Archive for the ‘education’ Category
Several processes are occurring simultaneously. Departments are being lumped together to form new constellations of schools and faculties. (In Australian academic parlance, schools are a bureaucratic unit composed of disciplines or programs. A faculty consists of a collection of schools.) But, my newly met colleagues insisted, restructuring is not about encouraging interdisciplinarity or intellectual cross-fertilization by increasing the administrative proximity of related fields of inquiry.
Rather, I was told, central administrators have been combining units as universities pare down the number of schools and faculties they harbor to extirpate unnecessary courses, eliminate “redundant” workers, and increase what the Aussies, like the British, call “casualization” and Americans term “contingent labor.” As in the United States, such practices are more likely to be applied to the arts, humanities and social sciences rather than to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — which supposedly promise to raise needed income through contracts, grants, and inventions and to goose the region’s and the nation’s ability to succeed in international economic competition.
I occasionally teach a course aimed at business undergraduates. It’s a work/occupations/orgs course that uses various economic examples to discuss sociological ideas. The issue for me is that I often get torched in the evaluations. In my other classes, my evaluations range from the department average to very high. But hitting the department average is real accomplishment for this course. I’ve heard the same from some other instructors in the department. They do well with sociology students, but the identical course will get much lower scores when it is taught to business students.
So I ask my brothers and sisters in management: What would you advise the instructor of business students? In the past, I’ve added discussion, taken it away, added/subtracted readings, added/taken away group projects, provided my slides online, etc. How else can I experiment with this course?
The Chronicle of Higher Education features a study of valedictorians and finds that class background affects where they apply to college:
Poorer students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, research has shown. And their academic preparation isn’t the only reason, according to Radford’s study of valedictorians, who should be considered well-prepared.
“Less-affluent valedictorians were less likely to know someone who had enrolled in a most selective institution and thus had a harder time envisioning their own attendance,” Radford wrote in a summary of her research.
The theme of the research association’s meeting this year was “Education and Poverty.” And Radford was among many who presented research on class inequity in higher education, which academics say remains deeply problematic at most colleges. Her study comes at a time of increased focus on how, despite plenty of outreach efforts, much of the talent at low-income high schools isn’t getting recruited to top colleges.
Radford worked with data from the High School Valedictorian Project, a survey of 900 class valedictorians who graduated from public high schools between 2003 and 2006. She also drew from 55 in-depth interviews with the students. The University of Chicago Press soon will publish a book by Radford on her findings.
This is probably one of the key findings of recent stratificiation research. Class doesn’t affect life course only through material resources, but by changing the habitus.
I am one of those people who thinks that we should not encourage people to enter the academic profession unless they are extremely committed to scholarship and they show exceptional promise. This advice often triggers a reaction that is summarized as: “You are evil! You want to exclude poor people/minorities/women/others from academia!”
My response: encouraging an expansion of graduate education does not address most aspects of inequality and might make it worse in many cases. For example, there is a large scale gap between whites and blacks in terms of education, income, and wealth. Sending people to graduate school will not address this gap. There are many reasons: lots of people don’t finish the degree; huge opportunity costs; low paid adjunct work after graduation; accumulation of burdensome of debt; and the tenure track pays modestly compared to other professionals with similar qualifications. These trends suppress mobility.
In contrast, there lots of other professions that are much more likely to lead to good income and mobility. If we want to genuinely shrink the income gap between people of color and whites, for example, we are much wiser to encourage engineering and health science careers. You’ll get the degree in a few years and almost immediately jump higher in the income distribution. Way, way, way easier than going for that anthropology PhD and hoping for a tenure track job 12 years later.
If we want to address inequality within academia (ie., increasing representation on the faculty), we should reserve our efforts for getting people through the PhD pipeline and into jobs. We shouldn’t cram more graduate students into the pipeline. We should actually ask the logical question: What can we do to ensure that students acquire the right skills in academia? How can we make sure that they develop the right networks, that lead to publication in the “right” journals, and thus lead to the “right” jobs?
Sadly, very little effort goes into this side of things. It’s easier to count minorities and women and yell, “not fair! we need more!” It’s much harder to confront tenured faculty (like myself), and say: “Why haven’t you co-authored with women (or minorities) so that they may have a shot at a good tenure track job?” Let’s put the brakes on enrolling more students into doctoral programs and take up the less glamorous, but more important task, of making sure that the ones in the system will actually have the best careers possible.
I’ve recently finished Joel Mokyr’s The Englightened Economy, an economic history of Britain during the industrial revolution. The book is an exhaustive argument about the role of Enlightenment ideas on economic development. I won’t go into detail here, but I’ll summarize it by merely saying that the book is a thorough review of the literature on Britain through the eyes of economists and historians.
Today, I want to make a comment on an observation of Mokyr. In his review of research in higher education during British industrialization, he notes the following:
- Higher education was very rare
- Innovators and industrial leaders were mostly uneducated
- Individuals with elite education (e.g., Oxbridge) were fairly rare among the ranks of the industrial leadership
Mokyr raises this point in service of the argument that Britain’s economic expansion can’t be attributed to rising quality of education since most people were not well educated until well after the industrial revolution. My point: This is somewhat analogous to economic expansion today. Leading Silicon Valley firms aren’t always, or even usually built, from people who have advanced degrees. I can think of only one such major firm (Google). Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple were founded by college drop outs, albeit elite drop outs. Groupon was founded by a policy school grad school drop out (not computer science). Twitter’s founder was a computer geek in high school but went to un-glamorous Missouri Tech, then later went to NYU, not known as a computer science hub.
The conclusion: You need an educated work force to carry out ideas, but the leadership doesn’t need a lot of education. Rapid economic expansion seems to hinge on having a mix of smart people who get their “training” from a wide variety of sources, not just college. Colleges are more about educating the masses who compose the rest of the organization.
Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, by Amy Binder and Kate Wood, is the latest entry into the growing scholarship on conservative politics in America. They ask a simple question: how do campus environments shape conservative political styles? This is an important question for two reasons. First, there is relatively little research on conservative students. Second, culture depends on organizational environment. How ideas are expressed is affected by where ideas are expressed. Definitely a worthy question for a sociologists.
So what do Binder and Wood discover? They focus on two campuses for their case study – big public West Coast and fancy private East Coast. They choose these campuses because thay have similar high achieving student bodies but the environments are way, way different. West Coast is a huge “multiversity” to use Clark Kerr’s terminology. East Coast is smaller and more intimate. The same type of students tend to be attracted to campus conservative politics (mainly white, fairly comfortable folks) but the environments encourage different expressions.
You might say that there are two habituses at work – the provocateur and the intellectual. In a big impersonal campus, it is very, very hard to project your voice except in a confrontational manner. Thus, West Coast conservative students rely on sensational tactics, like the affirmative action bake sale. Also, West Coast students feel little attachment to the community. Little is lost by being aggressive. In contrast, East Coast encourages all students to feel as if they have a place, even if they admit that most professors are fairly liberal. They don’t feel alienated or embattled, so they feel little hostility toward the campus. Thus, they resort to more intellectual forms of expression that don’t rely on shocking people. The book also has a nice discussion of the larger field of conservative politics and how that affects campus protest.
Overall, a solid book and one that’s essential to studies of campus politics. If I were to criticize the book, I think I’d think a little more about the differences between conservative students and the broader field of conservative intellectuals. This does get mentioned in a few passages that allude to Steve Teles’ book on conservarive legal academia, which we discussed in detail on this blog. The issue is that the world of conservative intellectuals that have influence is more defined by the East Coast intellectual types than the affirmative action shock jocks at West Coast. The consequences are important as we’ve seen with the Tea Party mobilization. Conservative grass roots politics is now dominated by shock jocks, not the well coiffed policy wonks of the Heritage Foundation. More needs to be said about the boundary and links between campus conservatives and this broader network of think thanks, interest groups, and electoral organizations.
The last comment I’ll make is about the inherent irony of much of this stuff. It can be argued that conservative politics at its best is incremental, stodgy, and resistant to radicalism – that it is essentially bourgeois. It retains the hard won lessons of tradition and skepticism of utopia. Then there is some irony that the cultural style of contemporary conservatives is at odds with this ideal. It is loud and obnoxious. It mocks one of society’s most ancient and enduring institutions, the university system, which has nurtured Western culture since the end of the Middle ages. It is skeptical and hostile toward those who are cultured and knowledge. It can’t disentangle potentially insightful criticisms of specific intellectual currents from a loathing of the academic system itself. Perhaps the ultimat lesson is that beneath the talk of tradition and values, there is a rank populism that leaves one ultimately disappointed.
My colleague at Indiana University, Johan Bollen has patented an algorithm that allows him to link Twitter traffic to stock price fluctuations. Click on the link for the TV news item. A clip from the report:
An IU professor and researcher just received a patent for software that crunches hundreds of millions of tweets, to predict where the stock market is headed…
Think of this way: The thoughts of two or three million people probably don’t add up to much, but if you multiply that by tens or hundreds of millions of people, then you may have something.
“We find that when people get more anxious, then there is a great likelihood of the market dropping 3-4 days later and vice versa,” Bollen said.
Definitely check it out.
The original TFA mission was based on a set of four somewhat noble if paternalistic rationales. First, by bringing the elite into the teaching profession, even if temporarily, TFA would burnish it with a much-needed “aura of status and selectivity.” Second, by supplying its recruits to impoverished school districts, both urban and rural, TFA would compensate for the lack of quality teachers willing to work in such challenging settings. And third, although Kopp recognized that most corps members would not remain classroom teachers beyond their two-year commitments, she believed that TFA alums would form the nucleus of a new movement of educational leaders—that their transformative experiences teaching poor children would mold their ambitious career trajectories. Above these three foundational principles loomed a fourth: the mission to relegate educational inequality to the ash heap of history.
TFA goals derive, in theory, from laudable—if misguided—impulses. But each, in practice, has demonstrated to be deeply problematic.
Putting TFA forward to solve the problems of the teaching profession has turned out poorly. But the third premise for Kopp’s national teacher corps—that it would “create a leadership force for long-term change” in how the nation’s least privileged students are schooled—has been the most destructive. Such destructiveness is directly related to Kopp’s success in attaching TFA to the education reform movement. In this, Kopp’s timing could not have been more fortuitous. When TFA was founded, the education reform movement was beginning to make serious headway in policy-making circles. This movement had been in the works since as far back as the notorious Coleman Report, a massive 1966 government study written by sociologist James Coleman, officially titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” Coleman contended that school funding had little bearing on educational achievement and, thus, efforts to achieve resource “equity” were wasteful. The Coleman Report became a touchstone for those who argued that pushing for educational “excellence,” measurable by standardized tests, was the best method to improve schools and hold teachers accountable. Chester Finn, an influential conservative policy analyst who worked in the Reagan Department of Education, put his finger on the educational pulse of our age when he wrote that “holding schools”—and teachers—“to account for their students’ academic achievement” was the only educational policy that made sense in a “post-Coleman” world.
Definitely worth reading for students of school reform.
In the past, I have argued that it is erroneous to assume that all people must go to college. Some people don’t have the academic or emotional capacity for higher education. Many don’t learn much when they do go to college. Still others spend years getting degrees as a labor market signal. Individually rational, but not efficient. College is definitely good for *some* people, but not everyone.
Now, Paul Campos, a Colorado law prof, gives a succinct economic argument against the over-investment in college. I quote at length from his discussion of legal education:
Last week, a group of Africana faculty at Penn wrote a column called “Guess Who’s (Not) Coming to Dinner?” The issue is that Penn’s administration has not appointed a person of color to an administrative position in a long time. They will no longer attend diversity events sponsored by Penn President Amy Gutmann:
With the term for the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences soon ending and the newly appointed provost on hand, President Gutmann was asked during a heated exchange why she has never appointed a person of color to the position of dean during her long tenure at Penn.
Her response was that she would not just bring in someone who is not qualified, a comment implying that none of the people in the room were qualified to serve in these positions, even though many of them serve in administrative capacities in departments and centers. In her closing remarks, President Gutmann reiterated her dedication to diversity within Penn’s administration, admitting that “a show beats a tell.”
A few comments: I think the Penn Africana faculty have a good point. Leadership is built on networks. If you know anything about academia, most folks reach positions of leadership because they have been helped by colleagues. The fact that either (a) people of color did not apply for deanships or (b) people of color do not have the track record speaks to the fact that people around Penn have simply not reached out to faculty of color. People need to know that will be seriously considered if they apply. Similarly, people need to be considered for “starter” administrative jobs, like center director positions or department chairs. These don’t just appear and they often aren’t announced. You need the networks to make it happen. The fact that Penn has let this slide for this long speaks for itself.
A while ago, we asked: what are b-schools for? We covered discussions by various b-school deans. One of those deans, Santiago Iniguez of the IE business school, has drawn my attention to an interview where he discusses his new book, The Learning Curve, which focuses on management education. Click here and scroll down. Relevant to readers who are interested in b-schools and their mission.
I greatly admire athletes, as I admire anyone who achieves excellence in their field. But I have always felt that sports and college are not a good mix. Consider the following article from Inside Higher Ed about college sports:
According to the report, the growth in per-athlete athletic spending outpaced the growth in per-student academic spending over that time period in all subdivisions of Division I athletics. In general, the report found that Division I universities and colleges tended to spend roughly three to six times as much on athletics per athlete as on academics per student, with the ratio exceeding 12 times in the Southeastern Conference, home of the last seven NCAA national champions in football.
The report notes that, during the downturn, while many institutions faced financial pressure and cut academic programs, only a few Division I institutions – including the University of Maryland at College Park, the University of California at Berkeley, and Rutgers University – cut athletic teams or spending to cope with budget cuts. The University of Maryland has since moved to a different conference in hopes of generating more revenue and restoring the cut programs.
Advocates say sports pays for itself. Not so fast:
The report notes — as have many others — that most athletic departments are not self-supporting. Only one in four institutions in the FBS generated more money than it spent in any given year between 2005 and 2010, the report states, with almost none of the FCS or non-football programs generating a profit. Median subsidies for Division I institutions ranged from $7.7 million to $8.5 million, with the largest FBS institutions seeing the smallest subsidies and the smallest FBS institutions seeing the largest.
Check it out.
In the comments on a recent post, a few people noted the hypocrisy of online education: If online education is so great, why do the people who run online education have traditional “bricks and mortar” college degrees?
I am not saying that the people who run online courses are bad. I am merely arguing that institution of online education has limits and these limits are illustrated by online education. The reason that we are willing to take the time to do an online course from a Stanford computer science professor is because she has degrees that signal that she’s not a loser. She’s probably a graduate of a fancy engineering school like MIT, Michigan, or Berkeley, which indicates that she’s probably competent and high quality.
Would millions of people take online courses from, say, a graduate of the Orgtheory Online Management Academy? If you think the answer is no, then you know why the economic value of online education will be limited. If you say “yes, an Orgtheory graduate will make tons of money,” please send me an email.
Average folks and higher education researchers have conflicting views of academia. Average folks believe that most college teachers are tenured professors and that most students are residential students who play ultimate Frisbee on the quad. Higher education researchers have a different view. We know that most teachers are actually part time adjuncts and graduate students. Residential college is for the top of the pool. Most students are part time commuters or community college students. The mistake that people make is that the most visible forms of higher education (e.g., elite research unviersities and liberal arts schools) are the most common.
This split between folk wisdom and what the experts know is evident in David Purcell’s comment:
Higher ed and how students are credentialed (see the recent discussions on badges) are clearly going to evolve. In short, I see higher ed bifurcating into “good schools” and “everything else,” not unlike the labor market.
The common folk wisdom is that the Internet will make this happen. The experts know that this has already happened and it has nothing to do with online courses or other Internet based learning.
Basically, students want two things from higher education. Some want genuine engagement and learning – and that immersion is hard to replicate on the Internet. But most want job credentials. So what do you get? The research universities and elite liberal arts colleges specialize being places of advanced learning. That’s where you go if you really want to learn science or philosophy, or other serious topics. It also acts as a credential.
So where does the split into “the best and the rest” come from? The average student doesn’t want or need advanced training in anything. They need a credential and some basic vocational instruction. And you don’t need a fancy research university to do that. Once people realized that, then the natural tendency was to “deskill” colleges. Once the tenured folks retire, replace them with adjuncts and graduate students. Bloat the large lecture classes, and so forth. Administrators soak up the savings.
Why do we need residential colleges? As long as college degrees signal a degree of conformity, they can’t be done online. Remote and online learning is often – justifiably – interpreted as the tool used by people who simply can’t deal with a regular college. As long as that is true, the residential college is here to stay.
Until recently, I was one of those people who believed that online education would kill the university, it was just a matter of time. However, I have changed my mind. The reason is simple. If the value of college education is about knowledge transfer, then online education will crush traditional college. But if college education is about signalling, status goods, or credentials, then the residential college system will remain. I believe college is partially about knowledge, but mostly about status and signalling.
I was reminded of this when evil twin Nicolai Foss posted a link to an article from the American Interest that predicts the end of college as we know it today. A clip:
The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
I offered to bet Nicolai to see if see if this would happen. He said I was engaging in wishful thinking. If so, why did he decline my bet? For the record, here is my current views. On issues 1-3 ,I agree with the American Interest article on the fact, but it has nothing to do with the internet. On 4 & 5, I think I’m on good ground:
- “Access to college-level education will be free for everyone.” No dispute. College education is free in many areas. The Khan Academy offers basic math and lots of universities (including Stanford and MIT) offer the lectures for basic course for free over the internet.
- “The residential college campus will become largely obsolete.” My response: The residential campus is already obsolete and has been for decades. The modal college student in America is in a community college or a commuter campus. The residential college is for top of the college pool.
- “Tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs.” Already happened. Less than 50% of college instructors are professors. Most are part time adjuncts.
- “the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant.” Sounds nice, but most high paying jobs tend to have the BA as a prerequisite. I have seen no evidence that this will happen or any trend in that direction.
- “ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.” Depends on your definition. If by “Harvard student,” you mean take an online course and get a piece of paper, sure. If you mean that ten million people will be enrolled for 120 credits and that these people will get the same labor market pay off as a residential student, fat chance.
I am willing to bet Nicolai Foss $5 that in 10 years we will see the same number (or more) of four year institutions in America. I am also willing to bet $5 that the BA degree will still be associated with about double the income of a high school graduate. I am also willing to bet $5 that Harvard will not award a degree to non-residential students.
A few days ago, I asked if readers believed in school effects. The poll suggested that most orgtheory respondents do believe that schooling makes a difference. In the comments, many people asked: what counts as a school effect? joshtk76 noted that different features of schools seem to have different effects on students.
Ok, let’s sort this out. First, in the sociology and education literature on schools, there is a statistical definition of a “school effect.” It simply means that if we assign a variable for a type of school (e.g., public vs. private) or specific school (Indiana University), then there will be an effect on the dependent variable of choice (e.g., income or learning measurement). A lot of classic studies in sociology and economics then play the game of making the effects go away. For example, Coleman’s study used family background to make school effects disappear. Card and Krueger try to measure student aptitude to make college specific effects disappear. Often, school specific effects are reduced or go away entirely. The flavor of many studies are like that – add family, or cognitive ability, or whatever and school effects diminish.
Now, as the commenters note, there is still some ambiguity. There is stuff that is school specific that is not “school,” such as your friends at school. Luckily, the literature does give some guidance. For example, we do know that there are teacher effects. There seem some teachers who are really good at teaching. If a school has good teachers, then students will learn more. On social capital, the evidence is mixed. If you read Muow’s work on networks and jobs, the evidence is mixed, which suggests that social capital from schools doesn’t have that big of an impact.
If the evidence is so mixed, I wouldn’t put a whole lot on school effects unless there is a strong reason otherwise. For example, elite occupations (e.g. academia) seem to revolve around certain elite schools. Another example: very low SES students, the one group where we consistently find school effects. So when thinking about school effects, your presumption should be “not much, but I am willing to consider the evidence for specific groups of people.”
I recently was talking with different folks about school effects. My view is that schools don’t matter for most students, except low SES students. I thought I was in the minority on this point, but I found that my soc of ed buddies tend to believe the same thing. What do the rest of you think? Do most sociologists believe in school effects? Explain your answer!
It is common for affirmative action critics to sue colleges over race based admissions policies. Here’s my question: How often do critics sue colleges over legacy admissions (i.e., giving preference to alumni children)? I think the answer is “not much.” The lack of concern over legacy admissions suggests that critics don’t really object to the absence of color blind standards. Spending so much money on court fights aimed at under privileged students while ignoring the student who slides by on family connections leaves a very bad taste in one’s mouth.
Having taught undergraduate social theory a lot, I’ve come to appreciate that there are four levels of learning:
- Memorization and reading comprehension. For example, students need to know that Weber talked about bureaucracy and that they need to understand his definition.
- The “basic point.” We want students to understand the perspective presented by various theorists. Using Weber as an example, we might say that one of his major ideas was that modern life reflected a rationalization of behavior.
- Applications: We want students to be able to analyze some social phenomena in terms of the underlying variables or concepts found in various theories.
- Theoretical nimbleness: We want students to be able grasp the subtlety of theory, how one set of ideas (e.g., Marxism) connects to another (e.g., Weberian historical soci0logy).
A fair number of students hit a brick wall with #1. The level of reading in a typical social theory course is much, much more demanding than what we teach in intro or social problems. For many students, social theory will be the hardest course they will take. But still, most college students can achieve basic reading comprehension if they get some tutoring or if you boil it down to key words and catch phrases.
The next three levels elude most social theory students. Since they don’t have much experience reading challenging texts, they are stumped when asked to extract the main variable or idea of the theory. Since many sociology programs are disorganized – they don’t built linearly on fundamental principals – many sociology majors have never really been forced to think in terms of variables until very late in their program. Asking for applications of theory to real world examples seems to be a very alien concept for most students. Of course, level 4, facility with theory as theory, is not expected of students, except those aiming for graduate school.
Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse have a new article in Theory and Society on the topic of professorial politics. They use the GSS to answer the question of why professors are very liberal compared to the rest of the US population. They test a number of plausible hypotheses found in the literature on political attittudes of academics – maybe professors are liberal because they are more secular or they are more likely to be Protestant or Jewish. There are some differences, but not a lot variance is explained.
Gross and Fosse offer an alternative theory – occupational typing. In other words, jobs, for whatever reasons, acquire reputations. In America, nursing is thought to be for women, not men. Then people selectively sort into jobs, independent of the job requirements. Maybe there is nothing intrinsically liberal about being a professor, but once you get a critical mass of liberals, conservatives just stay away. The conclusion of the article is nice because is raises the issue that when it comes to occupations and politics, we probably need a better understanding of reputation and the role it has in attracting people to the job.
The New York Times recently asked a panel of higher education practitioners and scholars about rankings. How much to college rankings influence colleges? I thought Michael Bastedo, organizational scholar and higher ed dude at Michigan, had the right answer – not much, except for elites who are obsessed with prestige:
[that most students are not influenced by ranking] … is confirmed by research I have done on rankings with Nicholas Bowman at Bowling Green State University. If selective colleges move up a few places in the rankings, the effects on admissions indicators, like average SAT and class rank, are minimal. Moving into the top tier of institutions is much more influential — something we called “the front page effect.”
It turns out funders aren’t strongly influenced by rankings either. There’s no question that industry and private foundations are more likely to fund prestigious colleges than nonprestigious ones. But our research shows that funders outside higher education barely notice when rankings go up or down.
So who are influenced by rankings? It’s people inside higher education, the ones who are most vulnerable to the vagaries of college prestige. Alumni are more likely to donate when rankings go up, and out-of-state students are more likely to enroll and pay higher tuition. The faculty who make decisions on federal research applications also seem to be influenced.
Check out the whole panel. Definitely worth reading.
Today, at my university library, I went to pick up ten books I had ordered. The circulation worker started checking the tall stack of books out for me. To my surprise, rather than commenting on my reading habits (as the security guard later did, muttering “lots of books”), the circulation worker asked, “are you writing a book?” I answered yes, explaining that I had written one book and that I intended to write more, eliciting what sounded like a happy noise from the worker. What the worker intuitively got was that in order to write, one also has to read – both to stand on the shoulders of giants (i.e., learn and build on existing content) and to understand different ways of writing and presenting material.
Although an intrinsic desire to read and write is important, reading and writing habits can be cultivated and encouraged by family members, friends, teachers, professors, mentors, and colleagues. For example, one professor of mine devoted a portion of his slideshow lecture to describing the writings and displaying the covers of books published by previous students; he also noted that readers should have to periodically consult a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words – if they didn’t, they were reading below their level. Similarly, another regularly mentioned students’ journal publications in lecture. Such mentions underscored how writing and publishing were within the realm of reality, rather than something limited to a few, other-worldly individuals. Similarly, a dissertation writing group, particularly one led by a trained facilitator, can help junior researchers learn how to troubleshoot issues and run future writing groups with colleagues that facilitate a regular stream of publications.
However, figuring out what to read is no longer as easy as waiting for a journal delivery or pulling out a drawer of alphabetically organized index cards, looking at the subject indexes for more cards, and heading into the stacks with a list of call numbers. The struggles of today’s students and trained librarians to effectively locate appropriate resources on even very specific topics suggests that something is amiss. Partly, the proliferation of electronic journal search engines that access some journals but not others, as well as budgetary cuts that have curtailed book acquisitions and cancelled electronic journal subscriptions don’t help. Even the well-heeled Ivies are slashing their library collections.
What are people doing in response?
- Some instructors, including those at elite institutions where one might assume that students are well-prepared for college instruction, devote part of classtime to teaching students how to read scholarly articles and books. Some also send students to trainings at university libraries for instruction on how to search for resources.
- Individuals can look for recommendations of readings on listservs, blogs, and colleagues’ webpages. In addition, recently published books can be located on university presses’ catalogs or websites; conference attendees can ask representatives for recommendations on specific topics or peruse the offerings at the publishers’ book displays.
- Besides regularly reviewing manuscripts for journals and publishers (a necessary professional responsibility to keep the community alive and thriving), colleagues can suggest colleagues’ books for library collections or purchase books from grant funds. Update: Implicit in this remark is that contributing to the production and consumption of publications is important to sustaining venues that allow people to publish…though the advent of self-publishing and open-access suggest alternative opportunities as well.
Any ideas or comments on the state of cultivating reader- and writership?
Yesterday, Jenn posted about the findings from the SNAAP survey, which show that many arts majors do rather well. While they don’t always have careers as practicing artists, they often have arts related jobs and have satisfactory post-graduation lives. This raises a question: what is the link between college major and post-graduation life course?
My hypothesis is that the jump from college major to post-graduation life is influenced by the following factors:
- Labor market credential: Is there an industry that the major trains you for? If so, how big is that industry? What is the career trajectory of people in that industry? Note: Such majors may not give you skills, just the credential (e.g., education).
- Ability signal: Some majors are harder than others. Some majors get you a better job because the major is a signal of high IQ/cognitive ability.
- Human capital: Some majors provide concrete job skill (i.e., computer science).
- Taste: Some majors require that people have an intense taste for a subject.
- Precision: This is more ambiguous, but what I mean is that some majors require people to produce very precise outputs, which requires a very different mindset. For example, in the humanities, performing music is relatively clear cut, compared to writing an essay.
The implication of the model, controlling for other factors:
- For college majors that are credentials, we expect employment, income, and satisfaction for correlate with the financial health of the industry the major is tied to.
- The higher IQ needed for completing the major, the higher the income and lower unemployment.
- Income and employment will increase with the demand for skills that happen to provided by the major (e.g., computer science was a niche topic in the 1970s, but a money maker in 2000).
- Taste: Satisfaction with the major correlates with how much you have to love the major to pursue it.
- Majors that require precision have graduates with lower unemployment and higher incomes.
When it comes to understanding the link between major and behavior, it helps to sort through these factors. I’d say the SNAAP results definitely reflect #1. There is now a fairly healthy arts sector in America that includes schools, museums, non-profits, curators, and other venues. Even those who have no desire to be an artist, might still pursue an art major as a credential. There’s also #4. People enjoy the arts a lot.
I think the visual and performing arts are different than many other humanities and social studies majors because of #5. While it’s hard to flunk someone for writing a vague essay, you probably wouldn’t far with a similar level of musical performance or figure drawing. To be even moderately successful in a traditional arts major, you can’t fake it. That ability to actually master a skill at a level that another expert (the teacher) can recognize as progress probably carries over into the jog market.
In Fabio’s November 2011 post about the profit-motivations of college students, he wrote about “why people choose useless majors”:
In 1971, about 50% went to college to make money. In the 1990s, it’s about 70%. Similarly, modern college students are more interested in financial stability, not philosophical issues. I haven’t been able to find more recent data, but I’d be surprised if that trend reversed.
As responsible social scientists, we want to measure the merits of higher education in part on how well it fulfills the expectations of the clientele: students, possibly their parents/guardians, and employers. If students enter college hoping to gain financial stability, and a college degree in some major fails to provide this, we might reasonably decide students need to be warned, and majors need to be redesigned. However, while Fabio cites research indicating students increasingly value financial stability, research on arts majors suggests they may be the exception to the rule.
On-going research on double majors and creativity, done by our colleague Richard Pitt and Steven Tepper, provides an illustrative contrast between art majors and others: while only 35% of art majors describe income as “very important” or “essential” to their careers, a full 64% of engineering majors describe income in this fashion [as I understand it, this data is from their Surdna-funded study (see "Double Majors and Creativity")].
Respondents don’t complete our SNAAP survey until after they graduate from a participating program, and we don’t ask them to tell us what they thought they wanted (financial stability/high income, or something else) when they entered college. However, we do have some information on how debt impacted the job choices of arts graduates, and how income impacts their level of job and program satisfaction. Read the rest of this entry »
First, I’d like to thank our July guests, Jenn Lena and Katherine Chen. We are blessed to have such accomplished friends. Second, I’m picking a fight with Jenn Lena, just because I can. Earlier this week, Jenn referred to an earlier discussion of college majors, where I argued that some students drift into social sciences and humanities because they are easier and that this means that these students have less academic ability. Jenn called this view bonkers.
I may be bonkers, but I’ve got some evidence. But first, a few qualifiers. People may think I hate the humanities or that I think poets are dumb. Quite the opposite. I am impressed by the humanities. I think it requires enormous intellect to write great music or compose an insightful poem. Also, I freely admit that there a lot of folks in the arts who have high cognitive ability that’s on par with people in other fields. Doing great art is just as much of a challenge as solving a math problem.
But that still doesn’t mitigate the fact that the *average* social science or humanity major simply has less academic skill than the *average* science major. For example, consider this 2004 study from the Journal of Econometrics, Ability Sorting and Returns to the College Major by Peter Arcidiacono. The paper analyzes labor market outcomes, SAT scores, and college major. The majors are sorted into natural science, social/science humanities, business & education. If you look at Table 2, the results are clear. The natural science majors had higher mean scores in both SAT math and verbal (!), though the verbal difference is small. The humanities/social sciences does about the same as business in math, but better in verbal. Education is dead last in both categories. These results are not atypical and common in the higher education literature.
There is also evidence about graduate students. Studies of GRE score by major, once again, show that sciences do better than humanities/arts/social sciences in math, and there are many science fields that do better than the humanities & arts in verbal GRE. Once again, education and some types of business, don’t do well.
Bottom line: On the average, science students are the best in terms of math, reading, and vocabulary. On the average, education is rock bottom. The arts and social sciences are in the middle, but still consistently less than the sciences.
Teachers College Record has published my commentary on Naomi Schaefer Riley/Black Studies controversy. You’ll need to access the article through TCR, but here’s the abstract:
This commentary is a response to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Naomi Schaefer Riley on the continuing relevance of Black Studies. I discuss the different ways that academic disciplines justify themselves and argue that Black Studies has come a long way but still needs to address longstanding problems.
A few days ago, I posted about Deep Springs College’s decision to admit women in 2013. In the comments, “Frances Quarel,” disputed my contention that the decision reflected institutional pressures (i.e., single ed was a much less legitimate organizational form in the 2000s). Essentially, Quarel argued that Deep Springs reflected *no* response to the institutional environment. Quarel correctly notes that the Deep Springs displays very little resemblance to other colleges. So isomorphism is a bad explanation.
My response: theories of isomorphism are usually arguments about resource dependency. In most formulations, the argument is that the more that an organization requires material or symbolic resources, the more it will be susceptible to external pressures for conformity. If you want to establish a university with thousands of students and tons of research grants, you’ll probably need to conform. If you want to let thirteen dudes clean stables and read Plato on a desert ranch, no need to conform. As long as you have a little pot of money, nothing will prevent you from doing your own thing.
So I’d agree with the general thurst of Quarel’s comment. Deep Springs hasn’t conformed much to the higher ed system. But that doesn’t mean that Deep Springs is completely immune to external pressures. The school just has a very low responsiveness to the outside world. The new co-ed policy reflects one of the ways that the college is connected to a broader institutional environment – the association with Telluride and newer cohorts of students, who turn into the alumni who then pressed for change. The emergence of coed education as a taken for granted standard in higher wasn’t hatched in the deserts of California.
Last week, Brayden asked about the firing of Teresa Sullivan, the former president of the University of Virginia. Brayden wondered if it was about an argument about the pace of change at Virignia. I thought it was about the conflicts between conservative trustees and the culture of academia.
Turns out that we’re both wrong. Details are emerging about Sullivan’s firing and they aren’t flattering to the Visitors (Viriginia’s name for its trustees). A number of sources argue that it wasn’t merely a dispute over costs, such as cutting small programs. Based on leaked emails, journalists have speculated that a policy about online education was really about letting Goldman Sachs use UVa to promote the online education business.
And it gets worse. A Chronicle of Higher Education reporter posted a PDF of a letter from the governor to the Board. It’s somewhat ambiguous about what should be done about Teresa Sullivan, but the message is clear – resolve this dispute by Tuesday (tommorrow) or the entire Board will hand in its resignation.
Use the comments to predict what will happen, or provide updates.
The big news in academic circles recently is the resignation of Teresa Sullivan as the president of the University of Virginia. I’ve been slow to catch on to the importance of this topic and have to admit that I don’t understand the complex politics motivating this move. What compelled the Board of Visitors to ask for her resignation?
The story I’ve heard from a number of news sources is that certain members of the board, and clearly not all since the move was initiated without a vote from the full board, were unhappy with Sullivan’s “incremental” pace in creating change to the institution. But what changes did they want? Based on the emails of board members involved in the ouster, one of the topics that keeps coming up is online education. But that can’t be the real or entire reason for worrying about Sullivan’s strategy. Every university in the country is aware of the potential that online education offers, but none of the elite institutions have yet figured out how it’s going to play out in the long run. Some universities are experimenting with online offerings, but it’s still at a developmental stage.
Others have speculated that the reason was that the Board wanted to see the university run like a business, a vision that Sullivan did not share. But if you read a strategic memo issued by Sullivan in May, you can see that she was actively engaged with the university’s budget situation. She was making efforts to control costs and optimize revenue streams. As you’d expect from any competent president, as it appears she was, Sullivan was keenly aware of the operational needs of the university.
Sullivan’s own public statement about the resignation suggests that the board was unhappy with her style of leadership. They wanted her to run the university in a more autocratic style, a style she did not believe was conducive to good university governance : “Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work.” Taking this statement as a signal of the disagreement between the two parties, the board probably wanted Sullivan to make some moves that would have been unpopular with some of the faculty and Sullivan was unwilling to make those decisions without some faculty support. I’d like to know more about what those unpopular actions were.
What am I missing here? I’d appreciate it if anyone else who is much better informed about the context could shed some light.
The Telluride Association newsletter* recently announced that Deep Springs College will admit women for the class of 2013. Founded in the early 1900s by a wealthy industrialist, Deep Springs College is a hyper elite two year college that admits about 12 young men a year and takes them to a ranch in the middle of the California desert. At the ranch, they determine their curriculum, which is mostly the Great Books, and earn their pay by working the farm
Admission to Deep Springs was, until recently, ** a very coveted position. After two years, the Deep Springs students transfer mainly to Ivy League schools (usually Harvard and Yale) and the most elite public schools like Michigan, Berkeley, and Virginia. Among the alumni are Congressman James Olin and multiple MacArthur grant winners.
Not surprisingly, there were pushed to admit women to Deep Springs, which were strongly resisted by the alumni. The co-ed faction won out through bureaucratic maneuver. The Telluride Association, which manages Deep Springs, loaned the college some money. If they couldn’t pay it back by the 2000s, they had to admit women.
The orgtheory lessons? A few. First, the organizational form of single ed colleges had been dying a slow, slow death. The Deep Spring announcement is just another chapter. Second, the final blow came from external institutional pressures. Non-DS alumni in the Telluride Association wanted to know why they should tolerate a single ed institutions and then resource dependence kicked in. DiMaggio and Powell would be proud. Welcome to the 20th century, Deep Springs!
* My wife’s a member.
** Even though a DS education is a sweet deal, it’s been harder to recruit. Some of it may be due to young men not wanting to hang out with other young men, and maybe it’s the declining appeal of a hard core classics education. Why go the middle of the desert when you can study in Silicon Valley or New York City?
There’s been a slow burning debate over Elizabeth Warren’s ethnicity. She has some Native American background but is functionally White. Yet, her former employer, the Harvard Law School, listed her as minority faculty.
The real issue here isn’t Elizabeth Warren, millions of Americans have Native American roots. The issue is the relative paucity of minority faculty on the tenure track. Listing Warren as Native American rubbed people the wrong way because her employer was trying to gain credit for diversity without hiring people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The pipeline for minorities is very broken. Even though graduate programs do a fair job recruiting minorities, most do a horrible job training minority graduate students and getting them on the tenure track. Doctoral programs often run on a philosophy of benign neglect. In such an environment, women and underrepresented groups are the first to go. Later on, there’s hand wringing over the lack of minorities in academic leadership positions.
Harvard’s actions exemplify academia’s poor response to the under-representation of minorities on the tenure track. They use dubious statistics to paper over a problem. The only way to address the issue is to directly confront graduate programs and ensure that *all* students receive adequate training within a reasonable time frame. Administrations should end the regime of benign neglect in America’s graduate programs and implement a series of benchmarks for all students. Only when that is done will universities be able to fill their departments with qualified minority faculty.
One of the most widely discussed research papers in higher education from the 2000s was “Estimating the Payoff to Attenting a More Selective College: An Application of Selection Observables and Unobsersvables” by Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger. The standard interpretation is that the paper shows that there is no link between college attended and future income. In other words, the specific college you go to doesn’t matter much. A number of people, including Robin Hanson and Shamus Khan, have argued that this is an incorrect reading of the paper.
So what does the paper say? First, they start with a discussion of biases in wage/education regression models. The issue is that the match between colleges and students is highly non-random. Smart students apply to competitive colleges, financial aid creates more bias, etc. So tossing in a variable for college attended can produce biased estimates in regression models.
Their solution is to find a data set where you know that people have similar academic skills and opportunities, but chose different colleges. There is such a data set, College and Beyond. It tells you where people got accepted into college and where they went. So you can compare people who got accepted into an elite school and accepted vs. people who got accepted and went to a non-elite school.
The answer is to be found in Table III on page 1507. In the models without matching, there is a correlation between school selectivity and income. This is what Robin Hanson, and others, point out. But these estimates quickly shrink when you account for matching. The OLS estimate of the effect of school selectivity on log-wages drops from .07 to about .03. Then, when you account for similar college application patterns, the effect becomes negative! In discussing these models, D&K state: “The effect of the school-average SAT score in these models is close to zero and more precisely estimated than in the matched-applicant models.” Further, on page 1511, “The coefficient (and standard error) on school average-SAT score was a robust .065 (.012) in the basic model, but fell to -.016 (.023) in the matched-applicant model and .010 (.012) in the self-revelation model.” So I say “1 point” for the standard reading of the paper and “0 points” for the critics. The correlation between school quality and income is not robust. It is clearly tied to unobserved variables.
Now, there is a lot more to the paper and much of it supports Robin, Shamus, and others. For example, D&K point out that schools can be measured in ways other than SAT scores. If you toss in dummies and then account for matching, there does appear to be some schools that affect later life income. Also, as I’ve always pointed out, D&K point out that the paper’s main finding, the non-robustness of the college SAT-income correlation, is not true for particular subsamples, like students from poor families.
What is the take home message? It’s actually simple, school effects often disappear when you account for unobserved heterogeneity, though colleges matter for some students and particular colleges may have income effects. But don’t take my word for it. This is how D&K state it in the conclusion of the paper:
These results are consistent with the conclusion of Hunt’s [1963, p. 56] seminal research: “The C student from Princeton earns more than the A student from Podunk not mainly because he has the prestige of a Princeton degree;, but merely because be is abler. The golden touch is possessed not by the Ivy League College, but by its students.”
But our results would still suggest that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” ranking of schools, in which students are always better off in terms of their expected future earnings by attending the most selective school that admits them. This sentiment was expressed clearly by Stephen R. Lewis, Jr., president of Carleton College, who responded to the U.S. News & World Report college rankings (which ranked his school sixth among liberal arts colleges) by saying, “The question should not be, what are the best eolleges? The real question should be, best for whom?”
Read the original yourself.
A question for my brothers and sisters in the economics profession: Why do very different private colleges charge roughly the same tuition? For example, a full blown elite research 1 school like the University of Chicago charges about $42k per year. Harvard charges about $39k if you add tuition and the required health fee together. An elite liberal arts college like Swarthmore charges about $40k a year. A much less well known private college like DePauw charges $38k a year. Colgate charges about $45k per year.
The big savings come from going to tiny schools (e.g. Coe charges $33k a year, or Notre Dame of California charges $24k a year). Why is the price/prestige curve flat except for tiny liberal arts colleges? If you believe the Dale/Krueger paper on college choice and income (e.g., doesn’t matter which college you go to, for the most part), then these prices merely reflect that colleges are just selling a generic job market certification that any institution can provide. Other explanations?