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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?"