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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.