Morning Ed: Education {2017.01.04.Th}

[Ed1] The case against rubrics. And, where grades come from.

[Ed2] In 2008, a professor at a “college of last resort” explains his skepticism.

[Ed3] Backlash or backlash to the backlash, depending on how you look at it, but professors are being forced off campus because of right-wing threats. {More}

[Ed4] Education Realist has some worthy thoughts about the teacher shortage. As with the doctor shortage, the question to me isn’t whether one exists but how it exists: in what places and what specialties.

[Ed5] Chad Wellmon wonders what happened to general education. Fair point about finance and football, but fraternities are on the downward slope these days and arguably one of the more traditional education things being eased out of existence.

[Ed6] Politico points out that Trump hasn’t done much to back up his talk on college affordability. Well, okay, but near as I can tell the only major politician to actually do something about college costs (instead of just shifting them around) is Rick Perry.

[Ed7] Peter Finucchio looks at a Republican prposal to forgive student loans in return for delaying social security.

[Ed8] Conor Williams wonders if white families aren’t intruding in bilingual schools. I understand the concern, but really the #1 thing bilingual schools should want is positive attention from white people.

[Ed9] Nayley Glatter wonders if it isn’t time to do away with applicant interviews. A friend who would know suggests that they’re more about alumni donations than student selections.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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148 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Education {2017.01.04.Th}

  1. Ed7: Not a bad idea, since it wouldn’t prevent a person from retiring, only from drawing on SS. If I know that I can’t draw SS until 67+, I have a stronger incentive to save for retirement.

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      • Is it? We know people aren’t saving for retirement, but a lot of that is people who are not college educated, hence have little to no student loan debt that could be discharged this way. Of the people who are college educated who are not saving, how many are putting it off because they need to pay down student loan debt?

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    • I don’t think it’s a bad idea, except it needs to be coupled with some form of cost control. If a student can pay for $40,150 in tuition essentially by planning to delay SS eligibility for six years, then all college tuition would reflect the belief that $40,150 is free. You can argue that there is a quid pro quo in that the students have to give up retirement benefits, but part of his point is that most Millennials don’t believe those benefits exist, or at least are not going to be worth much, and thus they are only going to be concerned about controlling cost over $40,150.

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      • Maybe a delay of a year per 10k? Or a chance to pay it off in a certain time frame and if that is not met then a sliding scale? But yes, I agree that it would need some parameter to keep people from gaming that system. Other than that, I also think it is a good idea (says the man with no loans who plans to retire in his mid-50’s.)

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        • Not entirely… its $6.6k/yr up to $40k total…but perhaps reasonable that we’d see across the board inflation of tuition as the forgiveness is really just another way to make debt more attractive.

          For each month that they delay Social Security benefits, they would receive $550 in loan forgiveness. This amounts to $6,600 per year and is capped at $40,150 in debt relief, which would be achieved if an individual delayed their retirement by six years and one month.

          But in purely practical financial terms… how would you do this? There’s $1.3T in student debt and approx 754B in OASI revenues (2015 according to CBO)… which is less than the outlays by $64B.

          I understand that high finance when we’re measuring things as % of GDP is partially political willpower and optimism, but there’s no “status quo” project going forward… its going to be a tax one way or another. I’m fine debating taxes, I’m less fine pretending that we don’t have to do anything to have access to free money.

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          • I suppose if the CBO would analyze the bill, they would account for savings to Social Security. If a lot of kids raise their retirement age six years, there will be an increase in people paying into SS that will not receive any benefits, or will receive fewer benefits because of the change. That is an actuarial question and probably doesn’t pay for itself (and may also involve considering whether a higher retirement age imposes additional cost on the disability program).

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            • The CBO is likely to take into account the difference in raw earning power of someone who has a degree vs. someone who doesn’t and add that money into the pot.

              My cynical intuition is that they’ll completely screw up that calculation and compare someone with “no college” to someone who went to “Boston College” and assume that much more earning power but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

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    • Eh, I gotta say that it looks like a partisan attempt on the part of the GOP to further dick over a constituency hostile to them (young and college educated) while ensuring that few if any costs fall on the constituencies sympathetic to them. This is especially true as they make it gratuitously harder to discharge student debt.

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      • Where’s the dicking over? The plan gives them more options. You mean relative to some hypothetical debt forgiveness plan where they just get free money? Why should the costs of a college education fall on anyone other than the people who got the education?

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        • “Oh, we just want to make sure that the new regime where college education is much less subsidized by the state really does leave you a lot worse off than it did the retirees who are currently receiving Social Security after paying much less for their college educations in part due to state support.”

          That’s why.

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    • The main problem I see with delaying the retirement age is that the people who have a harder time saving for retirement are also often the people in more physically demanding jobs that make it harder to work later in life.

      It’s easy for me with my comfortable desk job and savings to shrug at retiring later. It would be harder if I was swinging a hammer with bone spurs in my shoulder or stocking shelves at Wal Mart at 63.

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  2. Ed1: The argument against rubrics is intriguing but I wonder how colleges are going to handle admissions if we do away with traditional grades. Most other countries use some sort of examination via standardized tests but that might not work well in the United States.

    Ed2: The idea that college is for everybody is one area where I depart with my fellow liberals. At least based on my online interactions, many liberal nerds seem to believe that everybody could be made to love learning for its own sake as much as they do. I’m skeptical about this. Most people see education in a more pragmatic light and many people don’t like abstract thinking at all. They just want to get to work as soon as possible. We really shouldn’t try to force intellectualism on people who don’t want to be intellectuals.

    Ed3: I agree with McWhorter’s point in the second link. Saul and I get into fights with other LGM commentators when they post inflammatory things like “white men should be denied the franchise for the next 200 years.” They think they are just venting but it looks bad to people not in the liberal bubble. How you say something is important, especially in the social media age where you can be more easily found and broadcasted and also taken out of context. Your not necessarily going to be given a chance to defend yourself, especially if your defense takes a long time to explain.

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      • On FB, Hanley and I were discussing another Prof that was fired and then reinstated. At the center of it all was an incident where she flipped off — verbally and with the well-known gesture — students who were expressing speech she didn’t like (apologies for not remembering the exact details). While it seems to have quickly become a tempest in a teapot, with backlashes to backlashes to backlashes and the administration seeming to react with kneejerk after kneejerk… a professor flipping off students IS problematic, regardless of the issues at stake. Professors should maintain the academic freedom necessary to do their jobs. But that shouldn’t offer carte blanche for all sorts of bad behavior. I’d argue that the manner in which this guy expressed himself is problematic… even if the response was outlandish and worse than the original offense.

        It reminds me of the Yale professor* who got in hot water because of a letter she sent to her dorm residents (she was a “House Parent” in addition to her teaching duties) regarding the University’s statement on potentially offensive Halloween costumes. I felt she should have been disciplined not for stating a controversial or disagreeable opinion, but because she seemed to abuse the authority and role with which she was charged.

        * As dimwitted as I thought her letter was, she is actually a really important voice in early childhood education and wrote a great book. So, stay in your lane, lady!

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        • I don’t have a specific comment on either case [1], but I do think blurring the lines between “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom” is a good idea in general. They overlap somewhat, especially for government-run institutions, but many things protected as free speech will rightly get you disciplined, and many things that would violate academic freedom have little to do with free speech.

          Most people have nothing like academic freedom. I can’t just do research, let alone publish it, that my employer disapproves of with no repercussions. And before you ask, I’m much happier with this arrangement than I was in academia.

          [1] OK, fine, I guess with the Yale thing, I don’t think the Kipnis letter was good or constructive, but worthy of official sanction? Ehhhh, probably not.

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        • That covers a lot of ground, including speech that pretty obviously shouldn’t get them fired, speech that’s incredibly terrible, and speech that’s incredibly terrible and pretty obviously shouldn’t get them fired.

          NB: I just want to get out front that I hold firing professors for off- (or even on-) the-job speech to a very different standard than firing J. Random Employee of Widgets, Inc. for the same. Much like I don’t think J. Random should get fired if it would violate a collective bargaining agreement, though the analogy isn’t perfect.

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          • Now that colleges are businesses, a professor needs to know that he needs to make the college money and not cost the college money.

            Now that we’re graduating more and more and more engineers and more and more MBAs, we’re getting fewer and fewer people with a sense of humor about one of the professors saying something hyperbolic and they’re not whipping out their wallets in anywhere near the numbers that the previous generations of college students were willing to do and the ones that do donate have hair triggers when it comes to stopping their donations when they get offended by the slightest little thing, the ingrates.

            And so when a professor says something that affects the bottom line, they get fired.

            Let’s face it, it’s never the professors who graduate students who go on to donate who throw those statements around, either. It’s the professors who graduate students who sue the school, the ones who graduate students who threaten other professors, and the ones who graduate students who get the college in the newspaper for *BAD* reasons that pull this crap.

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          • I’m not saying that anyone should be fired. Professors should have reasonable freedom to pursue their research and teach controversial things. But when you set foot in the Twitterverse, you’re playing by their rules. In the online world, there are a lot of people who are going to threaten you for no good reason, and a lot more who will threaten you when you yourself stir it up by calling for genocide or saying that people should be left to die. It’s like in Lethal Weapon 2, when the ambassador is standing over a dead body, holding a gun, and shouting “diplomatic immunity”.

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            • Fair enough.

              I don’t think this is a totally wrong opinion, but at the same time, we have people getting straight-up murdered over Call of Duty rivalries.[2]

              As for calling for genocide, I do think it’s important to point out that “white genocide” isn’t genocide, as in the people who use the term un-ironically aren’t describing anything that remotely resembles genocide.

              [2] By my lights, if you SWAT someone and the SWAT team kills them, you committed murder, and I have a strong feeling the KS criminal justice system will agree. But I am not a lawyer and AFAIK there isn’t any direct precedent.

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              • I’ve heard the phrase “depraved indifference” on cop and lawyer shows. That sounds like a good description of swatting.

                As for his use of the word “genocide”, you’ve got to admit that it’s a pretty loaded word. If you’re willingly engaging on a 140-character medium, you’re putting yourself into a position where misunderstanding is inevitable. I personally hate our modern social media – I mean, let’s be honest, even comment threads on a sane website like this can get dishonest and ugly. We need to fix the media. But unfortunately, death threats are a dime a dozen in these environments, and for CNN to treat these as a news story is a bit disingenuous.

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                • I just read McWhorter’s piece, and see that he said a lot of the same things I did. But I’m bothered by his “both sides do it” slant. Or maybe I just don’t find it necessary to point that out. Are there people on the left who don’t realize that there is malice on the left?

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          • On the other hand, if you want to be able to express yourself in a way that would make you the center of a shitstorm, while minimizing professional consequences, being a professor is near the top of the list. It’s a job that’s going to attract a lot of shit-talkers, and for the most part I’m OK with that.

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          • Again, people with PhDs and professorships should understand how to express themselves so as to avoid becoming the center of a sh*tstorm.

            I work with PhD’s — almost all in the hard sciences. Many of them struggle with writing a coherent email, or giving a presentation to anyone who doesn’t already understand the whole topic.

            You know what part of their education prepared them for “expressing themselves”? They might have had one required class as an undergrad that covered speech or interpersonal communication, one technical writing class, and as a grad student, one class devoted to “How to write an actual paper for publication in your field”.

            Professors aren’t any better. Somewhere out there is a magical universities filled with professors who are required to take some classes in actual education so as to know something about teaching, but I’ve yet to find it.

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            • Ya know, I rarely ever see a STEM prof at the center of one of these controversies. Perhaps they have the sense to know that they can’t communicate well on a medium like Twitter, and thus, they don’t.

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    • I largely agree with McWhorter but I think he is also really soft-peddling how repulsive Heather MacDonald’s politics and policies are. She doesn’t think there is a right to policy and she is extremely differential to law enforcement and the military to the point of subservience.

      There is also an intent/effect thing going on with a lot of stuff. Maybe the police are not actually racist* but if people of color are disproportionately likely to be the victims of police overzealousy, they become racist in effect.

      *There is plenty of journalistic and scholarly evidence that shows lots of police officers are racist even in liberal cities like San Francisco. Police Departments seem to be highly nepotistic and withstand demographic changes in ways other things do not. The SFPD is a relic from when SF was largely Irish-Catholic. The NYPD has similar demographic issues.

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      • I don’t think police are necessarily racist or bigoted, as such. I think their population is extremely insular and reactionary/over-protective of itself. They see the world as cop/not-cop, and then the not-cop demographic is further subdivided into ally, neutral, and hostile.

        Minorities just happen to fall into the hostile category more often than not for reasons that are often related to policy the police have no control over.

        What we need to do is break down the whole cop/not-cop dialectic.

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  3. Ed5: College has been something of a finishing school/place to have a good time in your late teens and early twenties for at least some classes of people in the Anglophone world since the reign of Queen Elizabeth at least. American media always depicted the fun side of college like over the academic side since the 19th century. Before the mid-20th century, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were elite in the socio-economic sense but very few people would see them as elite in academic sense. There is a cute romantic comedy from the 1940s where Don Ameche plays an exasperated literature professor that can’t stand the obsession with football or how the administration leans on him to go easy with the football players. These are not new issues.

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  4. Ed7: From the article:

    Hillary Clinton’s plan to offer free tuition to families making $125,000 per year or less would have cost American taxpayers $350 billion over the span of ten years (the more ambitious plan proposed by Clinton’s primary rival Bernie Sanders would have cost taxpayers over twice as much).

    Or as the Pentagon calls it, a rounding error. Seriously, that’s 35 Billion per year, out of a nearly 4 thousand billion dollar budget.
    And it just tossed out as some self-evidently unbelievably yuge number that needs no explanation of why it is impossible.
    But a 1.5 Trillion dollar deficit from tax cuts is nothing to be concerned about. Pay no never mind to that.

    But meanwhile, let’s talk about forcing people to choose- unmanageable debt, or retirement?

    This is the sort of fiscal-conservatism-of-convenience that caused the scales to fall from my eyes back int he late 80s, when I started to see how full of it the Republicans were.

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    • Though I did not quote that line, it informed my belief that this proposal is a partisan scam designed to dick over educated millennials while furthering the popular right-wing talking points about Social Security insolvency.

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    • Free tuition still has the same cost control problem.

      Let’s say HRC got elected and put her plan in place. Now as a family making close to the $125K line, I have an incentive to stay under that line (and adding to the stats that wages are depressed/stagnating) until all the kids are out of school.

      As a school, it’s either a free money day for me, or the feds will impose price controls for such students, and we get the problem with have with hospitals and medicare patients (either shift the cost of accepting free students to students paying the full ride, or do everything you legally can to avoid giving space to free students).

      Seriously, we’d be better off with the federal government making that deal only with state schools, or with the federal government just starting their own damn national university system with campuses all over the country.

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      • 1. I think cutoffs like the one in Clinton’s plan are generally bad. They create bad incentives. Better to just eat the cost of educating the relatively small number of people above the cutoff.

        2. You would need to use the money as both carrot and stick, limiting the amount they can charge private students for tuition. My guess is some schools would be able to get away with dispensing with the federal money entirely, but this seems like a lesser order of problem.

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      • Being a leftist radical, I propose that the state governments stage a coup and take over universities, turning them into wholly government owned and operated entities.

        Kidding aside, aren’t state universities already under price controls?

        I mean, it is the state government which sets the salaries and budgets already, and has since their inception.

        I guess my frustration is that the national conversation keeps being presented as if tuition free state universities are like some weird science fiction hypothetical when we enjoyed it for a generation or more.

        And I get a palpable sense that the mere prospect of it is being resisted, like it’s an undesirable thing in itself. Maybe some lingering moral prohibition about freeloading or something.
        It usually goes like this:
        1. We can’t afford it!
        2. OK, we can afford it, but it isn’t worth it, since these kids are just studying underwater basket weaving.
        3. OK, mostly they are studying STEM but still, I shouldn’t pay for what doesn’t benefit me.
        4. OK, it benefits me, but really, we can’t afford it because Econ 101 supply and demand costs will zoom out of control.
        5. OK, the taxpayers can set tuition rates, capital expansion budgets, and staff salaries but still, even then, we can’t afford it because we just passed a whopping tax cut.

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        • I mean, it is the state government which sets the salaries and budgets already, and has since their inception.

          My understanding is that this varies from state to state, and the specifics change rather often as various administrations of state governments come & go, with some states offering up more financial support in exchange for more financial and academic control (& vice versa for other states).

          I’m largely cool with states offering free tuition higher education, as long as they don’t exclude other legitimate institutions from competing against them. IIRC, the reason we don’t is precisely a question of control, in that by allowing the school to charge tuition at some level, the school could more effectively keep politics out of the day to day.

          I recall you once talking about why CA stopped being free, but I can’t remember the specifics. Maybe could find that comment, he’s a savant at doing that.

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          • Oh I remember myself.

            Up until 1975, the California system of college was tuition free to anyone who qualified, i.e., the top 15% of high school seniors.
            It was at the time, the best system of higher education in the world.

            It consists of 3 tracks, community colleges offering AA degrees, state colleges and state universities which focus on research. They feed one into another, so like you can get an AA at community college, a BA at state college, and a Masters at university. Or stop anywhere along the path.
            The timeline of free tuition encompassed the massive expansion of the system in the post WWII era, when about a dozen new university and college campuses were constructed.

            For political reasons, having to do with the fallout of the 60s protests, and changing demographics as the bulge of the Baby Boom passed through college age, in 1975 the state for the first time charged tuition, fictitiously called a fee.

            In 1978, Prop 13 severely cut the available tax money available, and the amount of tuition charged to students versus amount paid by the state has risen ever since.
            The drug war didn’t help, since that forced more public funds to be allocated to police and prison budgets; we spend more on prisons now than colleges.

            It didn’t have to be this way. We could have made different budget priorities, different funding decisions.
            We still can.

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                • I think it has more to do with the reasons that the New York Times keeps writing about people who owe private schools a lot of money even though they’re not really the problem: Those in decisions of authority tend to come from a small slice of the national politicians, and the examples that come to their mind are the people they know, and they’re less likely to know people that dropped out of college.

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                  • Also, essentially nobody goes to college thinking that they’re likely to drop out, or sends their kids to college thinking the same.

                    Coming from a certain degree of wealth and stability also means it’s easier to avoid disruptions that might force another student to drop out, or bounce back from them quickly if they do happen.

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            • As it pertains to the top 15%, I could be supportive.

              Not sure how politically feasible it is. Georgia and Massachusetts have merit-based programs. Whether the approaches should be merit-based or need-based remains politically contentious and increasingly partisan.

              Now, being who I am, we would want some cost controls to be a part of this package. None of the states have done a good job with that, nor have private schools.

              We talk about the cost of college being a problem, but we still don’t act like it’s a problem. Neither at the ballot box nor in the decisions propsective students make.

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            • The biggest long-term changes to state budgets happened around 1965, but took decades to become the monsters they are today: Medicaid and state funding for the K-12 system. (I use “monsters” in the sense that they are huge headaches for legislatures, which all face a practical political limit on their tax rates, rather than questioning the benefits.) In a typical state, those two now consume around 60-65% of state General Fund spending.

              The California FY2017-18 governor’s budget summary [PDF] says the state will spend more on higher ed than corrections and rehabilitation, both in GF and total. K-12 plus Medicaid will be about 63.4% of the GF spending.

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              • Correct, I noticed that my information was out of date.
                However, the state spends only slightly less on prisons than college, and that is directly attributable to drug laws.

                The aging of America’s population and the strain it would put on budgets is also not unforeseeable. I guess its the ant and grasshopper thing where we frivolously slashed taxes and spent on prisons, then suddenly realized we have a lot of sick elderly people and no surplus to fund them.

                Again, this problem is entirely self-inflicted, by conscious choices made by the voters.

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                • While I sympathize more in your direction on this subject than not there’re a couple issues:

                  -If we make university free then we make it almost obligatory and making university more like high school is not a selling point.

                  -Until/unless universities find a way to control their wild administrative bloat (which considering that universities are run by administrators… yeah fat chance) then the idea of transferring more money to universities is pretty much a political nonstarter. University kids are photogenic but there’s very little constituency even on the left for enabling an ever sprawling empire of University admin sinecures.

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                  • The administrative bloat is tied closely to the lack of cost controls. Any system for free college that could possibly work is going to have to use the power that comes with paying for college in a way that works towards controlling costs.

                    I believe this is possible. Whether real policies will work this way is a distinct question.

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                    • Makes sense to me. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for Gov. to step back and let the university crisis precipitate then step back in once a few campuses have imploded as a warning to the rest of them. Short of facing a crisis like that the universities have no reason not to fight like hell against any proposed change and oversite.

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                      • I think that’s a really bad plan, given all the positive aspects of the American post-secondary education system, and given how much of it is thoroughly entangled with the government, for good or ill.

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                  • Yeah, I get all that, but the admin bloat is also tied to the general lack of interest by the public.
                    No politician has gotten elected or lost an election because of bloat.
                    The loss of free college should have been a “riot in the streets” moment, but wasn’t for the reasons I mentioned upthread.

                    If the political winds were to make free college important enough and popular enough to elect legislators and governors, the budget practices would get a lot more scrutiny and discipline.

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                    • I guess it’s a chicken and egg thing too. It’s gonna be a hard sell to funnel more money to universities when most people think it’ll be wasted/captured by the university structure itself but it’s gonna be hard to go after university bloat (the admins like their sinecures, who wouldn’t?) unless either the carrot of more money or the stick of university implosion is being wielded.

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                      • I’m a big believer in the malleability of the public mood and opinion.
                        All those years of constant pressure and articles about basketweaving classes, privileged little snots burning American flags were part of a loosely organized campaign to attack the reputation and image of higher ed.

                        Constant media pressure works.

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                        • Sure, but the media also provides constant pressure portraying university as the seminal experience of early adulthood, the heart of American culture and the seat of all learned knowledge.

                          Constant media pressure doesn’t work?

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  5. Related to ED2, Bryan Caplan argues that maybe college for everyone is a bad idea:

    I’m cynical about students. The vast majority are philistines. I’m cynical about teachers. The vast majority are uninspiring. I’m cynical about “deciders”—the school officials who control what students study. The vast majority think they’ve done their job as long as students comply.

    Those who search their memory will find noble exceptions to these sad rules. I have known plenty of eager students and passionate educators, and a few wise deciders. Still, my 40 years in the education industry leave no doubt that they are hopelessly outnumbered. Meritorious education survives but does not thrive.

    Indeed, today’s college students are less willing than those of previous generations to do the bare minimum of showing up for class and temporarily learning whatever’s on the test. Fifty years ago, college was a full-time job. The typical student spent 40 hours a week in class or studying. Effort has since collapsed across the board. “Full time” college students now average 27 hours of academic work a week—including just 14 hours spent studying.

    What are students doing with their extra free time? Having fun. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa frostily remark in their 2011 book, Academically Adrift,….

    I think my biggest issue with the “college isn’t for everyone” crowd is that it is going to backfire. I don’t think making college less universal (and its universality is still not true, most Americans don’t have college degrees) is going to make it more intellectual. American education policy seems to be more about economy and creating workers than it is about creating people with bodies of knowledge. My cynical view is that the sincerely intellectually curious kids will find themselves locked out of college (because they also tend to be social misfits). I think if Bryan Caplan got his view, the unintended consequence is that college would become even more dominated by credentialist/professional kids. Kids who get good grades because they know it leads to the brass ring jobs in business, law, medicine, finance, banking, etc.

    So the would be scholars will largely be locked out and sent to vocational school. The kids who dream of Bain and Goldman will remain even if they don’t actually care about Dante, Locke, etc.

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    • “Gee, college has gotten vastly more expensive and vastly more necessary for class mobility (or even maintenance), and, in what must be an entirely unrelated development, students are no longer able to treat their educations like full time jobs.”

      Fucking gag.

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      • I think there is an issue of colleges here. If you go to elite-enough institutions, I doubt you will find many people attending part-time or working full-time jobs along with being students. Bryan Caplan teaches at an elite-enough institution. It could very well be that most of his students are having fun instead of studying. But as Lee said, this is an eternal problem in the United States.

        If you go to more commuter schools, will be different.

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          • Except that once you get to a certain level of school, the majority of students seem to come from better off families and are not worried about loans per se. It doesn’t even have to be a great school academic wise. It could be at the level of Penn State, Chico State, or Indiana U. Not colleges of last resort but still colleges that are not quite elite in their admissions standards.

            I imagine the same is true for where Caplan teaches. He is probably dealing with a lot of relatively to very comfortable students who party a lot. And I’m far from being a Caplan defender most of the time.

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    • We’re in the middle of the second half of Goodhart’s Law .

      In my industry, “credentials” are not limited to degrees. You can get one of those acronyms and it’s worth as much as, if not more than, a degree in, say, Philosophy. You have a CCNA? We don’t care if you went to community college for two years and then dropped out. You have a CISSP? We don’t care if you only went to high school and then entered the workforce.

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      • In my little corner of my industry, it’s almost the opposite. Do you have an advanced degree in a field that requires a solid understanding of mathematics?

        It kind of makes sense for us, though can lead to some frustrating restrictions on who we can hire.

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    • How much does “American education policy” really impact college (in all its forms) beyond funding? I assume you are referring to things at a federal level and, maybe I’m ignorant, but I can’t really think of how the government impacts college outside of its role in student loans (which certainly ain’t nothing).

      College for everyone? College not for everyone? I don’t even know what that means. College isn’t a singular thing. There are different colleges that serve different purposes. Ideally, we’d have a model for funding college that was less fucked than the current one, but I’m not sure what that is. So, yea, policy in that regard could make a difference.

      If you want to goto college and have the means to get yourself there, go for it. No one should stop you.
      If you don’t want to goto college for whatever reason, go for it. No one should force you.
      If you want to goto college and for some reason can’t find your way there, that is something worth looking at. I wonder how many folks fall into that bucket. And how many would still fall into that bucket if we improved the funding system.

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      • The point that Trumwill made years back that stands to be brought up again and again is that we keep comparing “no college” to “college” but “college” means a hell of a lot of things.

        We should be comparing “no college” to “community college”. We should compare “community college” to “compass directional state college”. We should compare “compass directional state college” to “State University”. We should compare “State University” to “University that everyone has heard of”. And we should compare *THAT* to “Ivy League”. (And we can probably compare the crappy Ivy Leagues to Yale/Harvard.)

        Someone who gets a degree in Gender and/or Ethnic Film Studies from Vassar will probably have the world as her oyster. If this same person instead went on to get a degree in STEM from “community college”, would we find her making the same paycheck 5 years down the road?

        And, of course, does this indicate a problem anywhere?

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      • I was mainly focusing on what I think college would become intellectually wise. My fear is that the person who wants to study Philosophy will be kicked out and the business majors would remain under the Caplan plan. Jaybird did the stereotypical sneer at this though with his gender studies pan.

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        • Jaybird did the stereotypical sneer at this though with his gender studies pan.

          You misunderstand my sneer.

          My sneer was at how you can get a degree in whatever you want if you go to Vassar and it doesn’t matter because you’re swimming in privilege.

          If you get a degree in STEM from Compass Directional State, you’re still not going to make as much money as someone who got a degree in Adjective Studies from Vassar.

          It was a “check your privilege”, sneer.

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    • What are students doing with their extra free time? Having fun.

      I don’t know about you guys, but I was working 30 hours a week doing IT admin and carrying a full time engineering load. ‘Fun’ was in damn short supply.

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      • As I wrote to Pillsy above, I very much expect this depends on the kind of institution. There are a lot of paras at my law firm who work and attend college at the same time. They are going to local commuter schools. I suspect Bryan Caplan’s students are largely between 18-22, largely white, and largely from relatively comfortable families. They very well could be spending a lot of time having fun. “Party Schools” are still a thing.

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        • UW-Madison is (was?) well known as a party school. Not as bad as Carbondale, but it’s up there in the rankings. Lots of people spending lots of time partying. The attrition rate between freshman and sophomore year was pretty bad thanks to students spending more time drinking and partying than studying.

          By the end of sophomore year, at least in the COE, you were either done with partying that much, or no longer in the COE (the COE has a reputation to maintain, and they intended to do just that).

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          • In my (vastly out of date) experience, it is pretty typical for a large university to have institutions within it that can be of a vastly different character than the overall school.

            Colleges of Engineering in large universities are often as you describe. The one at my university ran its freshmen through a classical mechanics course in one quarter where the physics department covered the same material in two. (Engineering students could substitute the physics course, but the Engineering school didn’t tell them that. They to figure it out from a close reading of the course catalog.) This was universally, and I believe correctly, understood to be specifically to cull the herd early on.

            On a slightly different note, my niece went to Ohio State, which has its share of partying. She attended what was essentially an academically elite college within the broader university, but having only limited contact with it.

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    • “Fifty years ago, college was a full-time job. The typical student spent 40 hours a week in class or studying.”

      Does he have any data to back this up? And, if the shift in time spent studying is real, how much of it is because of increased efficiency brought about by technological improvements?

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    • I think if Bryan Caplan got his view, the unintended consequence is that college would become even more dominated by credentialist/professional kids. Kids who get good grades because they know it leads to the brass ring jobs in business, law, medicine, finance, banking, etc.

      Emphasis on “even more.” This describes my observations from when I went to a good state school back in the early ’80s. Only a tiny minority of students could plausibly be described as being there out of a love of learning. The vast majority were there either out of careerism or default expectations of their social class. The more recent trend of requiring college degrees for jobs that did not traditionally require them can only heighten this trend, making most colleges essentially vo-tech schools.

      My cynical view is that the sincerely intellectually curious kids will find themselves locked out of college (because they also tend to be social misfits).

      I have been a nerd all my life. I am a socially high-functioning nerd. You can put me in a room full of non-nerds and I can pass, for limited periods of time. But in the long run the truth will out, and given the opportunity I seek out the company of my own kind.

      My experience with college was that it was great for this. My medium-sized high school had only a small collection of nerds, and the environment necessarily threw us together with the general population. College was entirely different. The nerd population was substantial merely by virtue of being a small percentage of a large total population. After an initial sorting process of nerds seeking one another, I had my network of friends. There was little need to worry about the jocks and frat boys. We mostly didn’t share space outside of class, and even less so in class once we got past the English 1A level. I fondly recall my upper division Chaucer course: a class of perhaps twenty, all of whom were there of their own free will.

      When I first got to college and got a course catalog, it was like the Sears Christmas catalog had been when I was a kid. My concern about the intellectually curious kid is not that they will be excluded for being social misfits, but that college as a candy shop for intellectually curious kids will disappear, replaced by college as an economically rational vo-tech school.

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      • My general view is that the really intellectually curious kids are usually found at tech schools and/or small liberal arts colleges. Once you get the top of the top schools, it becomes more of a mix. You have your intellectuals but you also have kids who just know elite college to elite job to elite grad school to dollars, dollars, dollars.

        But SLACs tend to have self-selecting populations. You don’t go to them as a default.

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        • What you describe is a common pattern, but big state schools attract these kids too. In my case, cost was a consideration. We never seriously considered anything other than a state school. My SAT scores were high enough to get me in automatically to the UC system, and I could take my pick of campuses other than Berkeley, since everyone wanted to go to Berkeley. So I picked Santa Barbara and never bothered to apply anywhere else.

          Both my nieces were most certainly intellectually curious, and they both went to big state schools as well. It is a perfectly viable option for the intellectually curious kid.

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          • Yeah, I went to McGill in Canada and while there were 30,000 students there (counting professional schools), I would say about 70 percent or more of us were the intellectually curious type. Even the ones who were theoretically there for jobsjobsjobs were intellectually curious and would spend hours reading philosophy or take a science class even though it screwed up their major requirements. There were a decent number of people even in the MBA program who were basically the “my dad says I have to get an MBA for the family business but I can have an English (or dance or drama or philosophy or etcetcetcetc) minor (or double major) for myself” types. Same with premed.

            The nerds were thick on the ground.

            It was an epiphany for me :).

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              • There are more SLAC’s in Canada now then there were in the 90s, but there are still plenty there (considering the size of the country). They don’t use the same words the same way (dialect differences) but Acadia is to McGill as Grinnell is to Stanford, to a fairly close mapping.

                Given that I work at a SLAC and finished my McGill degree at a commuter state school, I feel pretty confident that the “nerd heaven” intellectually-curious aspect is fairly well-distributed, as is the “just there because I should be / to get ahead” aspect. (Plenty of people at any given SLAC are there because they’re legacies, even, except maybe Oberlin and St. John… and even then I am suspicious of myself for stereotyping.)

                I do worry, as does, that the university-as-business focus of administrators will cut back on the candy store aspect… but the truly intellectually curious will continue to read, converse, seek out professors in office hours, and do independent studies…. so it sucks, but not all that much. (IMO)

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                • SLACs in Canada a very much an Easterner thing (much like its a geographic thing in the US as well). Westerners mainly go to a big public research university if they can while smaller colleges pick up the less academically able and less resourced or fill in particular niches.

                  A couple people go out East for a SLAC experience of smaller class sizes and what not, but they are a bit of an oddity.

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                  • One of the history books I read last year was Cuming’s Dominion From Sea to Sea. One of his big points was how far the old New England model of a town every few miles in each direction, a small city every 20-30 miles, public K-12 in every township, and a small college every 20,000 sq miles or so stretched west. You can look at NASA’s nighttime maps of the US and tell exactly — Great Plains — where that pattern stopped.

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                  • This is true, although in the West there are some significant SLACs, they are thin on the ground.

                    “uniquely Eastern-North-American” is definitely more accurate than “uniquely American” though.

                    Just by the numbers, most people in any part of Canada will be going to a big public/quasi-public research university than a smaller SLAC, anyway – I mean, McGill has about 25000 undergrads, you can get to 100,000 just by throwing in the other top 3-4 universities nationwide (or to get there a different way, just throw in Concordia, U of M and UQAM without even leaving Montreal!), and in a population-small country, 100K is a *lot* of university students. If you took the top 20 (by size) large universities you’d easily dwarf any other category of school, just b/c those top 20 schools would contain most of the university-attending populace of the whole country. I think?

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                    • @maribou

                      What are the name and student body sizes of the SLACs in Canada? At least some of them.

                      I’ve not heard of any and my general experience with Canadians and other foreigners is that they tend to go to very large universities. Nothing like an American SLAC that can only award Bachelor degrees and usually has a student body of around 2500-3000 students. Sometimes much less.

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                      • I already named one. I also accounted for why most of the Canadians you know go to really big universities: there are a few *really* big universities (between 20,000-30,000 undergraduates) and a small population of people going to college overall (there’s only 1/10th as many people in the country as in the US), ergo most of us will have gone to really big universities.

                        There are plenty of selective liberal arts focused universities with populations under 5000 or much less (even into the 3 digits) though.

                        Here’s a short list of the ones that worked fairly hard at recruiting me in the 90s (and which I am thus familiar enough with to compare with the SLAC where I work now, which has 2100 students and a 15 percent admit rate last I checked – these schools are/were *exactly* the same feelings-wise/curriculum-wise/whatever else as the one I work at and the 5 or 6 other American SLAcs I’ve visited, except that people can actually afford to go there because Canada, so there’s less financial aid angst):
                        Bishop’s
                        Acadia
                        St. FX (er, Francis Xavier but no one calls it that)
                        St. Thomas
                        Mt. Allison
                        University of King’s College
                        Universite de Moncton
                        Mount St Vincent

                        schools that are very similar from what i’ve heard, lacking direct investigation by me but i know people who work there or have other intel:
                        University of Northern British Columbia

                        Those are the ones I’m personally familiar with to some degree, confident that they are SLACs, and which are not only Small but also Selective. There’s at least a half-dozen more that aren’t especially selective (but are SLACs otherwise) and another half-dozen that are similar in size and curriculum but just don’t feel SLAC-like for a variety of reasons (eg UPEI, which has a vet school and a ton of part-timers who don’t live on campus, or Nipissing, which seems to be trying hard to brand itself as techie and also to grow fast as it can). I also left off every single prairie school, per Brent_F, although I suspect at least one or two of them would be indistinguishable from a SLAC to a casual observer.

                        It may be a drop in the bucket compared to the SLACs in the US, but it’s a huge list considering that the country is very small (population wise) and just has many fewer universities in general.

                        Like, Maritimers grow up *surrounded* by SLACs. I was heavily recruited by 6 of them that are within a few hour’s drive of where I grew up (and that’s with no common application and thus a lot less recruiting). That’s 3 more than I had large universities that were similarly interested.

                        I think I’m wrong that they are growing though, at least in technical terms – several of the ones that I remembered considering attending (U. Ste-Anne, Luther College, etc.) are either dying or have been formally hoovered into the provincial university system. (As far as I can tell they operate exactly the same way they used to, but they don’t count as a SLAC, despite operating as one.)

                        Either way it’s not something that only Americans do. Canadian students consider SLACs just as intently as Americans consider them.

                        (And, again, having a pretty darn broad range of information and contacts for universities and colleges in both countries – you will find significant clumps of the intellectually curious almost *everywhere* in every type of college …. I mean, Emily Carr (for eg) is an art school, so not a SLAC at all, and not listed above, but a geekier bunch of enthusiastic learners you will never find… except maybe at Reed. Reed out-nerds almost all of us. Even the folks at St. John’s.)

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                      • The key difference to keep in mind is that the Canadian system doesn’t have the concept of an elite undergraduate institution like the States has with either your Ivies or your top notch SLACs, or like the UK has. The best ranked schools are big public institutions which aren’t that difficult to get into in the grand scheme of things. If there is elite programs, they’re things internal to the school you have to get into and maintain standing in by university performance and what you did in high school is considered pretty much irrelevant. For example, my undergrad was a grueling honours program intended to produce research grad students. This was far more gruelling and more difficult to maintain academic standing in than the general student population at the same school.

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                    • Heck, you can get well past to 100,00 just by putting together U of T with the second biggest school which is also in the GTA (York) .U of T is yuge. Put the top four together and that’s more like 200,000.

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                      • So true.

                        I guess my point was a) it’s not like the US is unique in having SLACs, and b) it’s not like SLACs are unique in having huge swaths of nerds-in-candy-stores, even within the US, nor are they *only* or even *mostly* nerds-in-candy-stores. (Our biggest major is Bio (pre-med). Our second biggest is Psychology (pre-med or pre-grad-school-in-Psychology or Social Work or Neuroscience, or pre-settling-down-to-run-the-family-business). Our third biggest is Econ. There are a lot of children of businessmen and one percenters in Econ. A Whole Lot.)

                        PS To be clear, I consider myself a nerd in a candy store, learning wise, and many of my favorite student workers (not all!!!) are also of that type.

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    • One of my co-workers is ex-Air Force and he tells the story of one of his old jobs writing a test for the end of a training something-or-other. He told me that he specifically made the test something that you could not beat by searching a powerpoint for keywords. You had to actually know the concepts behind what you were taught in the training class. Well, the test had a pass rate of 30-something percent. Leadership demanded that the test be changed.

      He left the Air Force soon thereafter.

      The point of that story is that if you get enough people dropping out between first and second year, we”re going to see policies to address how difficult college is.

      But in the wrong direction.

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  6. [Ed3] Oh come on. How many bases is McWhorter going to steal here?

    Note, for example, the deafness to irony or abstraction in Ciccariello-Maher’s detractors. Certainly Ciccariello-Maher did not despise the innocent, hard-working soldier himself. His opposition is to America’s larger military actions. Just as certainly, a white professor — like Ciccariello-Maher — does not sincerely wish for the extinction of all people of his own race.

    But anyone who understands this must also revile the equally uncomprehending, theatrical interpretation of the works of thinkers like Heather Mac Donald and Mark Lilla as “white supremacists” who, their detractors say, seek a return to the America of a century ago.

    It’s bad that Ciccariello-Maher was threatened into retirement, so you should be nice to numbskulls like Heather Mac Donald and Mark Lilla?

    EDIT: This is a common and profoundly damaging pattern in pieces like this one, which conflates actual violence (like at Middlebury, where it wasn’t just “shouting”) or threats of violence with harsh criticism.

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    • One thing I wonder about with our pundit and journalist classes is how much personal relationships cause them to pull punches. I don’t know if McWhorter knows MacDonald but Matt Y knows McArdle as a friend and he tends to not comment on anything she says even when it is plainly absurd.

      Likewise lots of journalists (especially high powered ones) seem to have a lot of personal entanglements with higher-ups in business and finance. How much does this cause them to turn away at misdeeds by business and finance? Consciously or unconsciously. Can someone be critical against finance if their friends and lovers are in finance?

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      • One thing I wonder about with our pundit and journalist classes is how much personal relationships cause them to pull punches.

        See also: Walter Duranty. If you want a more recent, thornier, example, there’s this one.

        Another thing I wonder is how much do personal relationships cause them to attack certain positions in certain ways that they wouldn’t without these personal relationships?

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              • “I feel like the election of Donald Trump was a singular pointed message at women telling us that our lives don’t matter, and that our safety doesn’t matter, and that our physical health doesn’t matter, our reproductive rights don’t matter, that our gender just doesn’t matter, and that we are somehow owned by the country. I think within that one move, it was a giant gesture, and Donald Trump symbolizes, for most women – not all of them – he symbolizes and epitomizes everything that is deeply wrong with masculinity and with the objectification of women. And so within that single vote, it sort of was like a switch was flipped on and every woman just went, I’m done. It’s as simple as that: I’m done.”

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                • Should I have used this as a better example?

                  This one? This one?

                  I suppose Amber Tambyln’s story does a better job of explaining how people hold their own punches rather than how journalism does so.

                  I hope that the above examples give clearer pictures of “journalism” not telling stories because telling them would be inconvenient.

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                  • This take from James Fallows is interesting:

                    The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

                    But what Wolff is describing is an open secret.

                    Italics in the original.

                    I am curious to see whether this take picks up traction. In some ways it seems apropos; in others, not so much.

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                    • Oh, god. “Open secret” is at 14:59, ain’t it?

                      It’s going to be “fake news”ed any second now.

                      (Also, someone on the twitters pointed out that Trump is doing exactly what someone who wants this book to sell like hotcakes would be doing.)

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                      • The introduction to Wolff’s book is… striking:

                        Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.

                        On the one hand, this seems to be a lot of what journalists do in general. In a way, it’s kinda nice to see some metaphorical error bars on the reporting.

                        On the other, if the Trump Administration is a nest of fools and frauds, how reliable a picture can those fools and frauds paint of it?

                        Also, how much of an open secret can it be that Trump is completely unfit for office if half the country believes it?

                        Does the answer change if something like a quarter would believe he is completely unfit for office in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary?

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                        • Way back in the early oughts there was a huge kerfuffle over a statement that Bush made about the insurgents in Iraq.

                          I’m sure you remember:

                          There are some who feel like that, uh, if they attack us, that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don’t understand what they’re talkin’ about if that’s the case. . . Let me finish. Um, there are some who feel like, that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring ‘em on! We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

                          It was all over that whole “Bring ’em on!” thing.

                          It had two different responses.
                          On one side, there were people who sputtered in outrage and said stuff like “Bring ’em on? BRING EM ON? THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS CHALLENGING THE INSURGENTS TO (sotto voice) kill American soldiers.”

                          On the other side, there were people who said “Bring ’em on? HELL YES BRING EM ON! WE’RE GOING TO STOMP A MUDHOLE IN THEIR ASSES AND WALK IT DRY! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” and then did the stomp-stomp-clap thing from “We Will Rock You”.

                          Two cultures, two readings of the same line, two people completely not understanding how someone else could read the line and see something other than what they themselves saw.

                          Remember that?

                          I bring it up because I find myself wondering how much of the book will (perhaps even unwittingly) play on the same dynamic.

                          “Can you believe that Trump said (sotto voice) ‘X’?”

                          “WOOOOOO! TRUMP SAID ‘X’! FINALLY! WE FINALLY HAVE SOMEONE WITH TRUCK NUTS DRIVING THE SHIP OF STATE!”

                          Now, I haven’t read it, I’m not really planning on reading it… but I worry that that excerpt is telegraphing that the book is chock full of “Bring ’em on”s.

                          If you know what I mean.

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                      • Two types of open secrets.

                        The first is something that is widely known by insiders but not well known or known at all by outsiders.

                        The second is something that everyone knows, insiders and outsiders alike, but for some reason, nobody acknowleges, a la emperor’s new clothes.

                        A good deal of Wolff’s stuff so far I’ve seen seems to be more in the latter category

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      • Anyway, this brings to mind this tweet from the other day:

        Most journalists get into the business to make things better, to force change, to move the needle. That can’t happen in DC right now. Can here https://t.co/aDe0V7oy2b— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) January 4, 2018

        It’s one thing to deny bias on the part of journalists. It’s another thing to point out that bias is part and parcel with being human and then shrug at claims of bias on the part of journalists as being part and parcel with them being human.

        This sort of thing celebrates bias.

        The future is weird.

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  7. Ed8 – I sort of got lost in the article. I couldn’t understand why the author considers bilingual education slots to be fixed. If an education technique is found to be beneficial, why can’t it expand? I’m not even sure if that’s what he was arguing, though.

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