if you have to pick only one, you should think long and hard about learning the practical subject first.

Critical thinking is already a competitive advantage for America. On average, we ask “why,” question assumptions, recheck data and test obvious answers more than they do in China.

But these days, it takes so much more. We need to be able to produce products and services competitively in order to sustain our way of life. That means a work force with more engineers, scientists, welders, technicians, inventors, entrepreneurs. And an economy that is geared more to selling goods and services outside our borders than borrowing from the Chinese to make ourselves a bit more comfortable at home.

After World War II, America had over half of the World’s manufacturing capacity. Much of the world was in disarray and much of the world was under the control of wealth-destroying communist tyrannies. It was a much easier time for America to compete. The United States lost far fewer lives and property than most of the developed world and was left standing king of the hill. If you had a college degree, any college degree, you were golden because only about 6% of those older than 25 had college degrees at that time.

By 2005, the percentage of those in the US who graduated from college reached an all-time high of 27.7%.

Today we have an innovative society (partly due to our culture and willingness to try new things and challenge the status quo). But we have gone from an exporting economy to a massive importing society. Our consumers have been willing to borrow to the hilt to buy goods built in China and study Leisure Studies, Dance, Ethnomusicology, and Philosophy at our expensive colleges.

Our economy is lost in the woods right now and up a cold creek. So let’s spend less time on Shakespeare for the time-being and encourage more college students to learn to start a fire that will light up our economy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How do we measure what colleges are producing?

One of the main criteria that is being used these days (because it is one of the few statistics we have about the cost-effectiveness of college) is the default rate on student loans. This is a start but it is leading liberals to the wrong conclusion that we need more government intervention. And as a Libertarian I think we need far less government involvement in college.

If we require more transparency about how each college’s specific programs are producing independent and tax-paying citizens, the market will tend to adjust appropriately.

College loan defaults are a function of a number of factors. But first and foremost they are a result of a system that makes costs reasonably transparent but the young consumer indifferent to those costs because he won’t be paying the bill for several years to come. The student has been taught to accept the conventional wisdom that this debt is a great “investment”. And the student has been conditioned to believe that one college major is as valuable as another.

But default rates are also a function of the lack of transparency on what the education produces for the money spent. What is the common test measure that demonstrates the learning achieved? There is none.

Are graduates making the US more competitive, making employers more willing to start a new business in the US rather than in China or India, and creating well-paying jobs and secondary jobs? For example a drug research center is driven by the availability of top scientists. But for each of the scientist jobs, there are many other support jobs from secretaries to janitors that keep the place humming. One “primary” job can support one or more other secondary jobs, all strengthening our economy.

As we look at college loan default rates I think we will find three primary factors that correlate with default rates:

First, is the income level of the college student’s family. Poor students default at higher rates than wealthier students. This is probably the result of less willingness and ability of the family to help with the cost of the college to begin with and probably the result of poor students borrowing a higher percentage of their college costs than wealthier students.

The second factor is how much students borrow. A student that borrows $1,000 over a four year degree has got to be a lower default risk than one that borrows $100,000. Liberals will then suggest that we need to subsidize these poor students more and Libertarians like me will fight hard to stop this ineffective (and usually counterproductive) market intervention.

The third and most important factor is what the student studies at college. Is there a demand for what the student invests his education in? Recent graduates in Chemical Engineering, Petroleum Engineering and Mechanical Engineering are finding well-paying jobs. The same cannot be said for Recreation Management, English and Sociology majors. So we need a much broader discussion on what students are studying. Not all college education is created equal and it matters if there is customer that wants to pay one for that education once you have invested in it.

The “for-profit” colleges are not the only culprits

This is the story in the Sacramento area of the unintended consequences of the government intervention and subsidization of college. Our politicians decided that more college was the answer for our society. So they made it easier via government subsidized debt for every kid to achieve this “dream”. As if attending college is the goal in itself.

College degrees by themselves are useless; it is the competitive advantage that the educations bestow - the secondary impacts that may or may not make the difference.

Here is the answer. Let’s require all schools (both private and public) to publish the wages and unemployment rates of their graduates. This after all is the result we are seeking - higher wages for a lower investment in education. It is not hard to find out what a college education cost, but it is virtually impossible to see the end product of this “investment”.

The state and federal subsidies have totally distorted the post-high school education market. Most kids don’t care about debt - especially when they are told by “adults” that it is a good deal. You have kids taking out big loans to major in “Office Skills”. $20,000 later they are in deep doodoo.

The “for-profit” colleges are not the only culprits here. Physical Education majors at Duke are not earning much of a return on their education either.

The answer is simple. Require colleges to collect and report the starting salaries for the first five years after graduation. And let’s remove all subsidies from after high school education. Don’t subsidize college loans; don’t subsidize public colleges. Most importantly let’s require the colleges to report with enough granularity down to what students are earning based on what they majored in.

A four-year degree in “Ehtnomusicology” is not a better investment than a one year certificate program in “Medical Assistant” studies. There are far too many ways to waste one’s youth and one’s future financial freedom by studying a subject that has absolutely no customers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

College debt should be paid off at the age of fifty-three

“In the four years it took to earn a business degree at Boston University, Tyson Hunter of Seattle ran up a debt of $152,000 in student loans. After graduation, he was hired by a market research company at a salary of $40,000 a year, well above what the average graduate makes right out of college. But his loan payments of $1,000 a month make up a third of his take-home pay. When he finally pays off his student loans, he will be fifty-three years old and will have paid $300,000 in principal and interest. To save money on rent, he has moved into his mother’s condo.” "The Five-Year Party" by Craig Brandon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The concept of "grit" and college

An excellent article about the importance of hard work and “grit” in success. “In 1869, Francis Galton published ‘Hereditary Genius,’ his landmark investigation into the factors underlying achievement. Galton’s method was straightforward: he gathered as much information as possible on dozens of men with ‘very high reputations,’ including poets, politicians, and scientists. That’s when Galton noticed something rather surprising: success wasn’t simply a matter of intelligence or talent. Instead, Galton concluded that eminent achievement was only possible when ‘ability combined with zeal and the capacity for hard labour.’”

But other key messages are also relevant to success and college. It turns out that those that can focus on specific learning and activities (rather than trying to do it all or learn it all) have the highest chance of success. It’s about selecting a specific goal off in the future and sticking to it. And hopefully the “goal” provides a reasonable chance to support an independent adulthood.

“Grit isn’t just about stubborn perseverance - it’s also about finding a goal that can sustain our interest for years at a time. Consider two children learning to play the piano, each with the same level of raw talent and each expending the same effort toward musical training. However, while one child focuses on the piano, the other child experiments with the saxophone and cello. The kid who sticks with one instrument is demonstrating grit. Maybe it’s more fun to try something new, but high levels of achievement require a certain single-mindedness.”

“While parents and teachers have long emphasized the importance of being well-rounded - this is why most colleges require students to take courses in all the major disciplines, from history to math - success in the real world may depend more on the development of narrow passions.” And I would add, “narrow passions” that have some customer demand willing to pay for them.

It really calls into question the whole notion of the classic Liberal Arts Education in college. One studies plenty of interesting subjects except specialized, technical or practical knowledge that would actually help the student land a good paying job. History is fascinating, Political Science is intriguing, Gender Studies is titillating and Ethnomusicology is of interest to some. But unless you are so dedicated to one of these fields that you are on in the top 1-2 % you have virtually no chance of landing a related job.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Five-Year Party

‎"The Five-Year Party" a very good read for parents considering the college experience for their kids.

This is typical: "As my files grew, it began to appear that a large segment of the higer education industry was involved in a massive fraud in which parents, students, and taxpayers were being hoodwinked into paying for one thing - a college education - but were actually getting something entirely different - five year (or longer) party where education is no longer required.”

The author Craig Brandon’s major thesis is that our colleges are carried away with the notion that the student is the “customer”. And you must do anything possible to please the customer. So when the customer asks for less home work, less reading, easier tests, and more comfortable dormitories this customer feedback becomes the goal of the institution. And to do this they have vastly increased their costs and created an atmosphere where professors only survive by dumbing down the curriculum and inflating grades.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reducing the cost of college by taking AP classes in high school.

One of the best ways for a family to reduce the cost of college is to get it free during high school. By taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school it is possible to enter your first college well into your first year. And these units are almost free - the standardized exams are currently $87 each.

This curriculum in the US is sponsored by the College Board and offers standardized courses and exams to high school students that are generally equivalent to college courses.

AP tests are scored on a 5-4-3-2-1 numeric scale (with 5 being the highest score). Each college has a different policy on the score required to obtain college credit but generally a score of at least 3 or 4 is required.

From Biology, Calculus, Chemistry, to Statistics there are about 30 courses offered US wide although very few high schools offer all of these programs.

Why is the Department of Education picking on for-profit colleges?

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan will step up oversight of federal student financial-aid programs after an undercover government investigation found deceptive marketing practices at 15 for-profit colleges.”

Why is the government only prosecuting for-profit colleges? The answer is that 1) they dislike the notion of free-enterprise rather than state-managed business and 2) non-profit and public colleges and universities have far too much political clout to attack. This is a classic case of selective prosecution for political reasons.

Let's take a hard look at all colleges and the promises they are making about the job prospects for their graduates.

The answers to college loan abuse are simple: 1) Make all colleges and universities private or non-profit and get the government out of this business. 2) Remove all government involvement in student loans and student loan guarantees. 3) Make college loans discharable in bankruptcy just like most other consumer loans. This by the way will make them more expensive witthout all of the subsidies

Let’s turn the college loan business over to the private sector and the colleges and universities that are in the education business. We would end up with far less expensive colleges and college educations that were also more responsive to the job market. Colleges would produce more grads with specialized technical training and far fewer English majors. Loans would be harder to get and a fundamental question would be the graduate’s ability to pay back the loan with the education promised.

There are 18,000 parking lot attendants in the U.S. with college degrees.

“There are 18,000 parking lot attendants in the U.S. with college degrees. There are 5,000 janitors in the U.S. with PhDs. In all, some 17 million college-educated Americans have jobs that don't require their level of education.”

I don’t want to demean folks getting jobs. I think it is an even bigger problem when folks remain unemployed because they refuse to take a job because it “is below them”. From my angle, if you need a job then any honest work is a blessing.

But this article points to the generalization about college that is the weakness in the discussion. Not all college education is created equally. A degree in Art History or Recreation Management today rarely generates a related job for the college graduate after graduation. But high school kids head off to college, financed by debt and think: “They wouldn’t be offering this degree if graduates weren’t getting jobs.” Colleges are not financing many of these college educations (the taxpayer is) and so they never face the pain of their graduates not being able to pay back the loans, when their grads have received an interesting but not-in-demand skill set.

We need more Science and Engineering graduates to gain a competitive advantage in the world economy. But today only 5% of US college graduates major in engineering and of those half are from outside the US. We need folks that are trained in a number of technical subjects from science to electronic microscope repair. We don’t need more Celtic History majors to reclaim our manufacturing advantage.

Friday, October 22, 2010

85% of college grads moving back home with their parents.

85% of college grads moving back home with their parents.

If only we can get the last 15% to major in Gender Studies, Medieval History or Sociology then we can get them back at home living off their parents as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You will get accepted to college

"The truth is, unless you really screwed up in high school by doing time in prison, or lacking at least a GED, you will be accpeted to a college. It may not be one of the top name-brand schools, but a college will accept you. They are seriously competing with colleges and universities to get your business." April Norhanian in "College Is For Suckers"

College as an assisted-living facility!

"Most college books and guidance counselors urge students to tour campuses at colleges they're thinking about attending so that they can see the campus and 'get a feel for the place and how they'd fit in.' What does this mean? Are we trying to find a place to get an education or looking for an assisted-living facility?"

Zac Bissonnette in "Debt-Free U"

Monday, October 18, 2010

"What are universities for anyway?" Peter Hitchens

Award-winning British columist and author Peter Hitchens questions the value of his three years at the University of York where he majored in Politics.

He states: "We seem to accept without question that it is a good thing that the young should go through this dubious experience. Worse, employers seem to have fallen completely for the idea that a university degree is essential – when it is often a handicap."

In Europe far more of the expense of college and university is bourne by the government than in the US.

It is time to send fewer kids to college, reduce the expense of these institutions and get far more practical about the education they provide.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What good does it do our economy to graduate more Recreation Management, Drama and English majors?

“Finishing the First Lap,” an examination of students who leave after their freshmen year by the American Institutes of Research, found billions in state and federal aid and grants are spent on students who drop out. Nationwide, these state subsidies average nearly $10,000 per student per year and the federal subsides are about $2,000 per student per year (according to this report).

The report sites that “The Obama administration is calling for the United States to regain its status as the nation with the highest concentration of college-educated adults in the world.” And of course when you start off with the wrong goal, you get the wrong study.

Here would be a better goal for the Administration to articulate: “The United States regains its status as the nation with the highest number of college graduates that are immediately moving into high paying jobs in the private sector. Recent college graduates are making it far more attractive for private business to start and retain their operations in the US rather than moving jobs overseas. And our colleges and universities are achieving this with increasing efficiency and at dramatically lower costs. We are continuing to decrease the government subsidies for college and more high school students are finding technical programs and other job training programs a better fit at a much lower cost than traditional four year colleges.”

What good does it do our economy to graduate more Recreation Management, Drama and English majors? Graduates with degrees in “silly” majors are generally not making the US more competitive and if they drop out after one year it only cost the taxpayers on average $12,000. If they take six years to graduate then they have cost the taxpayers $72,000. So for students that are just marking time in college, under our current subsidies the earlier they drop out the better. Even better yet - maybe more high school graduates should skip four year college altogether and pursue practical technical education that will make them and the US more competitive.

Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor who, like me questions promoting college for all, said "Getting them to go a second year might waste even more money."

The study reports that “The United States spends more on higher education than any other nation in the world. We spend about twice as much per student as the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan and about three times as much as most other industrialized countries in Europe and Asia, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Factbook.”

Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents on the other hand has his priorities all wrong and called the problem (of college drop outs) “job one” for schools. “It is obviously the most important thing that a campus has to work on today,” he said.

We think fewer kids should go to four year colleges right out of high school. And more important than the graduation rates is what these students study. We need more engineering and science graduates even if these are harder courses and may have a lower graduation rate. We need fewer Gender Studies and Sociology majors, especially if 100% of these non-competitive grads actually graduate.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The most illiquid investment on the planet - college

"A college education is the most illiquid investment on the planet. Let's say that you buy a hour or car. A few years into owning the item, you realize that you really can't afford it. In the case of a house, you can sell the item and recoup - in the vast majority of markets throughout history - a large portion of what you put into it. If you can't, you can do a short sale and the lender might forgive the balance on the mortgage. This can harm your credit score but all in all, you'll be okay." Zac Bissonnette in "Debt-Free U".

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The vicious cycle in public education

Whenever the Left sees a problem they see a responsibility for government to solve the problem or take over the service. And when they do this, they kill choice and frequently they kill the chances for the private sector and the public themselves to solve their own problems. The Left never recognizes the unintended consequences of their involvement and usually claims that only more intervention will fix the problems caused by their earlier interventions.

Long ago, the US established a system where local communities provided (K-12) education. And then the states stepped in and started messing with the structure and finally the federal government stepped in to “help”. Politicians had the best of intentions but their dominance stifled competition and resulted in fewer choices, higher costs and poorer education for our young.

We have always had private schools providing K-12 education as well. But if your kids went to a private school you paid for it in addition to paying your taxes rather than getting a “free” education” for your kids at the local public school. But it is incredibly tough to compete against the big, bad and free public education system (and especially the powerful unions) so only the really dedicated have tried to compete and many times these choices are driven by parents aspiration for a religious element in their kid’s traditional education.

Recently we have seen an increase in home-schooling, where parents take it on themselves to provide a better education for their kids because they are so disappointed in their other few options. But what you haven’t seen much of (other than via charter schools) is real innovation in our education universe. Our classrooms are functioning very much the way they did 50 years ago with the major exception that many parents have not taught their children their ABCs or how to count by the time their children show up for the first day at school.

And when we overlay the impact of teachers unions over the last several decades, public schools have gotten ever more expensive and virtually incapable of adapting. If there were more private sector alternatives (especially funded via a voucher system) then the expensive poor-performing schools would shut down and get replaced over time by the more productive and mostly private schools. Teachers’ unions would not have such monopoly power in negotiating their contracts.

But here is the vicious cyle. The worse the performance of our public institutions the more State and Federal politicians want to take control, the more they want to spend and the less they actually innovate. We need strong private competition to get more done with less. If the teachers’ unions can make it in the private sector fine but I doubt it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guidance Counselors

"(High School) Guidance Counselors are considered most successful when they get students into name-brand schools. The problem is that, in all probablity, your guidance counselor has literally no training as a financial planner and is ill equipped to advise your kids on the long-term ramifications of large debt loads, much less to counsel you on depleted retirement savings accounts and home equity." Zac Bissonnette in his new book "Debt-Free U".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making college the most pleasant experience

Parents – as you send your kids off to Club College do not forget to pay for “keeping their life simplified” with Dormaid at This service provides dorm-room cleaning, laundry services and beverage delivery. Don’t make your kids late for the college party because you forced them to do clean their own dorm rooms.

What college did for April Northanian

“As a two-time college graduate, my work experience encompasses a wide range of vocations including: cocktail waitress, real estate agent, actress, collections agent, fitness instructor, college admissions representative, dot-com marketing manager, web designer, ESL teacher, and blackjack dealer. I know from my own experience, and that of my friends that many people with a college degree rarely work within their field of study.

Like many people, I naively followed the path of a costly college education without knowing if a college degree would actually help me be successful. As a result, I (like many others) owe a butt-load of money to student loan debt.”

April Northanian in her outstanding book "College is for Suckers"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What does one study for a $218,120 major in Women's Studies at Vassar College?

For $54,530 per year ($218,120 for four years) here is one post-high school option for those lucky enough to be accepted to Vassar College. Of course they offer financial aid, which only means that someone else is paying for it like the US government or alumni. Or one borrows to foot the bill.

If one was to use this $218,120 education to major in Women’s Studies, here are some of the classes that one might take in helping make America more competive in the global marketplace:

110. Gender, Social Problems and Social Change
This course introduces students to a variety of social problems using insights from political science, sociology, and gender studies. We begin with an exploration of the sociological perspective, and how social problems are defined as such. We then examine the general issues of inequalities based on economic and employment status, racial and ethnic identity, and gender and sexual orientation. We apply these categories of analysis to problems facing the educational system and the criminal justice system. As we examine specific issues, we discuss political processes, social movements, and individual actions that people have used to address these problems.

130a and b. Introduction to Women's Studies
Multidisciplinary study of the scholarship on women, with an introduction to feminist theory and methodology. Includes contemporary and historical experiences of women in private and public spaces. Examination of how the concept of women has been constructed in literature, science, the media, and other institutions, with attention to the way the construction intersects with nationality, race, class, and sexuality.

160b. Issues in Feminism: Bodies and Texts
This course is an introduction to issues in feminism with a focus on the female body and its representations. We read a variety of texts and analyze visuals from film, performance, art, cartoons, and advertising. Particular focus is given to women's bodies in art, popular culture and the media, and the intersection of race, class, and gender. This is a writing-focused course. In addition to three traditional critical essays, students experiment with other forms of writing such as journals, comic strips, film review, op-ed essays, and responses to visuals. This course stresses the development of analytical thinking, clarity of expression, and originality.

203. Women in Antiquity
Greek and Roman literary and historical accounts abound with vividly drawn women such as Helen, Antigone, Medea, Livia, and Agrippina, the mother of Nero. But how representative were such figures of the daily lives of women throughout Greek and Roman antiquity? This course investigates the images and realities of women in the ancient Greek and Roman world, from the Greek Late Bronze Age (c. 1200 BCE) to the Roman Empire (up to the III c. CE) by juxtaposing evidence from literature, historical sources, and archaeological material. Throughout, the course examines the complex ways in which ancient women interacted with the institutions of the state, the family, religion, and the arts. Ms. Olsen.

204. Gender Issues in Economics
An analysis of gender in education, earnings, employment, and the division of labor within the household. Topics include a study of occupational segregation, discrimination, the role of "protective legislation" in the history of labor law, and effects of changes in the labor market of the U.S. We also study the economics of marriage, divorce, and fertility. A comparative study of gender roles in other parts of the world is the final topic in the course.

205b. Topics in Social Psychology
Prejudice and Persuasion: This course introduces students to the discipline of social psychology via the in-depth exploration of two areas of inquiry: prejudice and persuasion. A central goal of this course is to advance your understanding of the processes underlying social perception interaction and influence. To this end, we shall examine classic modern, and implicit forms of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, and antisemitism, as well as explore ways of reducing prejudice and discrimination. We shall examine the mechanisms underlying effective persuasion techniques by using examples from advertising, propaganda, political interest groups, and hate-groups to illustrate research findings. In addition to exposing you to the relevant research and theories, this course should help you to develop ways of conceptualizing some of the social psychological phenomena you and others confront every day. Finally, this course should increase your appreciation of the central role that empirical research plays in psychological explanations of human social behavior.

218b. Literature, Gender, and Sexuality
This course considers matters of gender and sexuality in literary texts, criticism, and theory. The focus varies from year to year, and may include study of a historical period, literary movement, or genre; constructions of masculinity and femininity; sexual identities; or representations of gender in relation to race and class. Topic for 2010/11a: Queer of Color Critique. This course considers what interventions the construction "queer of color" makes possible for queer theory, LGBT scholarship and activism, and different models of ethnic studies. We will assess the value and limitations of queer theory's "subjectless critique" in doing cultural and political work. What kind of complications (or contradictions) does the notion "queer of color" present for subjectless critique? How might queer of color critique inform political organizing? Particular attention is devoted to how "queer" travels. Toward this end, students determine what conflicts are presently shaping debates around sexuality in their own communities and consider how these debates may be linked to different regional, national or transnational politics. Throughout the semester, we evaluate what queer means and what kind of work it enables. Is it an identity or an anti-identity? A verb, a noun, an adjective? An analytic mode or a kind of literacy?

220a. Medieval and Renaissance Culture: Women in Renaissance Culture (1)
Topic for 2010/11a: Before Feminism. From the fifteenth century until the end of the seventeenth century, European women and men argued about the nature and status of woman and their debates still engage us today. These discussions were the result of a number of critical developments, which included urbanization, increased female literacy, the rise of print culture, and Protestant and Catholic Reform. Furthermore, women, such as Isabella of Castile, Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, and Christina of Sweden, became powerful rulers, as a result of hereditary accidents, which gave greater urgency to the definition of woman's nature. Writers and intellectuals raised questions about woman's essence, her lineage from Eve, and her proper position in society and family. While many accepted the more conventional patriarchal framework, others resisted and challenged the denigration of woman through writing, legal action and work. We read writers and thinkers from the writer and poet Christine de Pisan to the playwright Aphra Behn. Literature, political treatises, and polemical works reveal that the discussion shifted from theological to biological definitions of woman. Studying the question of woman in this era leads us to ask what was "feminist" and "feminism" in the past and even today.

231b. Women Making Music
A study of women's involvement in Western and non-Western musical cultures. Drawing on recent work in feminist musicology and ethnomusicology, the course studies a wide range of music created by women, both past and present. It explores such topics as musical instruments and gender, voice and embodiment, access to training and performance opportunities, and representations of women musicians in art and literature. Ms. Libin.

250a. Feminist Theory
The central purpose of the course is to understand a variety of theoretical perspectives in feminism - including liberal, radical, socialist, psychoanalytic and postmodern perspectives. We explore how each of these feminist perspectives is indebted to more 'mainstream' theoretical frameworks (for example, to liberal political theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis). We also examine the ways in which each version of feminist theory raises new questions and challenges for these 'mainstream' theories. We attempt to understand the theoretical resources that each of these perspectives provides the projects of feminism, how they highlight different aspects of women's oppression and offer a variety of different solutions. We look at the ways in which issues of race, class and sexuality figure in various theoretical feminist perspectives and consider the divergent takes that different theoretical perspectives offer on issues such as domestic violence, pornography, housework and childcare, economic equality, and respect for cultural differences.

251a. Global Feminism
The course focuses on several different forms of work that women , mostly in Third World countries, do in order to earn their livelihood within the circuits of the contemporary global economy. The types of work we examine include factory work, home-based work, sex work, office work, care work, informal sector work and agricultural labor. We consider how these forms of work both benefit and burden women, and how women's work interacts with gender roles, reinforcing or transforming them. We also consider some of the general aspects of economic globalization and how it affects poor working women; migration within and across national borders, urbanization, the spread of a culture of consumption, and ecological devastation.

276. Gender and Social Space
This course explores the inter-relation of gender and key spatial forms and practices such as the home, the city, the hotel, migration, shopping, community activism, and walking at night. The course draws on feminist theoretical work from diverse fields such as geography, architecture, anthropology and urban studies not only to begin to map the gendered divisions of the social world but also to understand gender itself as a spatial practice.

288b. Constructing the Second Wave
Second-wave feminism was a political movement imagined and disseminated in the fiction and poetry of the era and energized by the recovery of a tradition of women's writing. Novelists and poets challenged traditional models of femininity while the presses founded in the 1970s and 1980s republished earlier women writers and assembled anthologies of new writing. Feminist bookstores provided a central location for the meeting of women as well as the sale of books. This course examines bestsellers of the movement and more experimental fiction, particularly feminist science fiction, within the context of the feminist presses and the founding of Ms. magazine. Writers may include, Lisa Alther, Margaret Atwood, Marilyn French, June Jordan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ursula LeGuin, Audre Lorde, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker. Ms. Robertson.

Friday, September 17, 2010

College student loan default rates are going up!

Here is the press release about student default rates for college loans.

Here are a few observations about the release:

1) Although the data reflects the year 2008 (loans became due between Oct 1, 2007 and Sep 30, 2008) the Department of Education does not get around to announcing the results until September 13, 2010. You can count on the Federal government solving yesterday’s problems with this lightning fast analysis.

2) The default rates increased from 5.9 to 6 percent for public institutions, from 3.7 to 4 percent for private institutions, and from 11 to 11.6 percent for for-profit schools. But these default rates only reflect how many borrowers did not make the required payments on their loans in the first two years when the payments were due. This is like only counting loan default rates for mortgages if the borrower defaults in the first two years? Are you kidding me? Why would the government manipulate the findings like this? Obviously the default rate would be substantially higher if we consider if the loans get paid back in total over time versus the payment terms of the contracts.

3) The data does not show the amount of the loans being defaulted on. So student A may be graduating from Las Vegas Academy of Healing Arts with a certificate in Massage Therapy and that school has a 40% default rate but the graduates on average borrowed $10,000. So on average the government loses $4,000 per student loan (40% times $10,000). Where student B may be graduating from Rutgers with a BA in Sociology with a default rate of 10% but an average student debt of $100,000. So in the second case the average default cost per student is $10,000 (10% times $100,000). So let’s look at the total and average cost per student in these subsidies - not just the average default rates.

4) The conclusion stated in the government’s press release is that “This data confirms what we already know: that many students are struggling to pay back their student loans during very difficult economic times.” Could it be more a matter of too few engineering and science graduates and far too many folks studying at the Las Vegas Academy of Healing Arts?

5) As much as anything we need to break down the data in many more ways (by degree, by SAT scores upon entering the school and by overall cost of the education). Better yet let’s get the government out of the college student loan business all together.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Obama proposes more college subsidies.

Here is what Obama had to say in Ohio today about college education.

“We see an America where every citizen has the skills and training to compete with any worker in the world. That's why we've set a goal to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.”

“That's why we're fighting to extend the child tax credit, and make permanent our new college tax credit. Because if we do, it will mean $10,000 in tuition relief for each child going to four years of college.”

So Mr. President only 5% of our US college graduates today are engineers (compared to 21% in China and 19% in the European Union). And many of this meager 5% are foreign students who will take this valuable education back home to make their own countries to make them better at competing with the US. Instead of producing Science & Engineering graduates our “send everyone to college” approach is producing more Recrational Management, Physical Education and History majors. Who really thinks that sending more kids to college to study Ethomusicology, Sociology or Gender Studies is making our country more competitive? We need more graduating engineers and scientists to pull the rest of the economy along. The problem is when politicians (many of whom were Political Science majors in college) set up these subsidies and “programs” we will end up with more Sociology and Music History majors.

Let’s reduce the subsidies for college not increase them. And if we insist on subsidizing college at all then let’s narrow it down to Science and Engineering.

Obama also is talking about investing in our infrastructure. So are we going to use all the new graduate Classical Civilization majors to check the loads and structural integrity of our new bridges and dams when we don’t have enough Civil Engineers? Or will we be importing engineering assistance from India to build our new roads while financing the roads with loans from China?

The downward spiral of college subsidies

College student debt now exceeds credit card debt in America.

But it is such an important “investment” by our government? Maybe not.

College costs keep increasing at a faster rate than everything else. So politicians predictably try to subsidize the cost of college even more so that students don’t get priced out of going to college. Most of these subsidies take the form of loans and loan guarantees.

But what is the result? Instead of accepting the law of supply and demand, these increased college subsidies allow colleges and universities to notch up the price of college by the amount of the subsidy. That’s right; the benefits of these subsidies go to the college establishment (professors, administrators, football coaches and janitors). The subsidies relax the push back (and lower demand) that normally results when prices get too high. So it is a vicious cycle; subsidize college more; the cost of college increases enough to absorb the new subsidy; and then subsidize college even more to make up for the increased prices caused by the earlier subsidies.

The end result is a bubble like we had in the housing market. But instead of having neighborhoods full of empty foreclosed homes you have ghettos of young adults with degrees in Psychology or Sociology, $100,000 in student debt and no job prospects that would ever make it possible to pay off these loans. Not to mention the US government holding billions in unpaid student loan guarantees that penalize our grandchildren.

But this is only part of the problem with all of these subsidies. The silly college curriculums like Gender Studies, Sociology & Ethnomusicology get the same subsidies as Electrical Engineering, Petroleum Engineering and Accounting. At least the degrees in science and engineering have a chance of making the US more competitive.

And since so many families don’t really question what Johnny wants to study at college, we have far too many of Johnny’s friends spending six years of tax-payer and family-subsidized college education with little learning that will translate into a more competitive US. The average student cares simply about having enough cash flow (with loans and parent subsidies) to get though another year in college. The future pain of being deep in debt with no marketable job skills is the least of an 18 year-old’s worries.

As a country we need to discourage student debt and we need to start reducing subsidies for college. We might need to rely less on the traditional lecture format and find far more efficient teaching methods like computer-assisted and on-line learning. $160,000 degrees in Medieval German History are not doing the trick today.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Debt-free U

This piece on NBC Today show this morning is an interview with the 22 year old college senior titled "Debt-free U". Zac Bissonnette explains how he got through college without borrowing and how most college students can do the same. Several good ideas and much common sense.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What does a Sociology student study?

I make fun of Liberal Arts degrees so frequently that I decided to delve deeper into one major, Sociology, to understand what students in that major at the University of Southern Indiana might learn. Here are some of the course requirements for this “degree”.

SOC 121 Principles of Sociology: An examination of social dynamics and consequences of social life. The main topics are culture, social groups, socialization, deviance, social stratification, race relations, gender, and family.

SOC 225 Criminology : A consideration of criminality, its nature and extent, particularly in the United States. Includes analysis of the etiology (for those college grads like me that don’t know what this word is, it is the study of causation) of criminal behavior, the sociology of criminal law, and societal reaction to criminals.

SOC 231 Social Problems: Examination of the nature, extent, causes, and effects of selected contemporary social problems, such as gender, sexual behavior, drugs, environment, economic inequality, racial inequality, crime, and education.

SOC 335 Juvenile Delinquency: Definitions and interpretations; theories of causation and prevention; organization and functions of community agencies and institutions including police, courts, and probation services.

SOC 345 Simulated Games of Society: The study of society through the use of simulated games. The power structure, the social class system, the justice system, sex roles, different cultures, whole societies, ghettos, economic systems, municipal politics, and national political parties are simulated in classroom games to provide the student with experiential knowledge of these processes.

SOC 375 Social Change: An investigation of change in cultural patterns, behavioral relationships, and social structure. Topics comprise social movements, work, urbanization, family, computerization, social organizations and other aspects of American society.

SOC 415 Sociology of the Environment: A sociological approach to understanding the interaction of society and the natural environment. It focuses on social causes and consequences of environmental problems and mitigating actions taken toward them. It also addresses inequality in the distribution of environmental problems.

SOC 421 Race and Ethnicity: A sociological exploration of the origins and influence of race, ethnicity, and cultural/national identity in American and international stratification systems.

SOC 431 Gender and Society: An exploration of gender patterns. The course focuses on gender differences. It analyzes the causes and the consequences of these differences for social life, including the various social inequalities between males and females that have become institutionalized in American society.

SOC 441 Social Movements: Consideration of social movements as attempts to establish a new order of life. Analyzes states of development from inception to the achievement of full institutionalization. Specific social movements are examined such as the labor movement, the women’s movement, and racial, religious, and political movements.

SOC 463 Wealth and Poverty: An examination of social stratification in U.S. society with comparisons to other countries. The course explores different indicators of inequality, the social class system, theories of inequality, poverty, social mobility, and legitimization of inequality. It also explores racial and gender stratification.

Do you think there might be a certain liberal spin and propaganda to these classes that explains why the criminal is in fact the victim? I can find you many of these graduates that are looking for a job. Do you need this skill set for your business?

A Bachelors in Fine Arts pays off....

UK study finds that one in four lap dancers have a college degree. Usually in the Arts.

And these dancers make an average of about $350 per shift thereby elevating the stats for college graduates for those arguing that “college grads make more than those that do not graduate from college.”

Of course another argument for attending college (even if you are going to take a silly degree) is that one meets the right kind of potential life partners – and that is clearly the case for these lap dancers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Have you heard the disclaimer “past performance does not guarantee future results”?

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people who graduate with bachelor’s degrees will earn nearly twice as much over the course of their careers as those who complete only high school.” What a bunch of drivel!

Have you heard the disclaimer “past performance does not guarantee future results”? The general media totally misses this concept.

Too many writers forgot to attend their logic and statistics classes. There is a difference between correlation and causation. And the past does not predict the future.

You tell me who is hiring those recent grads in Ethnomusicology, Sociology, History, Gender Studies and Art History? The answer is no one. That is right; there are no jobs of any kind for these grads other than fast food. And I don’t want to belittle fast food as a career because a manager at a McDonalds will surely make more than most of the Drama majors out there and without going $100,000 into debt.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More defaults on college student loans is a symptom of the bigger problem

More defaults on college student loans is a symptom of the bigger problem (massive government intervention in college finance and an industry that has learned to depend on these subsidies).

Truth in advertising is a critical component of what is being questioned. But this should hold true just as much at the University of California just as much as for-profit colleges. Every college should be required to track and publish the starting salaries and number of graduates placed after graduation. By major.

Then we absolutely need to start cutting off funding to those institutions that do not create graduates that are sought in the job market. Actually we need to get the government out of these subsidies all together but that is a much longer putt.

The percentage of those defaulting on student loans is only one of the necessary criteria. The other critical factor is how much has the stuend borrowed? In the example in this story this young lady defaulted after borrowing $15,000. This is probably representative of the defaults of many of the one and two year certification programs. But if 50% of those borrowing $15,000 is a problem, how about if 30% of those borrowing $100,000 default after their History degree from Duke?

The problem is far from confined to the for-profit college industry.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Petroleum Engineers earn higher salaries than Sociology majors!

Best Undergrad College Degrees by Salary according to

Petroleum Engineering is tops in college majors that lead to high salaries. I have a feeling
they forgot to check on Ethnomusicology graduates in this survey.

Center for College Affordability & Producitivity

Here is the web site for the Center for College Affordability & Productivity. This group is trying to focus attention on making our colleges and universities more productive and more affordable.

They also have a listing of the colleges that are the best value. Interestingly the three US Service Academies score highest on this scorecard. In their rankings they also have some silly criteria like "Does Johnny enjoy his classes?" This conjures up the notion that Johnny is in a very comfortable setting, surrounded by pretty coeds and not being pressured by the professor with any questions that are too hard for the lad.

The methodology does have one criteria that is quite good which is "student loan default rate". This measure tends to combine what is bad (going deep into debt) with what is good (making enough to pay off your student debt).

Academic Bankruptcy

New York Times editorial about the need for colleges and universities to change their model.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another silly article on college majors!

This kind of drivel is common in today's media about what college major to study.

The title "Five "impractical" College Majors That Just Might Make You Rich." How about the altnerative title - "Purchase 200,000 Lottery Tickets Rather Than Majoring In English If You Want To Get Rich." After all if you win the lottery you won't need a job offer after six years in college.

The writer goes on to state "in reality, what matters is not so much what you major in, but what you decide to do with your degree and your career." But what if you spend six years majoring in Sociology or Medieval History and can not get a single job interview related to your major?

The author of this article provides zero evidence to support his hypothesis. It is pure idiocy through and through and undoubtedly written by an English Major.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

CNN article about College degrees that do not pay

This CNN article goes out of its way to discuss people doing what they love even though the pay is lousy. It discusses 9 college majors and examples of each where the individual is satisfied with his/her job but is getting paid quite modestly.

This article has two major fallacies. First, most of the graduates in these majors don't end up with any job at all related to their college major. This article implies that you may end up poorly paid but at least you will get a job. Not the case. For most of these majors you will simply be out fighting it out with high schoold grads for a job at Home Depot having nothing to do with your college experience.

The second fallacy here is that for many of these jobs, no degree at all is required. In many of these cases these folks would have had close to the same chance of landing the job as a high school graduate.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Is College the only way to expand one's intellect?

Two very good days of articles on college in the Los Angeles Free Press. Here is the publisher’s wrap-up on the subject yesterday.

I of course never get tired of this subject so here are a few additional (but far from final) thoughts on college. First, I question the belief that college is the only or best way to build one’s intellect. It is one way to expand your horizons but there are alternatives to college that may do the job at a far lower cost. Today, it is reasonably easy to get an understanding of virtually any subject online (check out the Khan Academy which is free and where one can learn the basics of anything from molecular formulas to electron configuration). Compare the information available to those learning from Khan versus the limited number of books that Abe Lincoln had to work with. It is also fairly easy to engage in an online debate with those on the other side on most subjects as well. So college is not the only place to have a good argument or dig into and learn about a tough subject.

With some private colleges charging up to $220,000 (room and board) over four years and fewer students actually graduating in only four years, are these institutions providing enough intellectual stimulation and development for the dollar spent? You might remind me that there are scholarships and grants that may reduce the student’s cost - but this simply means that somebody else is paying the tab. A few might even suggest that college is worth it at any price.

Some are just not ready to take on certain subjects when they are 18-22 years old, so I suggest that college might be better after a year or two of another experience immediately after high school (like work, starting a business or living overseas and learning another language). If a student is not at all interested in learning about the basics of logic, the minimum sample size of a statistically significant set, or how best to put one’s hypothesis into words, then that individual is unlikely to retain much from simply hanging around the classroom as the discussion takes place around him.

The classroom model is an old and expensive model for learning. And this is still very much today’s college model. Not to mention that at many prestigious universities the instructor is an assistant and not the full professor. The full professor (who is advertised, sometimes misleadingly as the instructor) is not teaching on a daily basis because she is actively engaged in research or writing rather than daily classroom work.

I clearly accept the notion that college has value but its value depends on what one studies and what one pays for the experience. And like other investments that require resources and time, one should be searching for an excellent payback for a smaller outlay. Cost matters and as long as college costs and investment return go unquestioned (like buying a home was just a few years ago) then the cost will continue to inflate dramatically, and our politicians will fight back with more subsidies rather than questioning or changing the basic model.

Critical thinking matters. Logical thought matters. The ability to express oneself both in writing and in speech matter. But cost also matters. And setting up oneself so that you can earn a decent living in tomorrow’s world really matters.

College is one of many paths from adolescence to independence but today too many Americans blindly assume that college is a must, and an investment that will pay dividends at any price.

Accepting the college investment in all circumstances and at any cost especially when one goes deep into debt for an interesting but non job-producing major (Ethnomusicology, Sociology, Medieval History, French Poetry) needs far more questioning. And not just for your friends’ kids but your children as well. College is just one of many options that the young may consider and the choic needs to be questioned critically and compared to the alternatives on a student by student basis.

The questions they ask?

Just received from a friend....

The graduate with a science degree asks, "Why does it work?"
The graduate with an engineering degree asks, "How does it work?"
The graduate with an accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?"
The graduate with an arts degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut.

I have been the source of consternation recently with some folks because I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut / balancing discussions. In fact, I suggest higher education might be one the first places governments should look to balance strained budgets and strip inefficiencies. My basic point is that formal higher education can, to a greater extent than other core government services, be postponed with fewer consequences. You postpone basic road repairs and the cost is often higher later than taking care of it now (e.g., pot holes, clearing drainage). The same goes for public safety and many health programs.

With higher education (I’m referring to the completion and awarding of diplomas) a delay in degrees will not stop jobs from being filled or people from making money. And I’m not saying people shouldn’t learn. Everyone should take every opportunity to learn whether it be from reading books, on-the=job training / apprenticeships, or participation in groups and volunteer endeavors. Heck, if they do it right they could re-enter college later a lot better prepared and focused (a la past discussions of European gap years). The library at my old college had a quote above one of the main entry doors that went something like “They know enough who know to learn.” There’s a big difference between learning and getting a piece of paper that says you went through a process. The latter can be delayed with relatively minimal impact.

Of the higher education that is publicly funded those funds should go toward highest public return and programs which benefit most from structured learning and hands-on resources (labs). Those typically are in the sciences.

The part I’m not sure about is what long term organizational impacts there might be. i.e., Retention of key instructors or replenishing staff later. In any event, cutting programs now and reinstating valued programs later will probably get you where you want to go sooner than continuing to work within the current system that protects itself well.

From MM (with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA).

Not all well-paying jobs require a college degree. They all require specialized training (either on-the-job or at technical school). But if you want to be a photographer or nuclear power operator, you may want to consider the specific requirements of that job rather than spending 6 years at an expensive college studying, Psychology or Medieval History. This is an interesting article on the subject.

The world has changed. When my grandfather graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1921 (I don’t know if the UC system had any other campuses at that time), having a college degree really distinguished the college grad from the high school grad (or the non-high school grad). I can’t find the stat, but my guess is that fewer than five percent of high school graduates subsequently graduated from college in the 1920’s.

Today close to 60% of high school grads go on to college. But then only 53% of them graduate within six years.

College makes sense if one desires certain jobs (science and engineering in particular). But an expensive Liberal Arts education is no longer much of an advantage. Many Liberal Arts graduates only have big student loan payments to show for their “investment”.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What college majors are in demand this year?

This article discusses how college grads are doing in the job market this year. At least there is some emphasis on what engineering majors are earning. Unfortunately the US is graduating far fewer engineers that we need.

But this article fails to report on the starting salaries for Ethnomusicology, Sociology, and Gender Studies majors. Could it be that there are no starting salaries for these interesting but not-in-demand majors because there are no job offers?

Let me ask you how many History major graduates you know that got a related job or even a job that pays more than their non-college graduates this year? I can’t find a single one – but I am still looking.

So the school you attend is not the important thing. What you study and learn is what counts. And if you are borrowing to attend an expensive school and graduating with a Bachelors degree in Psychology then you may be considering (ill advisedly I might add) going to grad school so you can postpone starting to pay off your student loans.

Study something that is in demand, pay for it as you go and pay attention to the cost. This is advice that will result in a solid payback for an investment in college. But borrowing big time to attend a prestigious college with a pretty campus in order to study Liberal Arts, will leave you with few choices and Law School as your only alternative.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is College Education the next bubble to burst?

This chart is an interesting way to look at the cost of college.

During the height of the housing bubble, how many times did you hear "You can never lose with the purchase of a home?" - And today, too few families are questioning the cost of their college education.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

We are so thrilled that Johnny got accepted to Brown to study Gender Studies

A story about college student loans abused, misused, wasted and ultimately paid for by taxpayers.

The article is wrong about it being difficult to walk away from student debt. Under the recent health care legislation a new provision allows former students to walk away from their student debts if they have not paid them off in 20 years. And then it is up to you and me. However even before this legislation the number of defaults on these loans was growing steadily and you and I picked up the tab anyway. But here is the most glaring void in this article: There is no mention of what this former college student learned? What did she study? It really does matter if one gets a degree in sociology, ethnomusicology, gender studies or in electrical engineering.

There are no jobs (zero, zippo, nada, can I say this another way) for psychology graduates today. And no one wants to talk about it. You might land the same job at Home Depot that you could have gotten prior to college (but there are times that it will actually be harder to land a basic job with a non-practical degree). The world is not hiring anyone today based on their Medieval History degree.

Parents are so thrilled that Johnny is heading off to college that they do not want to “discourage” the poor lad from studying an obscure subject for six years even if it almost certainly means he will end up living back at home and unemployed. It is simply not polite to ask Johnny’s parents what they are thinking. I am not very polite.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's College Acceptance Letter Time!

Excellent piece by Ben Stein last night on 60 minutes.

Ben states that "getting into that certain ultra-prestigious college really means very little in a lifetime." He doesn't mention it but consider those that are accepted into the most prestigious universities in the country and then choose to attend their less expensive alternative at the state university do just as well economically over their lifetimes.

So and education can matter, but far more important is what you learn and how you apply that education via hard work and ingenuity.

Just say "no" to college debt!

Dave Ramsey hears from a parent that just had to say "no" to borrowing for college.

And when it came down to it, the son figured out a way to join the Navy and get the Navy to pay for his college education. And when he is all done, he is likely to have a useful degree and zero student debt.

Now this makes sense. It is not the only way to do it but is an example of how to do it with going into debt.

Keep in mind that most the time “financial aid” is just another name for “debt”. And anyone that has ever listened to Dave Ramsey knows how much he detests debt.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New York times article about college

Most of my friends and family believe that not everyone should go to college. Intellectually they are right there with me. But when it comes down to their kids, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. When it comes to their kids, let’s move on to another subject. Yes, your children don’t need to go to college but by golly mine are going to attend and graduate. End of discussion.

If you can afford college or your kids line up financial aid (in other words debt) to pay for college, most folks really don’t have to worry about the short-term finances of the cost of college. Sending your kid to college is so convenient - it is the thing to do. There is hope Jimmy will get inspired. There is hope that Nancy will find herself. There is hope that Mary will emerge with a well-paying job and a satisfying career that will lead to a long, happy and independent life. And maybe in the process Kenny will find his future wife and that his wife will also be blessed with this cure-all to future earnings (a college education).

Perhaps, subconsciously part of the parental support around college might be that when Billy goes to college, you might free up his bedroom, get a little more time to travel with your husband and get some well-earned time off. If Charlie stays at home and starts a new internet business, his room will continue to be a mess.

There is also the parental pride in saying “my daughter Suzie was accepted at Cal” versus “my son Bubba has nabbed a part time job at the five and dime”.

This New York Times article discusses some of the critics of the “my kids must attend college” thinking. It points out that:

1) “Perhaps no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years, according to the latest projections from the Department of Education. (The figures don’t include transfer students, who aren’t tracked.)”
2) “For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even more stark: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree.”
3) “It’s time, they say, to develop credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.”
4) “College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
5) “15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study.”

On the other side this article makes a few logic missteps:

1) “It’s not just about the economic return,” he said. “Some college, whether you complete it or not, contributes to aesthetic appreciation, better health and better voting behavior.” Yes - but this assumes there are no non-economic benefits to work, apprenticeships, starting a business or serving your country in the military.
2) “People with college and graduate degrees generally earn more than those without them, and face lower risks of unemployment, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Yes but this is the standard illogical argument on college. Just because there is a correlation between college degrees and financial success does not mean that one leads to the other. The number one predictor of financial success is higher IQs. Since those with higher IQs tend to get to college easier and have a better chance of graduation, their higher IQs may have more to do with their financial success than the college education.

It is great to see more discussion in the main-stream media on this subject.