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2012 July 02 Monday
Most College Grads Move Back Home

College degrees: the path to a return home to live with your parents.

More than half of college graduates move back home, sociologist Katherine Newman wrote in her book, "The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition," based on surveys conducted worldwide.

Kids should do college majors that let them escape from returning to the family home, debt laden, after getting their bachelor's degree. Art history: the path to extended parental home living. Communications Studies: a great degree to give you better skills for talking with mom and dad when you move back in to live with them after college. Psychology: Useful skills for doing psychotherapy on your mom when you move back in with the parents after college and mom gets really upset you've wasted your college years.

I think every college major should have a published probability of forcing you to move back in with your parents after graduation. Then a lot more people would major in computer science and engineering.

By Randall Parker    2012 July 02 09:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2012 June 17 Sunday
College Grads In Menial Jobs And Deeply In Debt

Higher education is perpetuating a great evil. Check out these pictures.

College admissions officers are con artists. They are selling a fantasy. If they were selling a physical device that purported to provide benefits of the sort that colleges claim then they'd be locked up for fraud.

A US federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solicited comments from the public about their experiences with student loans. The student loan debt stories are tragic. The CFPB put this feedback into batches in PDF documents. Here is the main list of feedback documents. Look for ones where the writer's name is not specified. Each such PDF has many individual feedbacks. For example, this one. Then click on PDF attachments. Then you get the horror stories:

$122,268.70: The amount I owe in student loans I began my freshman year at Northeastern University in September 1999. Excited to have been accepted to my "reach," I begged, borrowed, and (practically) stole to pay the steep tuition. I received little federal money, did not have the fairy-tale college fund, and my struggling single-parent mother was unable to provide much assistance. To cover the tuition, I sought the help of private lenders (Sallie Mae, Citibank) and at the ripe age of 17, signed my life away. At the time, borrowing more than $100,000 seemed like a good idea. I could pay little, if nothing at all while in school, and had the rest of my life to pay off the balance. They weren't kidding--THE REST OF MY LIFE, for sure. I had one second of clarity when a loan counselor at NU asked, "Why would you borrow this much money if you plan to become a teacher?! How do you plan to repay your loans?" But quickly pushed the idea of NOT attending NU out of my mind. I'd manage, I thought...

Well, here I am, at the ripe age of 30. I've since attended graduate school (Columbia University--another steep tuition and more loans), have secured a great teaching position, and have been faithfully paying my minimum payments (approximately $1150) each month. I've looked into every loan forgiveness program available but unfortunately, since I: 1. have privately held loans and 2. do not teach in a "needy" school district, I do not qualify for such forgiveness. Regardless of the fact that I'm a teacher whom, with seven years of experience has taught both regular and special education students, I'm deemed undeserving of loan forgiveness since my students are not living at or below poverty level. I have contacted the Department of Education for help, have submitted loan forgiveness applications, and have researched programs on my own, but have been unsuccessful. Private lenders, in my opinion, do not need (another) bail out. I, on the other hand, do. Please help.

This teacher's story illustrates one of the hidden costs of making class size smaller: More teachers mean more college students going for a teaching degree that won't earn enough to pay down the debt incurred in getting trained to be a teacher.

People who go to any law school aside from the top ones are making a big mistake. They'll never make enough to pay back their loans.

I am a graduate of a private university's school of law. I currently owe approximately $130,000 in graduate school loans. I make approximatley $55,000 a year as a county government employee. While my salary is decent, my student loan payments total $1045 a month. I have no other form of debt. I live in a one bedroom apartment and my utilities include: electricity, gas, a cell phone with no data, and a limited internet plan. I do not have any additional extras such as cable, monthly subscriptions, etc. After I pay my rent and utillities I am left with a small amount of disposable income, but not enough to begin saving. My fiance, who also has student debt and a graduate degree, and I saved for four years prior to getting engaged and since our engagement in 2010 have again been trying to save up enough to have a small wedding, which we are yet to start planning based on our finances. We live an area that has an abundant surplus of houses on the market, and while we would be able to handle monthly mortgage payments that would be similar to our rent, we lack the ability to come up with a down payment. We also share one vehicle, a 2003 Civic, that is holding up relatively well, but will need to be replaced in a few years. Family planning is no where in our near future, based on the lack of flexibility in our budget. I graduated 3rd in my high school class, in the top 10% of my undergraduate class (1st in my major), and did relatively well in law school. I do not feel as if I am entitled anything...however, I did not expect to struggle so much as I move into my 30 somethings. I question whether my education will be worth it in the end, as I struggle to stay afloat. I am forced to search for higher paying employment outside of the career path I hoped to follow. Until I do find higher paying employment my life will continue to be in a holding pattern where I live paycheck to paycheck so that I can pay off my educational debt.

Private loans set you up for loan hell.

I borrowed two small private student loans because I had run out of Federal Student loan options. I had about 6 months left to finish my degree and my Mother co-signed on these loans through Chela and Great Lakes to assist me in finishing. Once I graduated I moved to another state for a job opportunity that fell through. One month after I moved I received a call from Chela and Great Lakes telling me I was already late on my loan repayment. I said that I "thought I had a 6 month grace period -- the same as the FSA Loans..." I was told that was not the case and I had to start paying immediately. And I did for FIVE years through unemployment and terrible times and economic issues. But these private companies (then called FirstMark Services) refused to give me ANY forebearance time or any kind of assistance. My Mom was ill and these companies were sending notices to her bedside (which the nurses and my family were reading) to exact repayment, even though I was less than 30 days late! After my Mom passed away and the loan situation was worse as it was tied up with her estate and I could get no help from my brother/Executor.

Once I got my small inheritance I could no longer FIND the loans despite spending 3 weeks calling every place I could think of, including the loan locator with the Government. Then I got a call from a collection agency called CONSERVE who I settled with for $8,000 (as I had already paid for 5 plus years on both loans and the balance was still HIGHER than the originated amount). I paid ConServe and they still ding my credit bureaus today! I hired an attorney who advised me NOT to pay the final $250 to ConServe as they kept dinging my Credit and refused to report my payment of $7750! I rue the day I ever borrowed private loans and this situation has been a nightmare for me since the day I graduated, especially since my loans are PAID off except for $250!

Even medical doctors go into loan hell.

I am an MD , I have had private loans through, AES, one and horrible services, they keep their students in dark, does not disclose information of their payments, their policy are very strict and students are mislead and yet their fees are notorious, they charged me 25 thousand dollars additional fees on my student loans, as there was delay in change of my address. they had threatened me during my training, they harrassed me over and over with phone calls, with collection, with my appropriate response and courtesy for request of foreberance until my graduation, was not granted, rather they thretened me and asked me to enter rehabilatation program, and I paid over 12 thousand dollars over a course of year, making my living very diffiucult, yet non of that money was applied toward my principle and rather increased my principle balance by 25 thousand dollars by penalties and fees, when asked about explanation of where my money went, every time I had contacted them, the representative said he or she does not have the information, i have requested it to be mailed to me in detail where the money went, never received any response. my loans ended up over 180 thousands with AES. they up to this date never told me where my money went. and how it was applied, and what were the charges. i am not the only victim of their cunning policy. they have very strict policy without any room for negotiation or any understanding and assistance for student. They should be definitely scrutinized thoroughly, as they are no more than money making agency from student like my self, they are not transparent. I had called many government agency at the time of my hardship, and no one looked into this matter, from that day I spoke to other students, and all of them were facing one or the other type of charges from this AES. please I urge someone to take action and look into this matter. after my perioriod of rehabilitiation I had immediately contacted direct loans, and requested government take over.

Do not rack up debt getting a degree in psychology.

I got private student loans as I entered studies for fashion & footwear design. I had been out of college for 5 years, after receiving my Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and had been able to pay for that with federal student loans, grants, and Pell and Plus (Parent) loans. I wanted to specialize in a field, to make more $ than a sales job. I figured I would be able to pay for my education using similar means, except without the help of my parents this time. I was able to get some federal loans but needed a greater amount to cover my expenses and my school presented me with a spreadsheet of different types of loan options, the only ones I qualified for were private. I expected to be able to pay off my private loans easily as I'd be earning more money in a few years. Unfortunately, my plans to go up in the corporate ladder didn't pan out as I'd planned. I worked in the industry for 2 years and found myself in a limited job market in shoe design,so ended up taking a sales job that paid me less than I needed to live. I also work 2, sometimes 3 part-time jobs and still it isn't enough to cover my high private loan payments. My grace period with private loans is gone, I have gone through periods of unemployment and notified my private lenders that I cannot make the monthly payments. Unfortunately, I've had no recourses for lowering my monthly payments or increasing the loan repayment period to lower my payments. My monthly payments are the highest monthly expense I have had for years, $630. I live a very frugal lifestyle and have cut down substantially on my expenses but unfortunately this is one I have no control over. My lenders have simply told me I have no other options: somehow find the way to pay each month or not pay and suffer the consequences with creditors. I have looked into bankruptcy because of this and found that it isn't an answer either as these loans would not qualify. It's unfortunate that there is no one policing this kind of unscrupulous lending.

The PDF goes on for many pages full of stories of people who should not have borrowed money to attend college. The value they got from their college degree was minimal to non-existent. For most degrees loans should not be available. Unless the degree opens the door to a high paying job right after college the degree program should not qualify one for a student loan.

By Randall Parker    2012 June 17 09:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2011 December 10 Saturday
Higher Ed Increasingly Portrayed As Con Game

As this Bloomberg piece by Janet Lorin demonstrates in its title, "Trapped by $50,000 Degree in Low-Paying Job", people who spend a lot of money on higher education are increasingly portrayed as foolish marks in educational con games. Love this one:

Ellis, 28, took about $160,000 in federal loans to attend Fordham Law School. Because his student debt is so high compared to his salary, Ellis said he expects to qualify for a plan that would let him pay 15 percent of his salary for 25 years, and whatever debt is left after that is forgiven.

Think about. He's going to be paying for college for 25 years! The ROI on education is dropping and students increasingly major in low ROI subjects even while paying much higher prices.

Virginia Postrel says government loans have driven up the costs of higher education by increasing demand.

As veteran education-policy consultant Arthur M. Hauptman notes in a recent essay: “There is a strong correlation over time between student and parent loan availability and rapidly rising tuitions. Common sense suggests that growing availability of student loans at reasonable rates has made it easier for many institutions to raise their prices, just as the mortgage interest deduction contributes to higher housing prices.”

It’s a phenomenon familiar to economists. If you offer people a subsidy to pursue some activity requiring an input that’s in more-or-less fixed supply, the price of that input goes up. Much of the value of the subsidy will go not to the intended recipients but to whoever owns the input. The classic example is farm subsidies, which increase the price of farmland.

So the US government subsidizes con artists who lure young Americans into debt peonage. Parasitism is such a pervasive and growing problem. Even America's most revered institutions practice it. If the Occupy Wall Street movement wanted to do something constructive it would push for the end of this subsidy. To get an appreciation for just how thoroughly prospective college students get conned read the Voldemort View: the View That Must Not Be Named.

People who want a more cost effective education should look online and aim to get skills useful in the marketplace. That does not get skills that are marginally useful but appealing. Don't delude yourself just so you can study what's fun and easy.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 10 04:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2011 November 05 Saturday
Alex Tabarrok Says Higher Education Oversold

Higher education's average amount of delivered value has declined. The result? Waste, high costs, more debt, declining living standards. Only lower value (and easier) education has expanded.

Over the past 25 years the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) has remained more or less constant. Moreover, many of today’s STEM graduates are foreign born and are taking their knowledge and skills back to their native countries.

So the number of students taking easier and lower value majors has soared while the number of native born taking the hard and most valuable majors has actually declined. Is it any wonder that living standards are declining? Plus, all these students in lower value majors are paying more to get a degree and entering the workforce (or trying to enter the workforce) deeply in debt.

This is not a recipe for prosperity and economic growth.

Consider computer technology. In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. This is not bad, but we graduated more students with computer science degrees 25 years ago! The story is the same in other technology fields such as chemical engineering, math and statistics.

STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors have the greatest economic value.

The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000); Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000); Aerospace Engineering ($87,000); Chemical Engineering ($86,000); Electrical Engineering ($85,000); Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000); Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with median earnings of $80,000).

Studying art or counseling is a recipe for very low pay and little or no generation of wealth.

The 10 majors with the lowest median earnings are: Counseling/Psychology ($29,000); Early Childhood Education ($36,000); Theology and Religious Vocations ($38,000); Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000); Social Work ($39,000); Drama and Theater Arts, Studio Arts, Communication Disorders Sciences and Services, Visual and Performing Arts, and Health and Medical Preparatory Programs (each at $40,000).

Alex points to an article in The Nation where the writer bemoans the failure of the job market to create highly paid jobs for puppeteers. Leftism and common sense do not go hand-in-hand. What a bizarre and narcissistic sense of entitlement.

What astounds me is not that someone could amass $35,000 in student loans pursuing a dream of puppetry, everyone has their dreams and I do not fault Joe for his. What astounds me is that Richard Kim, the executive editor of The Nation and the author of this article, thinks that the failure of a puppeteer to find a job he loves is a good way to illustrate the “national nightmare” of the job market. Even in a wealthy society it’s a privilege to have the kind of job that Kim thinks are the entitlement of the middle class. And, as Tyler says, we are not as wealthy as we thought we were.

The Nation article is about Occupy Wall Street. One way to interpret it: the Executive Editor of The Nation thinks the US economy is failing (presumably due to evil bankers) because it does not generate high-paying jobs for people who choose to study solely for the pleasure they derive.

A substantial fraction of STEM majors drop out of the demanding course work.

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

The odds of getting more people to take hard STEM courses? Very low.

Other deterrents are the tough freshman classes, typically followed by two years of fairly abstract courses leading to a senior research or design project. “It’s dry and hard to get through, so if you can create an oasis in there, it would be a good thing,” says Dr. Goldberg, who retired last year as an engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now an education consultant. He thinks the president’s chances of getting his 10,000 engineers is “essentially nil.”

What would raise the odds of more students doing STEM degrees: Cut out taxpayer subsidies for the lower value alternatives. No more loans or grants for students wanting to major in theater or art or communications studies.

By Randall Parker    2011 November 05 07:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2011 March 26 Saturday
Value Of Elite College Educations Questioned

Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, finds the advantages of an elite education in economics and finance have declined or disappeared.

In 2006, E. Han Kim and Adair Morse of the University of Michigan, along with Luigi Zingales, then of Harvard, looked at research productivity in economics and finance faculty who had connections to the top 25 universities in their fields.

They found that those who were affiliated with a name school in the 1970s produced more, and more original, work, but that that effect declined in the 1980s and weakened further in the 1990s. Some of the cleverest, most useful papers come from the non-Harvards, non-Yales and non-Chicagos.

One possible explanation for this result: So much discipline and focus is needed to accumulate the grades and accomplishments (e.g. civic activities) needed to get into the Ivy League that the most creative are selected against. Look, if you think lots of unconventional thoughts and are very smart in your teen years do you want to run for high school class president, join clubs, do volunteer work, and rack up the other points that elite university admissions committees look for? I do not think so.

She also discusses other research that questions the benefits of an Ivy League education. What the Ivy League lives off of: The most talented and ambitious compete to get accepted. So of course once they get into the labor force they do better than people who attend other colleges.

Writing in The Atlantic Professor X surveys an assortment of recent reports that question the value of a conventional path thru higher education.

"Some Say Bypassing a Higher Education Is Smarter Than Paying for a Degree," reads a recent headline in The Washington Post. (The article, which addresses everything from higher education's outsize price tag to its questionable correlation with career success, garnered more than 4,000 Facebook recommendations on the Post's web site.) And just last month, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a study suggesting that (gasp!) four-year college is perhaps not for everyone. Rather, for a growing proportion of students, the report contends, internships, apprenticeships, and vocational training would be far more beneficial.

Unless you've got very affluent parents who can afford to pay the freight for a $50k per year education you are better off avoiding the expensive colleges. College debt can not be discharged in bankruptcy. So someone taking on debt in college is basically signing up to be a debt serf at the start of their working career. Just say no. Don't he a sucker. Far cheaper online options and state universities will let you get skills needed to boost your earnings prospects.

Even a New York Times reporter found the evidence for the benefit of elite college education inconclusive.

Even for the academically inclined, the value of college in this economic climate is increasingly subject to question. "Is Going to an Elite College Worth The Cost?," asked New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg in December. He surveyed economic studies, perused labor reports, and interviewed economists and sociologists to ascertain whether there's really a significant payoff for choosing a swanky private college over someplace less glamorous. The answer?  Inconclusive.

Richard Vedder says research finds a neutral or negative relationship between state economic growth and state government spending on higher education. He claims much of the higher spending in some states goes to administration and higher salaries. I doubt the higher salaries increase the quality of instruction in most fields. The excess of Ph.D. holders in most fields means that there's a huge surplus of applicants for any teaching position. Higher salaries are not needed.

If I was a teenager today I would start doing online courses to earn college credits in useful knowledge while still in high school. The best strategy is to accelerate your education and to do your education in ways that are much cheaper and less structured. With online courses with pre-recorded lectures and tests available to be taken at any time you can accumulate knowledge and credits as fast as you can study. You can use many pieces of time that you waste today, choose from a much larger body of courses, and avoid debt. You can also avoid having to work at low paying jobs by aiming first for courses that boost your earnings power.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 26 01:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2011 February 07 Monday
Harvard Study Questions Universal College Education

The 4 Year degree is not the solution to all of our problems.

But increasingly, some educators are calling for more attention to the career part of the equation – and questioning whether a traditional four-year college degree is necessarily the best path for everyone.

A new report released by Harvard Wednesday states in some of the strongest terms yet that such a “college for all” emphasis may actually harm many American students – keeping them from having a smooth transition from adolescence to adulthood and a viable career.

“The American system for preparing young people to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults is clearly badly broken,” concludes the report, “Pathways to Prosperity” (pdf).

They acknowledge that some kids do not want to sit in classrooms. Imagine that. Of course, they can't say that some kids have IQs that are too low to finish high school, let alone go to college. But this admission is an important step on the road toward greater realism about the limits to college as a tool for raising up the poor.

They point to vocational training programs in Europe as a model for making education more relevant to those who are now dropping out. They argue that the heavy emphasis placed on the college track in high school is driving away those students who are not interested in all that book learning. But how many of the skills taught in vocational learning tracks are for jobs that are going to get automated out of existence in the next 20 years?

The report assumes (very incorrectly) that higher education accounts for the bulk of the differences in financial outcomes between those with different educational levels.

Workers with at least some college have ballooned to 59 percent of the workforce, from just 28 percent in 1973. Over the same period, many high-school dropouts and those with no more than a high-school degree have fallen out of the middle class, even as those who have been to college, and especially those with bachelor’s and advanced degrees, have moved up.5 The lifetime earnings gap between those with a high school education and those with a college degree is now estimated to be nearly $1 million. And the differential has been widening. In 2008, median earnings of workers with bachelor’s degrees were 65 percent higher than those of high school graduates ($55,700 vs. $33,800). Similarly, workers with associate’s degrees earned 73 percent more than those who had not completed high school ($42,000 vs. $24,300).6

What they do not say: A large part of that gap is due to smarter people going to college and therefore smarter people removing themselves from the category of the less educated. 60 or 70 years ago the average person who got no further than high school was much smarter than today. A large fraction of the smart people did not go to college. Today so few smart people do not go to college that the high school drop-outs and those with only a high school degree are much dumber than was the case in the past.

Their argument: lots of jobs require training other than a traditional college education. Quite true and quite obvious. But now someone at Harvard has said it. So it is okay to believe it now. Don't you feel a sense of relief that your common sense is backed up by a report from Harvard? You can now make this argument without being outside of the mainstream.

The Georgetown Center projects that 14 million job openings—nearly half of those that will be filled by workers with post-secondary education—will go to people with an associate’s degree or occupational certificate. Many of these will be in “middle-skill” occupations such as electrician, and construction manager, dental hygienist, paralegal and police officer. While these jobs may not be as prestigious as those filled by B.A. holders, they pay a significant premium over many jobs open to those with just a high school degree. More surprisingly, they pay more than many of the jobs held by those with a bachelor’s degree. In fact, 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates—credentials short of an associate’s degree—earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient.7

Well, lots of bachelor's degrees are earned in subjects that are nearly or totally economically worthless. It is not a surprise that some people who get trained in market-relevant skills make more money without attending college. Even some of those who make more money after attending college could have saved a lot of time and money by instead going for training in what they ended up doing.

The inter-racial differences in youth unemployment are huge. You might think these facts are an argument against immigration. Hispanic teens have a very low employment rate as compared to white teens. Do we really want to dig ourselves deeper into a hole and bring in more people who won't succeed in a labor market that places a high premium on advanced skills and which finds a decreasing need for manual laborers?

Since the Great Recession began, teens have been hit harder than any other age group by unemployment. As a result, the percentage of teens (16-19) who were employed fell from 45.2 percent in 2000 to just 28.6 percent in June 2010. Clearly, teens now face Depression-era employment prospects. Unfortunately, this catastrophe has hit low-income minority teens especially hard, even though they are the very youth who are most likely to struggle in school and who most need the supports that employment provides. Incredibly, just 9 percent of low-income black teens are employed, as are just 15 percent of low-income Hispanic teens. In sharp contrast, the employment rate among upper middle-income white teens (whose families earn $75,000 to $100,000 a year) is 41 percent—four times higher than among low-income black teens.

The American nation is not on the pathway to prosperity. We got off on an exit and got back on the road going in the opposite direction.

I am reminded of a recent Michael Mandel post where he found that at the end of 2010 for those ages 25-34 high school graduates have a 12.9% unemployment rate while college grads have a 5.3% unemployment rate. The US labor market's demand for less skilled workers is headed downward. Here's graphical longitudinal comparison of unemployment levels as a function of education. The high school drop-outs have about 15% unemployment. What do their labor market participation rates look like? Note that the US economy looks like it can grow without its laid off former workers.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 07 11:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 November 13 Saturday
Retreat From Universal Higher Education Decried

Michael Konczal decries the collapsing support for public higher education. Is he saying we should support universal higher education with tax-subsidized low tuitions? He's not clear on what lost ideal he's defending.

One striking thing about the current global recession, a crisis that has hit those in the United States with weaker education backgrounds much harder than others, is that one response has been the massive retrenchment, austerity and abandonment of the promise and ideal of public college education.

That's a conventional liberal interpretation. But it leaves out causes. So let me offer some: First, institutions of higher education ran up their costs of operation so high that they've become a huge (and still growing) burden on the middle class. Too many administrators, too many very expensive buildings, higher salaries. Well, the middle class is pushing back. I'm only surprised by how long it took for the camel's back to start to break.

On top of that, liberals have promoted college educations as a universal inoculation against low wages, poverty, and social pathology. But in doing so they ignored why college students of previous generations went on to such success: They were smart going in to college. They were the brightest kids. Now kids with much lower IQs are pushed to go to college and their apparent return on investment is, not surprisingly, extremely low or negative (at least not surprisingly to anyone who accepts there's a Bell Curve for IQ distribution).

Is education a public good? Well, it depends very much on who you are educating and what you are teaching them. For example, how can anyone (not seriously deluded by a secular ideology) think there's a return on investment to society from teaching 100 IQ people in colleges?

The battle isn't really over the humanities anymore (though the humanities are going to take the brunt of this), but the actual idea of education as a public good, the idea that someone can develop their full capabilities in the wealthiest nation on Earth without entering debt peonage.

If going to college puts one into debt peonage then why doesn't the resulting degree give one enough earning power to pay off the debt fairly quickly? I can see a few reasons: First, the degree costs too much because colleges are too inefficient and bloated. Second, what's being taught (e.g. ethnic grievance studies) does not raise earning power or ability to produce real wealth. Third, some of the people being taught are unsuited for college-level material and ought to be getting taught skills they are actually capability of mastering. That might be plumbing, masonry, or auto repair. But for some of even lower ability it might be burger-flipping or broom-pushing. The liberal writings on education are notable for ignoring the lower IQ people and their real needs.

Supposedly the sciences are expensive to teach. But one could learn organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, or even nucleic acid chemistry from recorded video lectures. Virtual labs controllable with GUIs could enable students to try basic chemistry experiments and physics experiments.

That said, Aaron Brady has argued (here and here) the clear case the problem proposed is usually one of bad faith, that humanities tend to cross-subsidize the sciences, as sciences like medicine are expensive to teach (labs, chemicals, machinery) and humanities like English are less so (a book).

Rather than embrace the need for automation to make education more affordable Konczal quotes Wendy Brown on high online course drop-out rates.

The drop-out rate for students taking on-line courses is persistently and consistently high, paralleling the drop-out rate of for-profit colleges. It is routinely 20% higher than drop-out rates from on campus courses and runs as high as 70% for some courses and programs. Moreover, the high rate, much studied, seems impossible to fix. … Why do drop out rates matter? Because students pay for courses and programs they don’t complete. ... Millions of former students are now “under water” with debt from on-line courses of study they never completed and/or whose benefit they never reaped.

But what are the causes of the higher online drop-out rates? The camaraderie of going off to college courses with dorm roommates might lower drop-out rates. But other causes seem plausible and even more likely. For example, if it easier to do something (e.g. start taking a college course) and it takes less change in one's life to start doing it then it is also easier to stop doing it. But lower barriers to entry also mean more people will try to do something in the first place.

Another cause: People taking courses at heavily marketed online course sites are, on average, far less intellectually able than those who go to elite colleges. They are being oversold about their ability to take the courses and the value of taking the courses. But there's a parallel to this in the traditional non-profit bricks-and-mortar institutions: very high drop-out rates at lower ranked colleges due to students who clearly in high school were already lower intellectually ranked, most of whom dropped out of college. About half of those who enroll in college do not have a degree 6 years later. How's that for a drop-out rate? Again, same cause: people who should not even be trying to learn college-level material are giving up out of lack of curiosity and ability. Unless comparisons of drop-out rates control for intellectual ability using IQ tests (or at least SAT tests as moderately strong IQ test proxies) claims that online courses deliver lower value can not be trusted.

Pre-recorded lecture courses, online standardized tests, and teaching software (e.g. virtual lab and interactive training software) must grow because higher education costs too much, offers too low a return on investment for most students, and it is too inconvenient. Higher education does not fit the needs for a large fraction of the population. Its benefits have been oversold (much like the for-profit universities) and the public has reached its limits on its willingness to pay thru the nose for it. For many people higher education does not boost income enough to justify it and for some higher education does not boost income at all.

The arguments put forth by the education sector to promote its added value are incredibly weak. A recent report pointed out the higher incomes of college-educated as proof that college education offers a high ROI. But a far more likely explanation is that the ROI on brains has risen.

Workers with a college degree earned much more and were much less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma, according to the report, “Education Pays: the Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.”

According to the report, the median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees were $55,700 in 2008 — $21,900 more than those of workers who finished only high school.

What's the IQ difference between the average college graduate and the average high school graduate and average high school drop-out? 15, 20, 25 points? Does anyone honestly not expect that smarter people will do better on average than people who are intellectually unable to even master algebra?

Update: Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, No Benefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers--And How to Fight Back and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education argues that online education learning software can incorporate findings from cognitive research to provide a superior learning experience. Hear, hear!

The modern era of research-based learning software began with the work of John R. Anderson at Carnegie Mellon, who published “The Architecture of Cognition” in 1983, detailing how learners master a cognitive skill as a system of procedural rules. Today’s best-of-breed learning programs draw on cognitive science, developmental psychology and artificial intelligence to teach math, reading, physics, computer science, foreign languages and a host of other subjects faster, more thoroughly, and more engagingly than traditional classroom instruction. They do this by allowing students to move at their own pace and prompting them to spend more time on task, reflect on what they learn and collaborate.

The Department of Education released a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 studies of online learning last fall, and concluded that in most cases, online learning actually produces significantly better outcomes than classroom-based learning. Hybrid approaches, which combined some face-to-face time with online practice and assessments, scored better than both all-online and all-classroom approaches.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 13 10:13 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
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