Archive for February, 2013

February 28, 2013

‘The smart high school grad no longer just picks a school, borrows money and wings it.’

by Grace

Mark Cuban gives advice to high school students on the importance of preparing a “college value plan”.

Unless your parents are wealthy or you quality for a full ride or something close, the days of picking a school because that is the school you always wanted to go to are gone.

The class of 2014 and beyond now has to prepare a college value plan. What classes are you going to take online that enables you to get the most credits for the least cost. What classes are you going to take at a local, low-cost school so you can get additional credits at the lowest cost.

A major hurdle is that this requires “the smart student who cares about getting their money’s worth from college” to exercise “personal discipline”.

Then, with your freshman and sophomore classes out-of-the-way, you can start to figure out which school you would like to transfer to , or two years from now, which online classes you can take that challenge you and prepare you for the areas you want to focus on. If you have the personal discipline you may be able to avoid ever having to step on a campus and graduating with a good degree and miracle of miracles, no debt.

For the smart student who cares about getting their money’s worth from college, the days of one school for four years are over. The days of taking on big debt (to the tune of 1 TRILLION DOLLARS as I write this ) are gone. Going to a 4 year school is supposed to be the foundation from which you create a future, not the transaction that crushes everything you had hoped to do because you have more debt than you could possibly pay off in 10 years. It makes no sense.

Slackers without wealthy parents do not fare well in this scenario.

Cuban still believes in college.

College is where you find out about yourself. It’s where you learn how to learn. It’s where you get exposure to new ideas. For those of us who are into business you learn the languages of business, accounting, finance, marketing and sales in college.

The question is not whether or not you should go to school, the question for the class of 2014 is what is your college plan and what is the likelihood that your college or university you attend will still be in business by the time you want to graduate.

He compares the newspaper business to higher education, and he sees a shakeout with schools that do not adapt falling by the wayside.

The newspaper industry was once deemed indestructible. Then this thing called the internet came along and took away their classified business. The problem wasn’t really that their classifieds disappeared. It was more that they had accumulated a ton of debt and had over invested in physical plant and assets that could not adapt to the new digital world.

For newspapers, higher education, and many other industries, the old ways no longer work.

Related:  Nathan Harden’s take on the big changes ahead for higher education (Cost of College)

February 27, 2013

Quick Links – Why women talk more than men; only 1 in 5 passed AP tests; most think accuracy in textbooks is secondary to political correctness

by Grace

◊◊◊  Why Women Talk More Than Men: Language Protein Uncovered (Science World Report)

You know all the times that men complain about women talking too much? Apparently there’s a biological explanation for the reason why women are chattier than men. Scientists have discovered that women possess higher levels of a “language protein” in their brains, which could explain why females are so talkative.

Previous research has shown that women talk almost three times as much as men. In fact, an average woman notches up 20,000 words in a day, which is about 13,000 more than the average man. In addition, women generally speak more quickly and devote more brainpower to speaking. Yet before now, researchers haven’t been able to biologically explain why this is the case.

Now, they can. New findings conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and published in The Journal of Neuroscience show that a certain protein may be the culprit.

◊◊◊  1 in 5 Passed Advanced Placement Tests (New York Times)

Nearly a third of the nation’s 2012 public high school graduates took at least one of the College Board’s Advanced Placement tests, according to the program’s annual report on Wednesday. Nearly one in five got a passing score — three or more, out of five — on one of the 34 subject exams. Last year was the first time in a decade that the average exam score increased from the previous year. The share of students earning at least a 3 also rose for the first time in that period, and the 14.2 percent earning a top score of five was also the highest in the decade.

This is not good news.  Schools are using precious resources to teach classes where only 20% of students get passing grades.  Apparently the course work is too demanding (or instruction is inadequate) for 80% of these students.  The other side to this argument is that it is a good thing to expose more students to the rigorous AP curriculum.

CORRECTION:  I misinterpreted the AP test article, which actually reports that 1 in 5 of all high school students (not just those who took the AP tests) got a passing score.  Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out!

◊◊◊  59% Think Most School Textbooks Put Political Correctness Ahead of Accuracy

Voters continue to believe that political correctness trumps accuracy in most school textbooks. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 16% of Likely U.S. Voters think most school textbooks are more concerned about accurately providing information. That’s down from 27% in March 2010. Fifty-nine percent (59%) think most textbooks are chiefly concerned with presenting information in a politically correct manner, consistent with attitudes for the past three years. Twenty-five percent (25%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Count me among that 59%.

February 26, 2013

Colleges with highest percentages of students receiving merit aid

by Grace

Top 10 merit aid colleges for the 2011-12 school year as compiled by US News & World Report


… Merit aid may be awarded for outstanding academic achievement or for other reasons not tied to academics….

On average, 13 percent of students who had no financial need received some amount of merit grants or scholarships for the 2011-2012 school year, according to data reported by 1,084 colleges to U.S. News in the 2012 annual survey.

The top ten list of schools includes some highly ranked institutions.  Unfortunately, Cooper Union may soon end its free tuition policy due to a “dire budgetary situation“.  Rhodes College in Memphis is one of the Colleges That Change Lives.

The entire list of “colleges that report the highest percentage of their students in the 2011-2012 academic year who “had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid” excluding athletic awards and tuition benefits” can be found on the US News website.  You may want to check it out, especially if you do not expect to qualify for need-based aid.  Be sure to check details like criteria used in selecting recipients and average merit award amounts.

February 25, 2013

Carnegie Mellon University – an example of transparency in financial aid policies

by Grace

Carnegie Mellon University is unusually transparent in sharing information on how financial aid is awarded.  First, it is clear that awards always incorporate a financial need component.

Carnegie Mellon provides qualified students with need-based institutional grants and scholarships to help fund the expenses of college. Grants and scholarships are considered to be ‘gift aid,’ meaning that neither amount has to be paid back.

Additional details

… Grants are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need….

Carnegie Mellon offers the Carnegie Scholarship which is a joint need- and merit-based scholarship….

Basic principles

Carnegie Mellon’s financial assistance program is designed to meet our dual goal of helping prospective students who have demonstrated financial need afford the cost of education and rewarding those students who have outstanding talents and abilities. Need-based financial assistance is used to enroll high-quality students. Highest quality students will receive the most favorable financial assistance packages.

CMU is open about their policy of reviewing offers from competing schools and their use of statistical modeling.

We have been open about our willingness to review financial aid awards to compete with certain private institutions for students admitted under the regular decision plan. Unlike most institutions, the university states these principles openly to those offered first-year admission under the regular decision plan. While early decision students are not eligible to participate in this aid review process, we will meet their full demonstrated need as calculated by the university.

We use statistical modeling as an aid in the distribution of limited financial aid dollars. It is a strategic tool that helps us pursue our goal of increasing the quality of the student body while using our resources as effectively as possible. This modeling takes into account a student’s intended college major, academic and artistic talents, non-academic talents and abilities, as well as financial need. This approach to awarding financial aid is unique to Carnegie Mellon and has not been developed with the aid of any outside consultants.

Here are some of frequently asked questions about financial aid.

The answer to the last question makes it clear that students are allowed to “stack” outside scholarships on top of financial aid awarded by CMU.

Related:  Maximizing college revenue through financial aid allocation (Cost of College)

February 22, 2013

Maximizing college revenue through financial aid allocation

by Grace

How are college financial aid decisions made?  Some insight can be gleaned from a paper presented at the 2007 Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference – Deriving Financial Aid Optimization Models from Admissions Data.

… Financial aid is used to achieve a number of enrollment objectives, including diversifying the student population, attracting strong students, and maximizing tuition revenue. While financial aid generally positively affects applicant enrollment decisions, the effect on the probability of enrollment varies across applicants….

Schools obtain as much information as possible from each applicant as this helps them predict how a particular student will react to a given level of financial aid offered.  Schools gather data such as grades, test scores, financial resources, intended major, caliber of high school, extracurriculars, etc.

The expected tuition revenue from any given applicant who has been offered a particular amount of financial aid can be obtained by multiplying the probability of enrollment by the revenue obtained at that financial aid level. As the financial aid increases, the probability of enrollment increases but the tuition revenue decreases. So for each applicant there will be a financial aid offer that maximizes the expected revenue from that student. Our objective is to offer each student the amount of financial aid that maximizes tuition revenue, subject to capacity constraints. Developing such an optimization model requires first developing a predictive model that can determine for any given student the probability of enrollment for each level of financial aid offered.

The graph might look like this for a particular student, with a typically nonlinear relationship between probability of enrollment and financial aid.


Multiplying this curve by the linear relationship between percentage revenue and percentage financial aid generates the expected revenue at each level of financial aid.

For this particular applicant, the maximum expected revenue occurs when 50% financial aid is offered.


They’ve got your number, so to speak.

The goal is to get the most tuition revenue from the existing pool of applicants.  Here’s how Mark Kantrowitz described the sophisticated enrollment management techniques colleges use to attract desirable students and maximize revenue.

“A lot of it is done by computer programs to calculate how much aid they need to offer to each student so they can get the maximum number of desirable students without going over their financial aid budget,” says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and

Many regional and religious colleges, he says, also try to “optimize their revenue” by offering partial scholarships to the students who can pay the rest of the tuition — even “B” students with an SAT verbal and math score of 1200 or less. Caution: You’ll have to maintain a grade-point average of about 2.7 to 3.0 to renew most scholarships after your first year.

February 21, 2013

There is little evidence that increased education spending drives economic growth

by Grace

JONAH GOLDBERG: Education is important and necessary for a host of reasons. But there’s little evidence it drives growth.

Questioning whether increased education spending is really the key to “winning the future”

British scholar Alison Wolf writes in “Does Education Matter?”: “The simple one-way relationship … — education spending in, economic growth out — simply does not exist. Moreover, the larger and more complex the education sector, the less obvious any links to productivity.”

Nasim Taleb, author of “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” argues that education pays real benefits at a micro level because it allows families to lock in their economic status. An entrepreneurial father can ensure his kids will do OK by paying for them to become doctors and lawyers. But what is true at the micro level is not always true at the macro level.

Think about it this way: Growing economies spend a lot on education, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that spending makes them grow. During the so-called Gilded Age, the U.S. economy roared faster and longer than ever before or since, while the illiteracy rate went down. But the rising literacy didn’t cause the growth. Similarly, in the 20th century, in places like China, South Korea and India, the economic boom — and the policies that create it — always come first while the investments in education come later.

Jarrett Skorup looks at higher education spending.

There is no link between higher education subsidies and economic growth, and none between college degrees and job creation.

Since 1980, Michigan has spent a much higher proportion of personal income on state government support for higher education than nearby states like Illinois and Ohio. According to Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, by the year 2000, the Mitten State was spending the sixth most in the country (2.34 percent of its personal income), double what Illinois was spending and much more than Ohio. This did not lead to higher growth as Michigan’s economy performed among the worst in the country during that time period.

And states with a higher proportion of college graduates do not necessarily grow by adding more college degrees. A comparison of the number of state residents with a college degree with per capital income growth from 2000-2008 yields no correlation.

James M. Hohman of the  Mackinac Center for Public Policy sees “no correlation between a state increasing its college graduate base and growing its economy”.


If the hypothesis promoted by Glazer and the lobbyists engaged by Michigan’s tax-supported public universities was correct, the various points on this chart would be clustered around an upward sloping line, as states with higher growth in the number of grads also enjoyed relative improvements in income. However, no such trend line exists.

Another chart that built in a lag time also showed no correlation.

… The chart below compares state grad growth between 2000 and 2005 and income growth in the three succeeding years; once again no pattern can be detected.


So many factors enter into economic growth, making it believable that education spending would not be a driving factor.

February 20, 2013

Quick Links – Obama on education; stereotyping boys; chimps have better working memories than those of humans

by Grace

◊◊◊  Obama on education in State of Union address (Washington Post)

Universal ‘high-quality’ preschool

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.  Let’s give our kids that chance.

High-tech curriculum for high schools

…  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Link higher education federal aid with ‘affordability and value’

Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid….

College Scorecard

…  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

◊◊◊  “..the study found that stereotypes seemed to be holding boys back.” (Dr. Helen at PJ Media)

Boys may be suffering from stereotype threat.

The belief that girls are brainier and better behaved is holding boys back at school, research suggests.

A study of British pupils found that, from a young age, children think girls are academically superior.

And, what’s more, they believe that adults think so too….

And by the age of seven, boys shared the belief that they were naughtier and did less well at school. Follow-up questions showed the children thought that adults had similar expectations.

The second part of the study found that stereotypes seemed to be holding boys back…

Study co-author Dr Robbie Sutton said: ‘Our study suggests that by counteracting the stereotypes in the classroom – wherever they might have come from originally – we can help boys do better.’

Noncognitive skills come into play in boys’ poor school performance.

This reminds me of the study I found on girls taking over at college. In it the researchers state:

One source of the persistent female advantage in K–12 school performance and the new female lead in college attainment is the higher incidence of behavioral problems (or lower level of noncognitive skills) among boys. Boys have a much higher incidence than do girls of school disciplinary and behavior problems, and spend far fewer hours doing homework (Jacob, 2002).

Are boys’ poor behavior and low academic performance partly due to low expectations?  Dr. Helen wonders if teachers tend to use grades to punish boys since other discipline options are more limited.  A related aspect is that much of early academic success may hinge on noncognitive and literacy skills, which boys tend to develop later than girls.

  Working memory of chimpanzees is ‘far better’ than that of humans

Chimpanzees can far outperform humans in some mental tasks, including rapidly memorising and recalling numbers, Japanese scientists have shown.

A good working memory is needed to survive in the wild.

Prof Matsuzawa, who combines the study of wild chimpanzees in west Africa with research using the captive colony in Kyoto, said such a good working memory – the ability to take in an accurate, detailed image of a complex scene or pattern – was an important survival tool in the wild.

For example, the apes can quickly assess and remember the distribution of edible fruit in a forest canopy. Or, when two rival bands of chimpanzees encounter one another, they can assess the strength of the rival group and decide whether to fight or flee.

Memory of chimps ‘far better than human’ (Financial Times)

February 19, 2013

A warning to petroleum engineering students

by Grace

In the wake of a one-year jump of 55% in the number of U.S. petroleum engineering freshman students, it was reported that Texas A&M sent a letter to incoming students advising them to be realistic about future job growth.

Dear Admitted Aggie PETE Applicant,

The Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University, is pleased that you applied and were admitted to our top ranked petroleum engineering program. If you pursue a degree in petroleum engineering, our program is committed to providing the highest quality education available.

Recent data suggests that some concern about the sustainability of the entry level job market during a time of explosive growth in the number of students studying petroleum engineering in U.S. universities may be prudent.

Our advice is that you become aware of graduation projections and petroleum industry employment outlook for people with petroleum engineering degrees. For example, between fall 2011 and fall 2012, the number of freshmen in petroleum engineering programs in the U.S. increased from 1,388 to 2,153, a 55% jump in one year. Based on the many inquiries and applications TAMU is receiving for the petroleum engineering major, the number of U.S. students in petroleum engineering will probably continue a strong upward trend, as long as the employment market remains stable. These days, a very large number of people are already studying in petroleum engineering programs (see attachment, showing data made available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers, SPE), at a time when: the number of recent graduates, who began their studies several years ago, is already at about historical highs and growing rapidly (see attachment); our program’s board of industry advisors are recommending that we “do not grow” our undergraduate program at this time; and oil and natural gas price projections and expectations of U.S. governmental policy influences are viewed as not particularly encouraging by the U.S. petroleum industry.

We are not trying to discourage you from a career that we think is among the most fascinating, dynamic, challenging careers that exist. However, we also want you to know that the Aggie PETE program is doing the right thing by providing you with information that could end up being important to your future.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 annual median pay for a petroleum engineer was $114,080, while the number of jobs in the ten-year period ending 2020 is expected to grow 17%.

Rig count numbers track oil well activity and serve as an indication of petroleum industry jobs.


I graduated with a degree in geology in 1977, which turned out to be accidentally fortuitous timing.  And it’s no surprise that I left the business around 1986, as did many geologists, petroleum engineers, and other industry workers.

Related:  Don’t pick a college major based on today’s hot jobs (Cost of College)

February 18, 2013

Newly released College Scorecard is ‘not a game-changer’

by Grace

Most reviewers are underwhelmed by the Obama adminstration’s new College Scorecard intended to help families compare schools and learn ” where you can get the most bang for your educational buck”.

The scorecard is “not a game-changer as much as the administration would like to believe,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of colleges and universities.

What’s in the Scorecard?

Average Net Price: What an undergraduate student pays after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the institution’s listed cost of attendance.

Graduation Rate: Number of students who graduate within six years at four-year institutions and three years at two-year institutions.

Loan Default Rate: Percentage of students who default within three years of entering repayment.

Median Borrowing: The median amount borrowed by undergraduate students.

Employment: Information about postgraduate employment and salaries is self-reported by institutions. [not yet available]

The data is not recent and already available elsewhere.

But some of the data in the new scorecard is a few years old, and most of it has been available from other sources, notably the federal government’s own College Navigator site. Further, the information is presented as averages and medians that might have little relevance to individual families. The scorecard does connect to each institution’s net price calculator, which allows individualized cost estimates, but it does not provide side-by-side comparisons of multiple schools, as other government sites do.

A good starting point

Like many other resources for families deciding on higher education, the College Scorecard is a good starting point.  The most time-consuming part of the college search is typically in uncovering details about departments, teaching, career preparation, personalized costs, campus culture, and other aspects that are not easily packaged in scorecard fashion and are often inscrutable to the typical applicant.

Related:  New web tool shows salary data broken out by college and major (Cost of College)

February 15, 2013

‘Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for robotics’

by Grace

In Minnesota, high school robotics teams now outnumber boys’ hockey teams.

An explosion in the popularity of high school robotics teams has suddenly made it chic to be geek.

Robotics team members are getting varsity letters and patches, being paraded before school assemblies like other sports stars and seeing trophies in the same lobby display cases as their football, basketball or baseball counterparts. . . .

A telling statistic: For the first time ever, there are more varsity robotics teams than there are boys’ varsity hockey teams in the state. There are 156 high school boys’ hockey teams and 180 robotics teams, up from 153 last year, according to the Minnesota State High School League.

The number of robotics teams in the state is expected to surpass 200 soon, growing from just two in 2006.  Tournaments spur teamwork and a sense of competition, particularly valuable for students who may not have a chance to gain that experience through sports.

“Minnesota is becoming a Mecca for robotics,” said Joe Passofaro, one of the mentors/coaches for the Prior Lake High School robotics team, which won the state championship last year. “We’re getting a group here that is coming onto the world scene.”

High school robotics helps lay the groundwork for STEM studies in college.

The University of Minnesota is already starting to see ripple effects. In 2008, two years after the first robotics teams appeared, 12 students with robotics team experience enrolled at the university’s College of Science and Engineering. Last year that number had grown to 76.

Apparently, there is some disagreement on whether we need more STEM graduates:

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