Archive for the ‘education’ Category
I have often been a critic of the higher education system. My critique, roughly, is that the costs of college are often disconnected from the market value of the degree. Students are often left with substantial debt that may take a decade or more to pay off. Some, without proper counseling, take on the debt normally associated with buying a home. It is no longer the case that college finances are a matter of saving up some money for a few years or working it off over a few summers. Now, students can carry debt into their forties, or later, if they aren’t careful. This debt can displace other, possibly more important, forms of wealth building such as purchasing a home, financing a business, or simply saving the money.
Today, there is an effort to organize college loan debtors in an attempt to roll back this trend. The Debt Collective, an activist group, announced today that a group of fifteen volunteers will go on a debt strike. These former students all have debt acquired from their time in various for-profit colleges. I applaud this movement. But I think it needs to go farther. Why stop at for-profit colleges? It is the case that some for-profits have acted dishonestly in promising much higher wages and encouraging students to maximize loans. But many students from more traditional colleges leave with very debt loads as well and often with degrees that don’t correspond to better jobs. An excellent start and I hope to see more.
“there’s no rankings problem that money can’t solve” – the tale of how northeastern gamed the college rankings
There’s a September 2014 Boston.com article on Northeastern University and how it broke the top-100 in the US News & World Report of colleges and universities. The summary goes something like this: Northeastern’s former president, Richard Freeland, inherited a school that was a poorly endowed commuter school. In the modern environment, that leads you to a death spiral. A low profile leads to low enrollments, which leads to low income, which leads to an even lower profile.
The solution? Crack the code to the US News college rankings. He hired statisticians to learn the correlations between inputs and rankings. He visited the US News office to see how they built their system and bug them about what he thought was unfair. Then, he “legally” (i.e., he didn’t cheat or lie) did things to boost the rank. For example, he moved Northeastern from commuter to residential school by building more dorms. He also admitted a different profile of student that wouldn’t the depress the mean SAT score and shifted student to programs that were not counted in the US News ranking (e.g., some students are admitted in Spring admissions and do not count in the US News score).
Comments: 1. In a way, this is admirable. If the audience for higher education buys into the rankings and you do what the rankings demand, aren’t you giving people what they want? 2. The quote in the title of the post is from Michael Bastedo, a higher ed guru at Michigan, who is pointing out that rankings essentially reflect money. If you buy fancier professors and better facilities, you get better students. The rank improves. 3. Still, this shows how hard it is to move. A nearly billion dollar drive moves you from a so-so rank of about 150 to a so-so rank of about 100-ish. Enough to be “above” the fold, but not enough to challenge the traditional leaders of higher ed.
The legislature of South Carolina has allowed a budget to pass that will shut down South Carolina State University for a single year. According to news reports, the legislature tabled debate on a motion that would defund SCSU and close it for a year while they work on the finances:
The Higher Education Subcommittee’s plan would shut down the university on July 1, 2015 for fiscal year 2015-2016 and reopen in 2017. That plan would suspend all athletics programs, fire President Thomas Elzey, dismiss faculty and state employees, terminate the Board of Trustees.
During that year of closure, a Blue Ribbon Committee would look at the school’s finances, rehire necessary staff, reconstitute the athletics programs, and set curriculum before reopening the doors.
The state would also foot the bill for the university’s debts and loans.
Satellite campuses of state schools are occasionally closed and/or merged for all kinds of reasons. But I think this is a first in that the legislature intends to continue funding SCSU at a later time, just with different management. This happens occasionally with private colleges who might close and then re-open, as has happened with Antioch College. An interesting question is (a) whether the South Carolina legislature will approve this policy and (b) if successful, how often legislatures will use this procedure to manage other state college campuses.
Higher ed geeks, use the comments.
This weekend, I visited Bates College and participated in their celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a lovely campus and I enjoyed myself. At the beginning of my workshop, one of the Bates students gave a brief talk about the history of Black Studies at Bates. A key issue was that it was a late adopter. The protest in favor of the program used late adoption as a frame for their argument. The photo above is from a student publication and shows students pointing out that Bates isn’t following its peer group. The banner actually lists the peer organizations that have Black Studies circa 1988. Great example of how movements hook up into institutional environments.
Student debt is in the news a lot these days. It currently stands at $1.2 trillion in the U.S., having surpassed credit card debt in 2010. The Occupy movement pushed the issue onto the front pages with its call for debt forgiveness, and since then loans have bounced in and out of the news under headlines like “crisis” and “crippling.”
Of course, there’s always two ways of looking at things. Since the college wage premium (or, more accurately, the noncollege penalty) has increased, plenty of folks have argued that college, loans and all, is still a great deal despite rising tuition, and that many students should actually be borrowing more.
That’s hard to tell an underemployed 24-year-old, but never mind. In general, our shift toward loan-driven higher ed financing is a big problem. But there’s one important, and often overlooked, way in which things have gotten better. Much better.
In this post, I want to discuss my style as a dissertation advisor. This is mainly for potential students, but I also want to start a thread on how to best advise doctoral students in sociology and related areas.
1. Statue of Liberty: With a few exceptions, I will accept any student who needs a dissertation advisor. This is a personal decision on my part. In my career, I’ve been in institutions where students couldn’t find advisers. It’s a problem when faculty get too picky about who they take on and a few advisers get saddles with most of the load. I will not contribute to the problem. The exceptions to the Statue of Liberty policy are where (a) the student is really having academic problems; I’ve never been able to help these students as much as I have tried and (b) you happen to be in a specialty where having an non-specialist advisor will really create problems for you.
2. Even though I accept the masses, I have a few general areas where I am most helpful: orgs/economic sociology; political sociology; education/higher education; sociology of knowlegde and science; formal methods/computational sociology. Specifically: institutional theory, networks, movements, social media, rational choice, higher education/disciplines, computational sociology. I am also developing my knowledge of health.
3. General approach I: I think it is important to tailor the CV to the student. If you want an R1 job, I will encourage publication. If you want liberal arts, we will work on your teaching CV. For policy jobs, speedy completion and showing research in a policy related area.
4. General approach II: I focus on nuts and bolts “American social science.” In other words, I like clearly stated problems, high quality data and a focus on description or inference. I don’t care if you are qualitative or quantitative. Just make it good.
5. General approach III: In general, I don’t tell people what their dissertation will be about. I do try to tell them if it is a good or bad. In other words, I don’t say “this will never work.” Instead, I’ll tell you about what’s been done, what sounds good, what might get them a job and so forth. But making a decision is what the process is about. If you want to do it, convince me!
6. General approach IV: Hands on. I believe in solving problems now rather than later. Some of my students come by all the time, others once or twice a semester. In general, I believe in constant interaction so we move students forward. For this reason, I think an open doors policy is good.
7. Philosophy of the dissertation: First, my default for most sociology students is “three chapters.” Why? The dissertation is a pedagogical exercise meant to show that the student can do research. It is not a masterpiece. Also, most students will start with articles so this is good. I note that this is a default – not a rule. If a student really needs a book format dissertation, that’s ok.
8. Dissertation quality: It is important that students be judged according to their career goals. All students must submit a good dissertation but how good can vary. The research oriented PhD student should be held to a higher standard than the student who will find non-academic work.
9. Graduation: For students oriented toward academia, article = graduation. For other students, we can start the graduation process as soon as I have two or three complete empirical chapters.
Use the comment to disucss how you approach PhD training.
The Guardian recently ran an article about Shimer College, a tiny great books college in Chicago, Illinois. Originally, the authors wanted to know why it had been ranked so low by the Department of Education. The answer is that there is a fair amount of non-completion, people leave with debt, and they don’t get great jobs. Why? Shimer College takes all kinds of students and makes them go through this unique curriculum of great books for four years. It sounds like a wonderful institution, but not one that produces the “right numbers.” It’s also a college that is very close to closing due to extremely low enrollments.
When I finished reading the article, I realized that Shimer College represented a puzzle. Normally, in a large market, like higher education, we see an explosion of organizational forms catering to different market segments. And to some extent, that’s exactly what happened in higher ed. We have research schools, tribal colleges, cosmetology schools, and an army of biblical colleges. But the liberal arts sector keeps shrinking and shrinking. Is it really all that hard to find 200 people in a nation of 300 million that wants the free wheeling inquiry of Shimer College?
Here’s my solution to the issue. Start with the observation that there’s a negative association between price and risk tolerance. When college is cheap, people will try out all kinds of college experiences. As it becomes more expensive and tied to the labor market, there is a huge pressure for conformity. You get diversity when there is a strong social identity supporting an institution (e.g., ethnicity or religion) or when students simply can’t be shoe horned into existing structures (e.g., cosmetology students don’t need football stadiums). Thus, liberal arts schools exist only for a market segment that (a) needs the four year credential, (b) really, really doesn’t want the standard package offered by the big universities, and (c) has the cash to pay for such a specialized service. You also have some liberal arts schools that are bankrolled by others (e.g., Deep Springs or Berea). You probably get down to a few thousand students per year at most and there is stiff competition for their money. And as prices keep going up, the market gets smaller.
So yes, there are probably tons of students who would love the liberal arts education, but not many who would pay the full sticker price. I hope that people can create a model where you bring people back to this type of education at a more reasonable price.