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Sometimes, a Two-Year Degree Beats a Four-Year University

Posted on October 10th, 2013, by Leave a comment

Most students attending universities in America will spend at least four years working toward their degree. In a society where employers regard higher education as necessary for job acquisition, it comes as little surprise that more than 30 percent of people over age 25 in America have earned (at least) a bachelor’s degree. The costs accrued in the process are nothing to scoff at: Students attending a public university for four years can expect costs to reach more than $80,000, according to The College Board. As if that weren’t enough, tuition prices trend upward.

Students receive scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid that lessen the burden of tuition over the course of four years. Even so, many students could benefit with alternatives to the bachelor’s degree.

CCAP has written before about the savings potential for students who attend a two-year school, as well as the savings to society if more students went to community college. On average, the annual in-state tuition for a public four-year university is more than $5,000 greater than the annual tuition at a two-year school. Out-of-state students and students at private universities can anticipate higher yearly bills.

However, some two-year degrees can earn close to—or as much as—their four-year counterparts. They’re concentrated in occupational and technical careers (in general, liberal-arts enthusiasts are better off pursuing their bachelor’s), but when the cost of attendance is compared with the relative income of an associate’s-bearing graduate, a two-year degree might be worth more than a four-year degree.

Nurses, air-traffic controllers, and radiation therapists, for example, see only marginal differences in median income between two- and four-year degree holders after college. Surprisingly, it also applies to history and political-science majors, who earn just over $1,000 more with a bachelor’s degree than with an associate’s degree when entering the workforce.

One major benefit for holders of bachelor’s degrees: Professionals with advanced degrees still tend to earn more over their lifetime than those with a two-year degree.

Professionals with two-year degrees can always augment their education —and earnings—by enrolling in a four-year program later in their career. Students with an associate’s degree who entered the workforce before tackling their bachelor’s can likely avoid many of the expensive loans that the average 18-year-old accrues.

The two-year degree might not be for everyone, but it’s applicable to more students than the public believes. Anyone pursuing a skill-based or technical career should explore their options at two-year schools before enrolling at a four-year university. The potential for savings —and greater earnings—may be worth the effort.

Blood and Circuses

Posted on October 8th, 2013, by Leave a comment

This article originally appeared on SeeThruEdu on October 7, 2013.

 

Where in America is there severe economic exploitation by older adults of young individuals engaged in physically demanding and dangerous work, where the government subsidizes the exploitation, allows the exploiters to derive large incomes from their behavior, and the public lionizes the most successful perpetrators? Intercollegiate football and basketball.

Several dozen universities each year collect literally tens of millions of dollars in revenue, yet pay the key workers (players) in scholarships worth rarely more than $30,000 annually, even though if they were playing in the professional NFL would be making at least 10 times that.  One study showed the typical basketball player at Football Bowl Series schools was worth $289,000 annually, almost 13 times the typical scholarship award. Another study notes that less than 20 percent of athletic revenues go for scholarships, while pro teams typically spend over 50 percent of their receipts on player salaries. While players are undercompensated, coaches earn super sized salaries, often many times that of university presidents. They are compensated for recruiting and effectively utilizing talented but highly exploited (and disproportionately African-American) players.  The enforcement arm, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), punishes the payment of even a few hundred dollars to players for autographs or other memorabilia, and makes large amounts using the name of long graduated players in video games, etc.  This is occurring when growing medical evidence suggests the long term harmful effects of playing the game might be quite severe –not just bad knees that reduce physical movement but cognitive loss of brain function that impairs earnings and the quality of life.

Yet amidst all of this, some university presidents are calling out “more, more.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Colorado State University President Tony Frank is pushing a plan to build a $246 million 40,000 seat stadium. Never mind the fact that the team (currently ranked 101 of 125 schools in the USA Today poll) rarely fills its current 32,500 seat stadium, or that if in the unlikely event it filled every seat seven times a year at $25 a seat, it would not cover even the interest payments on the stadium’s costs assuming the money were borrowed. President Frank believes a good stadium will draw better athletes, more football attendees, lucrative TV contracts, enhanced national recognition, and, ultimately 5,000 more high tuition out-of-state students eager to be at a school with first class football. Moreover, if the University of Oregon can be successful by upgrading athletics, why can’t we?

The problem is that this approach seldom works, and further trivializes universities as institutions obsessed with ball throwing contests rather than the dissemination of knowledge and appreciation for creative works accumulated over the centuries, not to mention the advancement of knowledge through research.  For example, the University of Akron inaugurated a gorgeous new 30,000 seat stadium in 2009 costing over $60 million with high hopes of similarly using it to achieve greater national recognition. Additionally, an indoor practice facility was provided to lure athletes to the school. Last year, average home game attendance was under 10,000; the team is currently ranked 107th in the USA Today poll.  Academic success has been similarly elusive. In the rankings of America’s best universities that the Center for College Affordability and Productivity performs for Forbes, Akron ranks a lowly 585 of 650 rated schools.

The biggest problem is the Iron Law of Sports: every time someone wins a game, someone else loses. People like to watch winning teams, not losing ones. Only a small percent of the 125 schools aspiring to major national athletic glory can succeed. Well over 80 percent of them lose money annually, meaning students typically subsidize the programs, directly (through various forms of activity fees) or indirectly (through direct institutional subsidies that could have gone for tuition reduction or student scholarships). Research by David Ridpath and associates suggests students facing high tuition fees often question the legitimacy of these subsidies.

While the public quest for entertainment is eternally strong, the status quo is probably not sustainable. The chief enforcement arm, the NCAA, or the colleges themselves are under attack on at least four fronts. First, the student exploitation problem is seriously being challenged legally in O’Bannon vs. NCAA. Assuming the suit is certified as a class action, the potential of damages resulting in huge payments to the plaintiffs (athletes) is substantial.

Similarly, lawsuits are pending against the NCAA over medical damages associated with injuries. The vulnerability of the college athletic establishment has probably risen hugely with the announcement that the National Football League has agreed to pay out potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to resolve legal claims.

Third, as the truly top athletic powers (about 64 teams) merge into perhaps ultimately four conferences, the temptation grows for them to withdraw from the NCAA and organize their own national basketball tournament and football championships, free from rules and regulations partly determined by schools whose interests deviate from their own.

Fourth, given the huge number of scandals from Jerry Sandusky on down, public enthusiasm is probably waning for the current system, but not the entertainment it provides. One by-product of this: why do we give tax exemptions for donations for luxury sky boxes in stadiums or for building indoor practice facilities? These are predominantly non-academic activities. Why should we tax earnings in the NFL but not in college football? Several members of congress have previously raised the issue, and it easily could arise again when tax reform becomes a national issue.

Arrogance, wealth, power and monopoly – these terms describe the current collegiate athletic establishment. But arrogance and monopoly lead to complacency and a false sense of invulnerability, and that could lead to major changes within college sports.

Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches economics at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Improving Federal Financial Aid and Rewarding Success

Posted on October 3rd, 2013, by Leave a comment

Richard Vedder delivered the following remarks at a Washington, DC Brookings Institution event on October 3, ” Reimagining Aid Design & Delivery: Improving Federal Financial Aid for Students.” 

Since 1971, federal student financial assistance programs have grown almost 10 percent a year, or 5.3 percent a year adjusting for inflation. In the last decade, the real growth rate has been even greater, roughly 6.7 percent.  This is unsustainable. Moreover, the proportion of individuals from lower income backgrounds amongst recent college graduates is lower than when these programs were in their infancy. Egalitarian goals have not been met.

The undesirable unintended consequences of student financial aid programs are numerous. When the Feds expand aid programs, two things happen: state governments reduce college appropriations and universities raise tuition fees. Both work to reduce the intended benefits to students. I think a decent case can also be made that these programs have contributed to high dropout rates, mediocre levels of student work effort and academic performance, and the substantial but under-discussed problem of underemployment among college graduates —the emergence of more college retail-sales clerks with college degrees than soldiers in the U.S. Army, for example, or more janitors with college degrees than architects or chemists. I think we are probably over-invested, not under-invested, in higher education in the United States, creating a credential inflation arising from using degrees as an obscenely expensive screening device, one involving massive wastes of potentially highly productive human resources.

What should we do? I think most reform proposals are tinkering with a broken system and we would be better off phasing out federal aid over the next decade or so and force colleges and families to adapt to a new reality —an adaptation involving massive innovation, following Plato’s maxim that necessity is the mother of invention.  But if we are going to keep federal aid programs, politically certain in the short run, we must above all correct two perverse incentives. First, there needs to be rewards for good academic performance and negative financial consequences for poor performance. Good students should get more money than poor students, other things equal, not the reverse as at present. Second, colleges should have skin in the game. Their inappropriate admissions decisions or inattention to floundering students massively contributes to loan defaults, yet they face no adverse consequences. That needs to change.

Beyond that, simplify the system, restricting aid to more affluent families, doing away with PLUS loans and tuition tax credits, in line with RADD recommendations.  We also should convert Pell Grants into progressive performance vouchers. By “vouchers” I mean money should go to students, not to university financial aid offices, empowering students more and making colleges more attentive to their needs. By “progressive,” I mean vouchers should vary inversely with income, being generous for truly low-income recipients, but non-existent for those whose income reaches the median. By “performance” I think that good academic performance should have some reward. No full-time student should get money for more than five years. “A” students graduating in less than four years should get a small bonus for saving the government money and as a reward for high academic achievement.

Also, I think we should have a federal policy environment encouraging new private approaches to financing, especially equity financing, where students contract to forfeit part of post-graduate earnings in return for financial support of college—the human capital contract approach. This would provide market assessments of future market outcomes that potentially could immensely help allocate scarce educational resources more efficiently.

That said, I am delighted with the RADD findings as summarized by Beth Akers. My wife, a high school guidance counselor serving low-income students, tells me that the FAFSA is a major impediment to low-income college access, and it adds little information to what IRS data already provides. Increasing consumer information on employment outcomes is vital and long overdue. Summer Pell Grants are in principle a good idea. While I think aid should be partly tied to student performance, I also favor discriminating in favor of institutions with good outcomes, although the devil is in the details. The same applies with income-contingent debt repayment: this is a good idea in principle, but schemes involving de facto partial loan forgiveness for most borrowers would have huge undesired unintended consequences.  The debate about the optimal amount of student borrowing has arisen because of the rising ratio of college costs to post-graduate income, and modest tinkering with the system is not going to decisively deal with that. Still, on the whole, this is a constructive report and the Gates Foundation should be commended for its support.

Thank you.

MOOCs: Not a Revolution, but Perhaps a Reformation

Posted on September 30th, 2013, by 1 Comment

The wave of hype and optimism for massive open online courses—MOOCs— is ending. In Slate, Will Oremus questions MOOCs as a substitute and remedy for skyrocketing costs:

As much as everyone wants to see college costs reined in, replacing thousands of professors and classrooms with a handful of websites populated by remote talking heads cannot be the answer. But before we throw the whole idea out the window, it’s worth asking: Mightn’t there be a way that online lectures could complement the traditional higher-education experience rather than replace it?

Oremus’ advocates for small private online classes (SPOCs) instead, and that seems to be the dominant online learning style for traditional students. SPOCs engage students in discussion and allow instructors to interact in a meaningful way, critical for students who aren’t as self-driven or interested in the topic. MOOCs, in contrast, do better for access, cost-control, and flexibility. A 200-student MOOC course on psychology won’t spark an interest for many students, but it’s a cost-effective way for uninterested students to earn required credit.

I’m skeptical of MOOCs dominating four-year colleges and universities. They have more appeal for non-traditional students who have families or jobs that make a degree difficult to obtain (and it’s a demographic that few four-year universities target, anyway). Community colleges could leverage MOOCs for lower costs and distance learning, but some data indicates that community-college students who take online courses have a higher dropout rate. Encouraging online course growth could backfire. Community colleges take a conservative approach to MOOCs. Traditional universities with abhorrent graduation rates and student debt levels are vulnerable. In that case, good riddance. As only 59 percent of students finish a four-year degree in six years, taking MOOC courses for timely graduation could reduce debt and allow early entry into the workforce.

Displacement in academia might happen, but experimentation and evolution within teaching methods should be encouraged for the sake of students, not discouraged to save the jobs academics. Opposing MOOCs because it might alter the status quo is a shabby argument. Protectionism isn’t new, but I don’t see why sympathy with the faculty should trump quality alternatives for students.

The abysmal completion rate for MOOCs gets too much attention. With no barrier to enrollment aside from an internet connection and an email address, combined with class sizes that can reach 50,000 students, shirking should be expected. Were academic credit or a small fee required, I’d expect a drop in students and an increase in completion rates. Many people (including myself) take MOOCs as a hobby and enroll on impulse. Some will follow through; others won’t. That’s an indictment of individual drive or dedication more than the MOOC itself. I’m currently in a SPOC, but I’m much more dedicated to it than a MOOC due to greater interest in the content and greater interaction with others in the SPOC.

Have MOOCs been overhyped? Absolutely. It’s difficult to go more than three days without reading about MOOCs; a search on Inside Higher Ed returns four MOOC-related posts in 2011, 214 in 2012, and 313 in 2013.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has 67 from less than three years ago and 328 from less than one year ago. Coverage centers around speculation rather than empirical results, however. Georgia Tech’s experimentation with a MOOC to earn a master’s degree in computer science, the first of its kind, provides a case study to watch. The benefits and disadvantages of MOOCs will become clear only after their use expands.

Technological advancements in teaching are rare. Instead of fretting about unemployed academics, universities should concern themselves with what’s best for students and the long-term goals of the institution.

Testimony at the University of North Carolina from Richard Vedder

Posted on September 23rd, 2013, by Leave a comment

Recently, Richard Vedder testified in front of  the University of North Carolina Board of Governors at their September meeting. From his remarks:

I am honored to be here today. Alas, my message is not altogether pleasant. Indeed, it may be the intellectual equivalent of having a hemorrhoid operation performed by an unlicensed French physician just returned from a wine laden lunch.

Read his full testimony here.

How The $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling Students, Parents And The Economy

Posted on September 4th, 2013, by 1 Comment

Originally published on Forbes.com here on 8/7/2013

Total Student Loan Debt: $1 Trillion                   

Two-thirds, that’s right, two-thirds of students graduating from American colleges and universities are graduating with some level of debt.  How much?  According to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) Project on Student Debt, the average borrower will graduate $26,600 in the red.  While we’ve all heard the screaming headlines of graduates with crippling debt of $100,000 or more, this is the case for only about 1% of graduates.  That said, one in 10 graduates accumulate more than $40,000.

It’s a negative sum game for both student-borrowers and the economy. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan debt has reached a new milestone, crossing the $1.2 trillion mark — $1 trillion of that in federal student loan debt.

This pushes student loan debts to dizzying new heights, as they now account for the second highest form of consumer debt behind mortgages.  With the federal debt at $16.7 trillion, student loan debts measure at 6% of the overall national debt.  This is no small figure, and national debt carries many consequences including slowing economic growth (translating into fewer jobs being created) and rising interest rates.  Capital will not be as easy to access.

The majority of student loans are backed by the U.S. government through banks like Sallie Mae, or since 2010, by the Department of Education.  Translation: the creditor in this scenario is the U.S. tax payer, who if students default on these loans will be subject to carry the burden of these loans.

Federal Loans are Safer than Private

Lauren Asher, president of TICAS, a nonpartisan policy group, says that government loans are the safest type of loans to take while financing education. “Federal student loans are the best way to borrow if you have to in order to get through.” She identifies a lack of information as a major problem in the debt game as she identifies growing private loan debt as a major problem. “Half of those taking out private loans have not maxed out on federal loans.”

Why the preference for federal loans with federal debt being such a hot topic? “Federal loans are subject to income based payback, fixed interest rates, and take nine months to default on, making them a much safer loan for students to take,” Asher explains.  Conversely, private loans have done away with late fees, and in the fine print have redefined the right to claim default on the loan after missing a single payment.  Default is a one way ticket to bad credit.  “Any ding in credit rating can affect [a borrower] more now than ever, even employment,” says Asher.

Asher argues, however, that higher education “is still the best investment in your future.” The college degree is getting more and more weight as political leaders are calling for upwards of 60% national higher education attainment by 2025.  And the demand for higher education is increasing.  “When the economy is down, more people turn to higher education to get an edge in the job market, but have less money to finance it,” explains Asher.

Debt and Community Colleges

If you are under the impression that only four-year schools are subject to debt, think again.  Of those students completing an associate’s degree from a community college in 2008, 38% graduated with debt.  In the for-profit sector of two-year degrees, over 90% have debt.  The average debt load at a public two-year institution is $7,000.

One community college, Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., is offering a one-time student debt amnesty program that will allow students who owed a balance prior to or including the winter 2012 semester to afford to return to the college. The program “offers the opportunity for students to pay 50% of what is owed on their account to settle their debt with the College.”  Will this become a norm within the two-year degree space as more and more debt is accumulated?

The Cost of Debt

Of this $1.2 trillion in student debt, about $1 trillion is in federal student loans.  This figure does not tell the full story, however, as the $1.2 trillion does not include funds students must divert away from retirement savings, parent borrowing, or credit card debt.  President Obama is expected to sign the bipartisan Senate bill to tie federal student loan interest rates to the market this week.  On one side, this will reverse the interest rate hike that went into effect on July 1, lowering the current rates for undergraduate students from 6.8 to 3.8%. As the market climbs, however, these rates will climb until they reach a cap of 8.25%.  By TICAS calculation, this may cost families $715 million more over the next 10 years.

What does 3.8% interest translate to for students?  If we go back to that average figure of $26,600, compounding for interest year over year using the 10-year-payback plan that is the standard, the total cost of your $26,600 loan is about $38,600.  Break that down by monthly payments and you are looking at about $320 per month going toward student loan payments.  “Debt costs you time in savings, pushes back when and whether you can buy a home, start a family, open a small business or access capital,” says Asher.  Not to mention the opportunity cost of the education itself at almost $40,000.

Dealing with the Problem

What can we do?  With more and more emphasis being placed on college education for all, raising costs of an already expensive degree, and underemployment of college graduates running rampant, student loan debt is a problem that will cripple economic possibilities and success to come. In its recent report, Aligning the Means and the Ends: How to Improve Federal Student Aid and Increase College Access and Succes, TICAS is calling for simplification and better access to information regarding student loan debt, including information on consolidating debt, and increasing students’ information to both school’s default and graduation rates.

While many have been calling for debt forgiveness to help settle this score, others have a problem with burdening the taxpayer with the responsibility to pay back loans that they are neither responsible for, nor benefit directly from.  While a more educated populous has positive externalities, debt forgiveness sets a bad precedent for the financial world.  Ohio University developmental economist Julia Paxton says:

One of the problems of debt forgiveness is that it sets a precedent that similar loans in the future will also be forgiven. Although the loans are allocated toward education, money is fungible and will have the net impact of increasing the spending ability of students in other areas of their lives. As the expectation of repayment obligation falls, borrowers may enter into a situation where they take on higher levels of debt and take more risks. This will lead to a weakened ability to repay, creating a vicious cycle that hurts the financial sector and the credit ratings of the borrowers.

I have seen firsthand the effects of this phenomenon that economists call moral hazard. One friend explained to me in my sophomore year that because his student loan money finally came through he was able to put the finishing touches on his beer pong table.

The Rise And Fail Of The Five-Year College Degree

Posted on September 3rd, 2013, by Leave a comment

Originally published at forbes.com here on 7/25/13

Taking Five Years

These days, only 49% of students that enter one of our America’s Best Colleges will graduate on-time, if at all. Now that the mantra calls everyone to college – it is, after all, largely considered a ticket to the middle class – what does that mean for  the nearly half of college degree holders who are underemployed?

More and more students are taking five years to complete what have historically been four-year programs. This gap is especially noticeable in public schools. The result: extra year of costs, plus a year of wages and on-the-job experience lost.

There are many legitimate reasons to take five years to get through a traditionally four-year degree.  Perhaps a student is financing his own education and needs to slow down the course load in order to work his way through school. Maybe a student is participating in a “co-op” or internship opportunity during the academic year, and falls a semester behind in studies. There is always the case of a student who is closed out of a prerequisite class that won’t be offered again for another year, or faces similar systemic challenges.

Public vs. Privates

Legitimate reasons, all, but it appears the private schools are much less affected. Private school students are more likely to have their education financed by their parents, and therefore don’t feel the need to work part or full time to pay their way through school. But certainly students at private schools take on internships, or due to small class size pressures, miss out on a course that they need.

Private schools do a better job, in general, with graduating students. The average 4-year graduation rate of our list of private schools was 59% while at publics it was 32%.  Beyond that, the vast majority of those that do graduate from private schools do so in four years (over 80%), while almost half of graduating students at public schools take five or more.  Arizona State University, the largest school in our list, graduates 57% of its students in 6 years according to 2011 U.S. Department of Education statistics.  Of those that graduate, roughly 44% take longer than four years.

It is easy to say that the cost of college is to blame for this difference. The average tuition at a private school is nearly four times greater than that of its public counterpart. Dr. Richard Vedder, the director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, points to the simple economic principle of supply and demand. “When something costs more, consumers will conserve on that good,” he says. “Because private schools cost more, parents are more concerned with their students getting through in four years. This establishes competition among private schools to have high graduation rates to attract students. A parent is much less likely to pay $34,000 each year for five years than for four.

Those Were the Best Days of Our Lives

It is not unreasonable to think of attending university as consuming a good. For many people, these are the best years of their lives as suddenly students find freedom in ways they never knew possible.  The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) tracks students’ average weekly time use.  According to the NSSE results, both first-year students and seniors at private schools more frequently participated in deep learning activities than their counterparts at public schools.  This speaks to both the nature of private schools as typically being more rigorous as well as to the culture at private schools of no nonsense (or less nonsense anyway.)

College is fun. As a current student I can vouch for this. We have access to social opportunities hard to come by in “the real world”.  Getting back to our cost argument, because students are paying nearly four times more to consume this culture than students at public, students at private schools will consume less of these social activities and focus on getting through school in four years.  As public schools are funded heavily by taxpayer money, Vedder says “It is one thing to subsidize investments in human capital, it is another to subsidize students to engage in social activities.”

College as a Bomb Shelter

With a bleak job market, students look for alternatives to the pressures and hardships of the job hunt. A simple alternative is to stay in school. Maybe a student suddenly realizes how nice it would be to take an extra math class, or that art course they’ve been meaning to take but never had time, and stick around a little longer. Students are staying in college longer to avoid the hardships of the real world, the scary decisions, and are able to defer student loan payment a little longer. Better yet, many students are going onto graduate school as a way to buffer themselves from the real world hoping that at the end of the time we’ll be experiencing a more favorable job market.

Bad Incentives

What can we do about this problem? It seems that the public higher education establishment has high incentive to keep its students around as long as possible. This is not the case for the top private schools, who are competing for the top students with the best of the best public schools, such as University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan, or the College of William and Mary as all experience the same competitive market that forces graduation rates up. However, many more public schools are competing only with similar public schools, and funding from the state may be based on enrollment size. Says Vedder, “If a school can get credit for students in a fifth year, then they are making 5/4ths of the subsidy that they would if they graduate students “on time” in four years.” More students staying longer is the public University’s equation for funding, funding that allows for the research, athletic teams, and administrative salaries that we’ve become accustomed to.

What Can We Do?

How do we break this cycle? Legislators can consider tying state funding in part on graduation rate. If this were to happen, schools would go to extreme lengths to ensure students have the opportunity to graduate in four. Vedder hopes that this will “eliminate some of the unnecessary graduation requirements that serve as a barrier to graduation.” With the proper incentives in place, meaning a performance-based funding model, we would not see these barriers to mobility, and fewer students would be closed out of classes.”

Of course, if this were to lead to professors changing grades, or lowering standards, leading to further grade inflation, Vedder is not quick to sacrifice quality for graduation rates. “Perhaps a national college exit exam is necessary. This would ensure students were receiving a quality education while still allowing a graduation rates to rise. Possibly we could work accreditation into this equation.”  If accreditation is linked to performance and graduation rates we would see some real change.  If a school loses its accreditation, as Matt Schifrin says in his recent piece on University’s Financial Health it will see government funding quickly dry up and the lights go out.

The NCAA, Athletic Transfers, and a Power Imbalance

Posted on July 12th, 2013, by Leave a comment

In yet another example of the NCAA disadvantaging its student-athletes, Slate published a wonderful article by Josh Levin on a transfer rule that limits athletes’ playing time at new schools. Coaches invoke hyperbole about transfers as an “epidemic” (among other points that Levin shows to be absurd) and fear that the specter of free agency threatens to destroy college athletics. Although the NCAA has many sins to atone for (some of which CCAP has covered), enforcing harsher penalties on transfer students seems particularly grating to level-headed sensibilities. Why any penalty for transfer students should exist seems spurious.

As the NCAA claims to be founded “as a way to protect student-athletes” and “continues to implement that principle with increased emphasis on both athletics and academic excellence,” articles like Levin’s  must perplex NCAA officials. Limitations on transfers  and the wildly imbalanced power coaches hold over athletes make the NCAA appear less as a paternal organization to protect student-athletes and more as a cabal that, as Levin says, “gives a coach the ultimate authority over everyone on his team.”As coaches tend to make more than any public employee in most states, its’s questionable as to why they should have so much power other their athletes, especially as athletes receive no paycheck.

A Czech student’s experience with MOOCs

Posted on July 9th, 2013, by Leave a comment

Note: This is a guest post by Jan Škapa, a student at Brno University of Technology and Masaryk University, who met Richard Vedder at a seminar in Prague, Czech Republic last summer, and is a local coordinator for European Students For Liberty.

On ‘Education’ in General

I love education. And what I mean when I say “education” might differ from how most people define it. By “education,” I don’t mean just sitting in a physical classroom and listening to instructors. Yes, that is a specific type of conveying information, but it is quite literally an old-school model by which many people do not learn effectively.

When I say education, I mean the fascinating mental process of the human mind, which takes inputs and produces new ideas that consequently influence human action. The crucial aspect is that the mind needs to be ready and desirous of education; otherwise, the process fails, no matter how hard it’s forced from outside (and when forced, the mind relaxes and returns to familiar patterns, disregarding the new inputs).

To illustrate what I mean, let’s take an example of a person who just got a new computer. The person can either:

1)  self-educate, i.e. learn how to operate the computer on his own;

2)  get educated, i.e. find written instructions, seek help from an experienced user, or sign up for a class;

3)  relax, i.e. give the computer to someone else, refusing to learn.

 

Stanford Online AI Class of 2011

Two years ago, I took an online course from Stanford University on artificial intelligence. I completed the course in the advanced track, and it felt like one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I love computer science and technology, so I was excited to learn about AI. However, putting that aside, the idea of massive online education fascinated me, maybe even as much as the course subject itself.

The number of people who took the course with me was astonishing: 160,000. By far, not all of them finished, and not all of them watched the first lecture. Nonetheless, just the feeling that thousands of people from around the world were getting educated in the same topic from the same leading experts was uplifting and very encouraging for me.

The year I took the course was the year when I finished high school and started university: neither of which, however, were in the United States. I went to high school in a small Moravian city, and transitioned to the largest Moravian city to attend university — all of which in the so-called “heart of Europe,” the Czech Republic.

Looking back, I must admit that high school — with mandatory attendance for every class — felt very much like prison to me. I was excited to go to university because it provided me with a chance to learn rather than “to get educated;” the learning part came primarily from the huge amount of free time that most Czech students enjoy. I was set free — and taking a Stanford course was a perfect way to start utilizing this freedom.

However, I didn’t stop there.

 

Universities and MOOCs

The university environment is very fruitful, but its costs are outpacing of its benefits, especially on the margin. That holds true for the United States as it does for the Czech Republic. Even though Czech students don’t directly pay for the institutions, the inefficiencies are clear when it requires more money from taxpayers (adjusted for inflation) to educate one student than it did a few years ago. The same goes for American higher education where the problem is much more visible thanks to a partial price system.

It seems to me that there is a disconnect between what is perceived as education and what education actually is. I’ve completed about 10 massive open online courses and two years of university, so I think I can compare my experience.

I’ve learned a lot while taking courses through Coursera, Udacity, and elsewhere. I’ve pursued my interests directly, but also discovered new ideas which I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. I was awarded certificates, which are a second-hand proof of my education (moreover, they aren’t yet publicly recognized), the main proof being the knowledge I acquired.

I feel, however, that I’ve learned less at university — the environment is more static, especially at Czech universities, where students get locked into the major they chose. On the other hand, I met many people, and there are also other benefits, like learning to be on time and managing my schedule. But the degree that students earn is perceived as their “education.” So, though I’ve learned less, I am supposedly still getting my “education” at university, not elsewhere.

 

The Future of Education

Massive open online courses are provided primarily by universities, but they change the paradigm of education, reorienting the focus back to its roots. It is about the knowledge you get, and not about the degree. It’s rather interesting that the institutions responsible for the inefficiencies in education are also a major force in advancing education on the digital frontier.

There are still a lot of problems with massive open online courses, though — some providers haven’t found a profitable business model. There will probably be a lot of competition in this field, and good business models will prevail, while bad ones will perish. That is a good thing because, after the initial hype is over, we will have a stable market-based online educational system, which may or may not change the face of universities in a sort of backfiring loop.

I believe education will once again become more knowledge-oriented, and less degree-oriented. That’s what education is about anyway — learning new things, which are useful for the individual and his or her life. We will see what role MOOCs will play — whether they will be just a transitional phenomenon or not.

Quote of the Week

Posted on June 11th, 2013, by Comments Off

Justin Martin:

There are far more students than professors in higher education, and the system is supposed to be set up for the aspirants, not the academics. I want universities to have robust, supported faculty, and I’m a professor myself, but MOOC-triggered alarms that that focus solely on faculty positions put the teacher first, learner last.

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