OSU President Ed Ray fills page in newspaper

9/12/2010: Ed Ray, OSU President – and an economist – has a long Op-Ed in the Oregonian, bemoaning falling state support for higher ed. It’s the usual we provide a public good so taxpayers need to give us more money. That ship has sailed, what’s plan B? Does he support Lariviere’s “New Partnership” or does he think it will hurt OSU, and is he going to lobby the legislature to reject it?

And here is an Rachel Bachman interview with Ray from last month, on sports, if you are into that sort of thing. He is much more upfront about OSU’s athletic subsidies than UO has ever been.

Influence of Gates Foundation on Higher Ed

8/11/2010: Interesting article in the Chronicle on the increasing role of the Gates Foundation in higher ed issues. Not everyone welcomes them:

Diane Ravitch, in a chapter of her recent book, Death and Life of the Great American School System, takes aim at Gates and other business tycoons’ foundations. “Education,” she writes, “is too important to relinquish to the vagaries of the market and the good intentions of amateurs.”
Others, of course, welcome the help. Many college leaders say the foundation is bringing much-needed attention to a neglected sector of higher education. The Gates foundation aims to double the proportion of low-income Americans who earn a postsecondary credential by age 26. To get there, the philanthropy is focusing its grants on community colleges, where more than half of students come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.

The truth is there is not a lot of good evidence on what works in higher education. Most decisions seem to be made on gut instinct. The article talks about controlled experiments to investigate such basic things as the effectiveness of “learning communities” and student help centers.

for-profit traders short sell for-profit schools

7/15/2010: From Sharona Coutts at propublica.org, hat tip to Margaret Soltan:

Short sellers have shown a steadily increasing interest in for-profit schools, according to Will Duff Gordon, an analyst at Data Explorers, a company that collects and analyzes data about short-selling. Since April, his company has also seen a spike in short positions in the sector, indicating a strengthening view that the stocks will fall. In general, short sellers place bets that a company’s stock or some other financial instrument will decline in value.

“This is not an opportunistic bit of short selling,” Gordon said of for-profit schools. “People have worked out that these companies are overvalued. They’ve put on bigger and bigger short positions as the price keeps going down. And they have been right because the price keeps dropping.” For their part, short sellers claim they are merely bringing to light the fundamental problems of an industry that survives in large part on taxpayer largesse.

Such as?

As much as half of the money lent to students attending for-profit colleges and universities will never be repaid, an Education Department projection says. Default rates at nonprofit schools are far lower. 

I’m no economist, but I believe this means that the medieval not-for-profit university model may have a few more centuries left in it. But read the rest of the Coutts story for evidence that the short sellers may be manipulating the market. I’m shocked!

Study less, get higher grades

7/9/2010: What do undergraduates do? Economists report that average study time per week fell from 24 hours in 1961 to 14 in 2003. (Babcock has a bunch of other interesting looking papers.) Here’s a breakdown by major:

My understanding is that students should have about 2 hours of assigned work for every hour of class time. So a full time student would have 16 hours in class and 32 hours of study time per week. Actually, they put in less than half that – and grades, of course, are way up. One theory is that they are just way smarter than we were.

I could have thought up some other reasons for the fall in study time myself, but instead I cut and pasted from the Atlantic, who copied from Kevin Drum, who collected comments from others. Took me about 5 minutes:

  • Study Leaders Cite Professor Apathy The Boston Globe’s Keith O’Brien writes, “when it comes to ‘why,’ the answers are less clear. … What might be causing it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them.”
  • Modern Technology Not to Blame The Boston Globe’s Keith O’Brien says the study leaders don’t think so. “The easy culprits – the allure of the Internet (Facebook!), the advent of new technologies (dude, what’s a card catalog?), and the changing demographics of college campuses – don’t appear to be driving the change, Babcock and Marks found.” Why so sure? “According to their research, the greatest decline in student studying took place before computers swept through colleges: Between 1961 and 1981, study times fell from 24.4 to 16.8 hours per week (and then, ultimately, to 14).”
  • Grades Becoming Less Important Than Activities An anonymous Mother Jones commenter writes, “I graduated recently, and Prospective employers and graduate school admission committees are very interested in your extracurricular and leadership positions, or your research work. Grades matter, but they are not the only thing. Perhaps in the seventies, grades were the main signal of success, so students studied more?”
  • Increase in ‘Temporary, Adjunct’ Faculty Mother Jones commenter Lisa argues, “Rise in numbers of temporary, adjunct faculty, who teach many, many courses, and are terribly vulnerable to course evaluations (that’s me, by the way). One can only assign so much work and expect to be invited back to teach — plus, if you assign it, you have to read it and/or grade it yourself, which, when you’re teaching four or five classes on multiple campuses, becomes impossible. This has become the bulk of university teaching, by the way.”
  • Advent of Pass-Fail Classes, Fewer Language Requirements Mother Jones commenter hollywood writes, “Many colleges dropped foreign language requirements for degrees (languages require a lot of study time); schools adopted pass-fail courses with the natural response ‘why knock myself out?’ There was significant grade inflation–more people got better grades with less effort. Perhaps this lack of study by students reduced the motivation of profs to kill themselves prepping lectures and grading exams when there were journal articles to crank out.”
  • Studying Methods Became More Efficient G. Powell theorizes, “While the amount of time that I spent on course work outside the classroom decreased, the quality of that time increased…. The Internet is also a huge productivity gain when it comes to tracking down information. What once took me hours in basement stacks to track down now often only takes seconds.” The Internet allows access to a vast treasure trove of knowledge that was not previously available. Not only does this make it easy for students to get IT assignment help (as well as any other subject you can think of), but also enables them to learn, in interesting ways, about any topic under the sun.
  • Rise in Publishing Requirements Means Professors Assign Less Work An anonymous college professor explains, “This time period does correspond with the increase in publishing expectations in Academia. I haven’t been teaching long enough to see the trend, but I definitely weight the length of a problem set assignment against my research time in a way I don’t think prior generations of professors did.”
  • More Working Part-Time as Scholarships Decline Mother Jones commenter dob suggests, “I’m willing to bet that students working jobs while going to college accounts for at least a substantial fraction of that time. That characterized both me and at least half of my college friends in the 90’s. Scholarships and student loans aren’t what they used to be.”
  • Students Less Comfortable With Long-Form Reading Mother Jones commenter sjw muses, “More and more students are uncomfortable with reading. They read less. They don’t enjoy reading. Most of the homework that a professor assigns is reading or involves reading — it’s not just busy work, as a commenter above alleges — so the ‘collective mass’ can’t handle what professors would like to assign. Whether tv or the internet are to blame is not an argument that need be broached here; clearly, however, the time that a student would put into studying is now going elsewhere.”

Should the undocumented children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition?

5/23/2010: UO Journalism student Briselda Molina has a very thought provoking op-ed in the RG asking if public universities should charge the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition. I know UO students like the one she writes about – brought to Oregon by their parents as infants or young children, successes in HS, Americans in every sense of the word except the legal one. As the accompanying editorial notes, these children not only are considered out-of-state, they do not have any practical way to get legal status from the feds either. I have no idea what the right thing here is. But these two pieces made me think pretty hard about what these rules mean for people’s lives.

Who needs college?

5/15/2010: The NY Times points out that many students would be better served with something less than a traditional 4 year degree.

“Roast Duck” responds in our comments:

The NYT article about alternatives to college is a bit misleading. Forget that some of the principals — Richard Vedder, Charles Murray — are skeptical (Murray) to bitterly hateful (Vedder, who discovered his hatred of higher education after decades at Ohio U. as an econ prof) about higher ed.

The Obama proposals to increase the number of US “college grads” to the level of Canada include community college associate degrees and even 1-year certifications in vocational fields (which e.g. LCC offers in many areas). It would require raising the minority completion rate to the white level. A tall order, to be sure, but if we can’t do it, what is the future of the country?

Of course, 4-year college is not for everyone. I would be the first to say raise admissions standards, and especially, raise performance standards once students are enrolled. Get rid of the bottom 20% at UO, the complete goofballs, and it would be a much better place.

But without some kind of post-secondary higher education — 4-year college, CC, or vocational — most kids are going to be screwed. Meaning all of us!

OSAC scholarship overcommitment fallout

4/4/2010: From Bill Graves in the Oregonian:

SALEM – Higher education officials today reviewed options for dealing with a shortage of money for need-based state college scholarships next year, the results of miscalculations that led to too many grants this year. …

The commission expects to have about $32 million to $37 million for the grants next year, about half what it is awarding this year.

Should more americans go to college?

3/1/2010: Most of what I’ve seen on this (e.g. the Frohnmayer report) simply assumes they should, reporting clearly misleading numbers like the fact that college graduates earn more. (The average effect, not the marginal. Because they go to college, or because they are smart enough to go to college? Doesn’t it matter what they major in?) Here’s a debate on the subject, sponsored by UVA’s Miller Center. One factoid:
Today, just under 40% of Americans 25 to 34 years of age hold a two- or four-year degree. While this number has remained stable for decades, other developed countries have seen a steady increase in their number of college graduates in recent years. America is somewhere in the middle of this group, on par with countries like Australia and Spain. Meanwhile, countries such as South Korea (53%), Japan (54%), and Canada (55%) have pulled considerably ahead of the pack.

Fewer and fewer Americans seem to be attending colleges these days. Whilst this could be down to the increase in college fees and the cost of living, it could also be that college marketing isn’t being done correctly. It’s important to remember that colleges are trying to attract a completely different generation of students. These students have been raised with the internet, meaning that marketing should probably be aimed at potential students through forms of social media. By reading more about it here, universities can look at effectively advertising to the generation. This is a much more impactful way of marketing as more people are likely to see it too, meaning that college numbers could be directly impacted by an online marketing campaign from universities.

However, this is only one potential reason. Another reason could be that more American teenagers prefer having a job to continue their studying. With the ever-increasing price of living, people need money to survive, so it’s not that surprising that people are making the decision to start earning instead.

What makes universities great? Freedom from government.

12/30/2009: This is a fascinating piece on the history of the ivy league, from the London Times:

Why are American universities on balance so much better than those of continental Europe? And why do the universities of the rest of the English-speaking world fall, on average, somewhere in the middle? The wealth of these industrialised countries is comparable, so the different qualities of their universities cannot be attributed to economic disparities. But a simple empirical overview confirms that university quality grows out of independence: the more independent a nation’s universities, the better they are likely to be. Ironically, though, the leading American universities never wanted to be as independent as they now are: their greatness was forced on them.

Teach Naked

The Teach Naked movement is about not using powerpoint for lecturing – or at least not relying on it as a crutch. The Chronicle has an article on it here. Last year I started posting powerpoint slides online, but lecturing just using the blackboard. Way more fun and interactive. The students seem happy knowing that there are slides they can look at later – though I’m not sure they ever do. Margaret Soltan quotes one comment to a BBC story on this:

The worst Powerpoint presentation I ever sat through was in my second year at University. It was about the theory of Fascism and lasted two hours without a break. Plus, it had over 70 slides. Each slide was packed with information and it was impossible to keep up. I have never been so bored or learnt less.

You kids. I remember sitting through the same lecture way before powerpoint – trust me, it wasn’t any better. Plus we didn’t have any way to text friends or play video games. Now that was fascism!

Access to Education

8/10/2009: InsideHigherEd.com has several interesting articles today, including this on perceptions about access to financial aid for college, by Deborah M. Warnock at UW. From their summary of her paper:

  • Hispanic and Asian parents of eighth graders are less likely than white parents to think about how to finance a higher education, and black parents are more likely than white parents to think about paying for college.
  • Parents with low incomes and less education are less likely than others to have thought about how to pay for college.
  • While a majority of parents of all demographic groups who are below poverty level report that they believe they have “no way” of getting funds for college for their children, white parents in poverty are more likely to have this feeling than are minority parents.
  • Among middle and upper income families, across the board, only a minority feel there is “no way” to pay for colleges. In this economic group, whites are less likely than minority parents to feel that way.

The findings about low-income parents believing that they can’t imagine finding funds for college anywhere are “especially troubling,” Warnock writes, because “all of these families would likely be eligible for Pell Grants,” which could cover considerable shares of expenses at many institutions. So these families do in fact have resources, but don’t realize it. While studies in the 1990s found that many high schoolers and their parents were unaware of the availability of aid, the Warnock paper suggests that public information campaigns that have taken place since haven’t changed the situation and may be needed earlier.

Bill O’Reilly does UO

8/4/2009: Fox news has a segment on the lack of political diversity among the faculty at UO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L8TEiQQ1dY It’s apparently based on journalism student Dan Lawton‘s piece in the Christian Science Monitor. Dan reports that only a handful of UO faculty are registered Republicans, and argues the University should work to hire professors with more diverse political views. Be sure and check out Provost Bean’s spirited defense of UO’s intellectual diversity, 30 seconds in.

As always, Bill O’Reilly’s reporting is based on a careful analysis of the empirical data coupled with a thoughtful discussion of the larger issues and their implications for the survival of western civilization. Except the part where he describes being a professor at UO as a “plush job”. Actually, UO faculty salaries are the lowest in the AAU. It’s the UO administrators that drive the beemers. Thanks to a reader for the link.

Higher Education Productivity

Here‘s a new paper on higher education productivity. I’m no economist, but it seems to have a wealth of interesting data, broken out by state. Oregon’s cost per degree is the 3rd lowest in the country. Oregon is 9th in terms of net in-migration of people with 4 year degrees (relative to the base of people with 4 year degrees.) This would suggest that if Oregon increases college enrollment graduates will not need to leave the state.

In Oregon a student with a two year STEM degree (Science, Technology, Medicine) earns $50,784, versus $38,596 for a 4 year non-STEM degree. So when we talk about the economic benefits of higher ed we need to be explicit about what sorts of degrees we mean!

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