Quick Takes – Alabama NMFs, recruited athletes at top colleges, & surplus of college professors

by Grace

—  240 NMFs in the freshman class this fall at the University of Alabama

This report comes from a CollegeConfidential thread that mentions last year’s number was 182 National Merit Finalists.  The bad news is that Alabama recently downsized its NMF scholarship to pay for only one year of housing instead of four as it previously did.  And instead of a laptop, the package now includes an iPad.  It’s still a sweet deal, however.

Related:  University of Alabama scholarships – Roll Tide! (Cost of College)

—  ‘Recruited athletes make up 20 percent of the class’ at most top colleges.

Like other hooked students, recruited athletes get a boost in their chances for admission.

Like it or not, 40 percent of the class at most top colleges are reserved for “hooked” kids — the largest group is generally recruited athletes (up to 20 percent), the rest are legacies, underrepresented minorities, development cases (donors) and V.I.P.’s (famous people’s kids). It’s hard for me to say legacy preferences are not fair because the truth is that the process isn’t fair and legacies take up a relatively minor percentage of the class (typically 10 percent).

Their boost? Generally only two to four times the general admissions odds. To put this in perspective, for a school that has a 15 percent admission rate, legacies might get in at 35 percent, but recruited athletes are more like 80 percent and minorities closer to 90 percent (at least for African-Americans and native Americans).
Athletes Are the Problem (New York Times)

—  The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors.

Writing in the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell suggests that the online higher education trend may lead to a surplus of some types of college professors.

A great consolidation of personnel must be the result of this technological shift. Once courses are online, best practices will emerge. The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors. Network effects will bring a stampede of students to the courses of the best universities. Students will abandon even excellent professors at excellent universities to learn code-writing the “MIT way” or the “Stanford way”, if they believe that is the idiom their future bosses are most likely to speak in.

In his essay Caldwell also makes the point that one way for online schools to become profitable is a variation on the “bait and switch” tactic.  Many courses are free now, but that will can change at some point.

… It is wiser not to start charging until habits, dependencies and institutional ruts have made online education indispensable.


8 Comments to “Quick Takes – Alabama NMFs, recruited athletes at top colleges, & surplus of college professors”

  1. I can see where MOOCs are more likely to capture the elite students. Related to this, Minerva is seeking them.

    The idea is to scoop up those students who are being shut out, whether it’s a smart American kid who has to opt for a solid state school when they had their heart set on Brown, or the child of a well-to-do family in Beijing, by offering them a great education and a worldwide network of contacts.



  2. I didn’t realize support of MOOCs was a “conservative” position. But I do get that many academics oppose it.


  3. “Teaching programming is very much like teaching writing.”

    Teaching organic chemistry is a lot like teaching writing too. There are several plausible synthetic routes depending on starting materials and equipment at hand. Things, go wrong, why do they wrong? How do you navigate hundreds of years of scientific literature and put together coherent thoughts?

    Speaking as a conservative prof, a lot of this talk of mooc’s and web-based course delivery taking over higher ed is a form of wishful, folksy anti-intellectualism. Their idea of learning is arithmetic and memorizing times tables. Can’t we get rid of them eggheads and use the web?

    Remote course delivery has been around since the invention of writing. Then radio, film, TV, copying machines, VCR’s, DVD’s etc all augmented remote learning. Nothing has replaced in-person instantaneous feedback from a well trained and educated human mind. Granted learning lesser mechanical skills can be done by mooc’s but no one well learn how to implement the entire scientific method by mooc.

    If distance learning can replace in person contact, then I wonder why industry flies me around the world for consulting? We can do it by web, but they prefer if I am there. Can we do legislation, legal court proceedings, political conventions by internet? Perhaps more successfully than doing higher ed by mooc.


  4. “Honestly, I think the prediction that the model will end up changing corporate training is probably closest to the mark.”

    That is a very good point. With normal online or self-paced students, the problem is that their rate of progress often goes to zero, because there’s no deadline or penalty or actual human being to disappoint. It seems like it would have a much higher chance of succeeding when there’s some sort of external motivation–like you need to pass the course to keep your job or get promoted. That certainly increases the motivation for cheating, though.

    With regard to conservatives vs. liberals, it certainly makes a difference that academics and aspiring academics are generally liberals these days. When discussing changes in higher education, It’s their rice bowl that is in jeopardy.


  5. By the way, programs get checked electronically? I know that when my husband teaches logic, the logic assignments are checked electronically.


  6. While science and engineering professors do tend to be more conservative on average than humanities faculty, we do span the full gamut of political ideologies. On the whole, though, engineering faculty tend to be more pragmatic than humanities faculty, so the more extreme positions on the left or right are rarer among engineering faculty.

    Of course, I’m at UCSC, which has a reputation for being somewhat more left wing than most campuses, in a community that is a bit more liberal than most of California, so the engineering faculty here may not be representative of the faculty nationwide.


  7. My take is that both liberals and conservatives have fallen in love with the prospect of online education, both for the potential they believe it holds and for cost savings. Arne Duncan has been quite vocal in promoting online education, both K-12 and college, as an important way to keep costs down.


  8. So writing, computer science, and organic chemistry are some of the subjects that do not lend themselves to online learning? Which subjects DO work for online education?

    I have read a few pieces, including some written by writing instructors, that argue online writing instruction can be very effective. I can see where it could be, with digital feedback, online discussions, and video chats working very well.


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