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2012 October 04 Thursday
Progress: Graduate School Enrollment Declining In USA

It is so rare to see signs of progress that when trends shift in a favorable direction it is occasion to celebrate. The message that most grad degrees are worthless is starting to reach the general public.

New enrollment in graduate schools fell last year for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The supply of smart people is too small. Why waste their minds studying subjects with little economic value? Why waste their careers teaching others those same subjects? There's lots of real work to be done and lots of high value problems to solve.

Enrollment in grad education is down 8.8%. Hurray! Now that's progress. Fewer people getting trained to believe liberal myths about the blank slate. Enrollment in arts and humanities fell 5.4%. More progress. Fewer people trying to get degrees in areas where the main employment is to train more people to get degrees in the same subjects. Down with disciplines that have journals just to give people places to publish so they can get tenure.

To speed this progress along what's needed: An end to federal and state funding for study of low value and negative value subjects. College grads who find themselves in the lower classes studied the wrong subject.

In contrast, the share of college graduates who place themselves in the lower class grew from 12% to 17%.

Why subsidize training someone to become lower class? Obviously the vast majority of lower class people did not need any training on how to become poor. Why let people pursue advanced degrees in low income work?

By Randall Parker    2012 October 04 08:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2011 December 04 Sunday
Glenn Reynolds: Make Colleges Guarantee Student Loans

Even a partial guarantee would provide colleges a great incentive to make students more useful to the job market.

For higher education, the solution is more value for less money. Student loans, if they are to continue, should be made dischargeable in bankruptcy after five years -- but with the school that received the money on the hook for all or part of the unpaid balance.

Up until now, the loan guarantees have meant that colleges, like the writers of subprime mortgages a few years ago, got their money up front, with any problems in payment falling on someone else.

Make defaults expensive to colleges, and they'll become much more careful about how much they lend and what kinds of programs they offer.

Such a reform would make colleges extremely focused on imparting useful skills to students. Even if the colleges were on the hook to refund 5% of the default they'd become selective in who they admitted, what majors they steered students toward, how they responded to poor student performance, and what career advice they gave students. I would do this: use both carrots and sticks. Provide colleges bonus money if students pay back their loans. At the same time, make colleges pay when students default. Use part of that payment to use as rewards to colleges when the students don't default.

The Dwindling Power of a College Degree

One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence. Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job.

Hey, get less choosy on who gets into college and quality drops.

Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from nonelite schools. A bachelor’s degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability. To get a good job, you have to have some special skill — charm, by the way, counts — that employers value. But there’s also a pretty good chance that by some point in the next few years, your boss will find that some new technology or some worker overseas can replace you.

You need skills to make more money. Who knew?

Though it’s no guarantee, a B.A. or some kind of technical training is at least a prerequisite for a decent salary.

The future looks grim for most of those who can't handle college-level material. Surely an argument for building up a big border wall and deporting illegal aliens:

It’s hard to see any great future for high-school dropouts or high-school graduates with no technical skills.

But you can make lots of money without a college degree if you are very smart, self starting, self teaching, and willing to spend long hours learning what is valuable and working your way up. I've seen it happen. Unfortunately, few people have all those attributes. Even most of the people capable of learning technically useful skills in college don't have the sense or the patience to do so. Unfortunately, we live in an era of declining incomes with a 7% drop since 2000. The lower ranks aren't getting much of income growth when income grows and even future economic growth is in question. People need much more competitive skills to succeed in today's labor market.

Alex Tabarrok pointed out something extremely important about college education in America: In the last 25 years colleges have increased overall enrollments by 50% while increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) enrollments by 0. If colleges were held financially responsible for producing useful graduates that sort of wasteful nonsense would stop in a hurry. Less would be spent on education and the money spent would be spent in far more constructive ways.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 04 06:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2011 May 13 Friday
Colleges Feign Interest In Students To Boost Reject Rates

Read this Bloomberg article to see just how corrupt higher education has become.

The deluge of correspondence from even the most hard-to- get-into colleges is raising false expectations among thousands of students, swelling school coffers with application fees as high as $90 apiece and making colleges seem more selective by soliciting and then rejecting applicants.

They get rated higher if they accept a smaller percentage of all the students who apply. So they lure students into applying just so they can reject them.

Harvard is a big offender.

Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, advises students to view e-mails and mailings skeptically, especially from Harvard University, the most selective college in the country. Reider called its mailings “not honorable” and “misleading.”

Avoid the very high costs of the bricks-and-mortar schools. Western Governors University looks like a good bet. The US Department of Education wants to throw up roadblocks to online schools and Tyler Cowen says abolish the Department of Education. Good idea.

By Randall Parker    2011 May 13 06:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2011 April 15 Friday
Peter Thiel: The Faith-Based Education Bubble

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel says the big remaining bubble is over-priced and over-revered education.

Instead, for Thiel, the bubble that has taken the place of housing is the higher education bubble. “A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

The education bubble is built upon the (still very strongly embraced) Blank Slate fantasy of human nature. The faith or elites profess in this fantasy represents a combination of many myth into one big super-myth. The Horatio Alger self-made man myth is one of the foundations for the super-myth. The idea that with a sort of will-to-power we can make ourselves into anything fits well with the idea that given sufficient training anyone can do anything, that the possibilities for achievement are limitless.

The faith in education is also built upon a modern version of a belief in natural human equality of ability and ambition. Whereas in a previous era our equality was seen as a result of our all having souls and all having equal standing in the eyes of god today belief in god is out of favor. So the equality myth needs a new foundation. Today our equal standing is seen by secular believers in equality as the product of the environment. Educational institutions have sold this modification of one of America's founding myths because this newer myth so serves the interests of colleges and universities. They can keep raising their prices, building new buildings, and raising their salaries. What's not to like?

This bubble, like all bubbles will come to an end. Thiel thinks college graduates, going back to live with parents while saddled with debts (that can't be dumped in bankruptcy court - college debt is like serfdom), are sending a message to society at large that the myth is exaggerated. Thiel is offering money to a small group of talented people to drop out of college and start businesses. I appreciate the symbolism. But people are still going to want to get skills. Also, Thiel's recruitment of only the very best for his scheme still leaves what he's promoting as an elite phenomenon. The biggest problem isn't elite kids going to Ivy Leagues (though that is a lot of money wasted). No, the biggest problem comes from all the kids of less than top ability trying to copy the smartest by going to very expensive colleges for 4 years to learn skills that do not do enough (or anything in most cases) to raise their productivity.

While rapidly rising college tuition prices are well known it still amazes me to find that the cost of higher education in the United States has doubled since the year 2000. Only energy has gone up faster. The energy cost problem looks pretty hard to solve. By contrast the education bubble can be popped with sufficient political will to shift toward an educational system that replaces most labor in schools with automation.

Cut out most of the labor costs using online delivery of cheap pre-recorded lectures on basic subjects, online tests to check your skills, proctored tests for certified knowledge on specific topics. Break up schooling into many pieces where lectures, course material, tutorials, and tests are all available for purchase separately. Use computer automation to greatly reduce the labor needed to deliver courses. Labor is the biggest cost in education. So automate most of what humans now do. The result will be higher quality and lower costs.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 15 09:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
Peter Thiel: The Faith-Based Education Bubble

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel says the big remaining bubble is over-priced and over-revered education.

Instead, for Thiel, the bubble that has taken the place of housing is the higher education bubble. “A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

The education bubble is built upon the (still very strongly embraced) Blank Slate fantasy of human nature. The faith or elites profess in this fantasy represents a combination of many myth into one big super-myth. The Horatio Alger self-made man myth is one of the foundations for the super-myth. The idea that with a sort of will-to-power we can make ourselves into anything fits well with the idea that given sufficient training anyone can do anything, that the possibilities for achievement are limitless.

The faith in education is also built upon a modern version of a belief in natural human equality of ability and ambition. Whereas in a previous era our equality was seen as a result of our all having souls and all having equal standing in the eyes of god today belief in god is out of favor. So the equality myth needs a new foundation. Today our equal standing is seen by secular believers in equality as the product of the environment. Educational institutions have sold this modification of one of America's founding myths because this newer myth so serves the interests of colleges and universities. They can keep raising their prices, building new buildings, and raising their salaries. What's not to like?

This bubble, like all bubbles will come to an end. Thiel thinks college graduates, going back to live with parents while saddled with debts (that can't be dumped in bankruptcy court - college debt is like serfdom), are sending a message to society at large that the myth is exaggerated. Thiel is offering money to a small group of talented people to drop out of college and start businesses. I appreciate the symbolism. But people are still going to want to get skills. Also, Thiel's recruitment of only the very best for his scheme still leaves what he's promoting as an elite phenomenon. The biggest problem isn't elite kids going to Ivy Leagues (though that is a lot of money wasted). No, the biggest problem comes from all the kids of less than top ability trying to copy the smartest by going to very expensive colleges for 4 years to learn skills that do not do enough (or anything in most cases) to raise their productivity.

While rapidly rising college tuition prices are well known it still amazes me to find that the cost of higher education in the United States has doubled since the year 2000. Only energy has gone up faster. The energy cost problem looks pretty hard to solve. By contrast the education bubble can be popped with sufficient political will to shift toward an educational system that replaces most labor in schools with automation.

Cut out most of the labor costs using online delivery of cheap pre-recorded lectures on basic subjects, online tests to check your skills, proctored tests for certified knowledge on specific topics. Break up schooling into many pieces where lectures, course material, tutorials, and tests are all available for purchase separately. Use computer automation to greatly reduce the labor needed to deliver courses. Labor is the biggest cost in education. So automate most of what humans now do. The result will be higher quality and lower costs.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 15 09:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2010 November 25 Thursday
Masters Degrees Do Not Improve Teacher Performance

Nearly half of all teachers get masters degrees in order to get paid more. But an Associated Press article by Donna Gordon Blankinship reports many researchers have confirmed no benefit for students from teachers with masters degrees. The article relays what economists want to do to improve education. My guess is if the economists get their way with policy changes educational outcomes still won't improve much.

SEATTLE (AP) — Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.

Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Bill Gates agree with the researchers who find that teachers with master's degrees do not better in classrooms. It is interesting to note that 90+% of those masters are in education. So basically what gets taught in Ed grad schools is worthless.

I wonder about the other 10% of grad degrees though. Would, say, people smart enough to get a grad degree in math or physics do a better job teaching? Might help for high school teachers teaching smarter college-bound students. A masters degree in a hard subject could be used a proxy that filters for smarter teachers without a direct admissions that such a thing as an innately smarter teacher actually exists.

The article brings up the idea of rewarding teachers based on performance. The problem is how to measure performance? A rational scientific approach based on psychometric research would measure innate abilities of students and then see how well students do based on how well they are capable of doing. But such an approach is anathema to the education establishment that still wants to treat all students as blank slates capable of being molded into college material.

If use of IQ remains taboo for teacher performance measurements then the only possibly workable alternative would involve a proxy for IQ that is sold as adjusting for deprived backgrounds. But adjustment of student performance expectations based on supposed deprivation clashes with the desire to make all students do great. So I see poor odds for implementing objective and fair teacher performance measurements. Until the Educrats want to fess up that innate intellectual abilities vary enormously new education policies will continue to be unrealistic and ineffective.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 25 02:24 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 November 05 Friday
Better Paid UK College Graduates Face Higher Debt Interest

Count on governments to implement perverse counter-productive incentives in the name of niceness and compassion. In Britain People who graduate from college into higher paying jobs will pay higher interest rates on their college debts. This is exactly the opposite of what the incentives should be.

Successful graduates will be penalised most by the introduction of variable interest rates on the loans they take out to pay the fees. A university leaver with debts of £30,000 and an annual salary of £45,000 will have to pay back about £2,160 a year for about 30 years. Someone earning £25,000 will have to pay £360 a year for the same debts because a lower interest rate will be applied. "Middle earning graduates will pay a lot more for their degrees over their lifetimes, and that will worry people," said Ian Mulheirn of the Social Market Foundation think tank. "They will face significant debt for the first time."

Imagine the opposite incentives were put into place. Imagine that the higher your income after college the lower your college debt interest rates. What would that do? Lower interest rates for higher earners would incentivize students to aim at higher paying jobs that produce more wealth.

Think about it. Students should be steered toward jobs where they will less likely to suck at the public teat and where they'll be more likely to earn more and pay more in taxes. The higher earners generate the wealth and tax revenue that fund education. We already benefit from their higher tax payments. Therefore we should encourage more people to make training and career choices that will make them higher earners.

Update: Want to make a country richer? Eliminate government funding for academic departments whose graduates make the least amount of money. Take the bottom 20 departments and make them totally tuition funded. The greater good would be served by steering people into learning skills that enhance their productivity.

Students who want to study art history or ethnic grievance studies who can't afford to pay the full freight for bricks-and-mortar colleges will still be able to learn economically useless information in online courses. Why waste taxpayer money people people attain lower middle class living standards?

By Randall Parker    2010 November 05 09:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
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