Archive for December, 2014

December 31, 2014

Rising numbers of PhDs but declining career prospects

by Grace

Universities are awarding doctoral degrees at an accelerating pace, despite the fact that the career prospects of those who receive their Ph.D.s appear to be worsening.

That dichotomy is among the starker findings of the annual data on doctorate recipients from the National Science Foundation, drawn from a survey sponsored by the foundation and other federal agencies and conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The data may for some reinforce the idea that institutions are turning out more Ph.D. recipients than can be absorbed, at least in some fields.

American universities awarded 52,760 doctorates in 2013, up 3.5 percent from nearly 50,977 in 2012 and nearly 8 percent from 48,903 in 2011….

Higher uncertainty about post-graduate employment

The numbers suggest that more people are seeking terminal degrees and that universities are welcoming them with open arms — but the data on what the Ph.D. holders do with their new degrees raise questions about whether the credentials will pay off for the individuals themselves, at least in the short term.

Just 62.7 of doctorate recipients in 2013 had what the survey defines as a “definite commitment” of employment or further study, down sharply from the usual rate over the last 20 years, as seen in the chart below.

20141228.COCDoctoratesFewerJobs1

This comment points out that smart people sometimes don’t seem understand the economics of supply and demand.

Anyone considering starting a PhD should first take undergraduate economics 101 – particularly the bit on supply and demand. This article could be used as a case study.

It is bewildering that smart people choose to do PhDs in fields that have limited employment opportunities – and then complain about how hard it is to get a tenure track job.

Related:  “Hypereducated poor people have not learned the lesson of self-sufficiency”

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Doug Lederman, “Doctorates Up, Career Prospects Not”, Inside Higher Ed, December 8, 2014.

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December 30, 2014

How will the new federal college rating system affect higher education?

by Grace

Beginning next year, colleges and universities will be judged on three broad criteria when it comes to meting out federal financial aid: access, affordability and student outcomes, according to a new “framework” released by the Education Department.

Public input on the new framework will be accepted until February 17.

Schools could be rated on a sliding scale, from “high performers” to “in the middle” to “low performers,” based on such indicators as whether they meet a certain average net price, graduation and student loan repayment rates, and whether graduates get a job in the field they studied.

Measuring employment outcomes can be complicated.

One of the most controversial ideas that’s been debated is some kind of jobs measure. This framework includes two different examples: What percentage of students have a job, say, six months after graduation? And what are their median earnings long-term?

The administration says it will collect and present this labor market information in a way that is “sensitive to educational, career, work force and other variables.” In other words, a divinity school won’t be dinged because its graduates are pastors with low salaries.

Two other possibilities on the list for outcomes are grad-school attendance rates, and loan-repayment rates. That last metric has already been put into place as the “gainful employment rule” for for-profit colleges, which are suing to stop it.

What are the chances that once the metrics are in place, schools will try to find ways to game the system?  For example, will they push students to enroll in graduate school so they can be put into the “successful outcome” category?  Will standards for graduation decline?

Related:  ‘Gainful employment rules are applied unequally to colleges’

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Scott Neuman, “Education Dept. Issues Framework For New College Rating System”, NPR, December 19, 2014.

Anya Kamentz, “New Federal College Ratings Will Consider Aid, Total Cost, Employment”, NPR, December 19, 2014.

December 29, 2014

A New York high school diploma is too easy to attain

by Grace

What’s the point of helping students graduate from high school if that doesn’t prepare them for college and career success?  This question arises from a study seeking ways to improve the public schools in Yonkers, New York.

The holy grail for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.

But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success….

But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.

“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”

The study, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, found the utterly predictable “strong link between poverty and students’ readiness for college”.

Class size doesn’t matter.

While some study results were not surprising, other findings contradict conventional wisdom by showing that “class size and per-pupil spending” have little correlation to student readiness for college.

New York high school graduation standards are too low.

A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. Students need to pass only one Regents exam in math, for instance, to earn a Regents diploma. Because of the way the state curves its algebra exam, a student could get a 65 “passing” score on the June 2013 exam by earning only 34 percent of all points on the test.

“The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”

The next challenge will be finding the elusive best practices in high-performing schools and then implementing them in the low-performing schools.

The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.

“We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”

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Gary Stern, “Statistics show poverty’s impact on student success”, Journal News, December 20, 2014.

Bud Kroll, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, Yonkers Partners in Education, YPIE Research Report 14-01, May 2014.

December 25, 2014

French school lunches are fit for a holiday meal

by Grace

What are you having for dinner this Christmas Day?  This sounds like a wonderful holiday meal:  endive salad with herbal vinaigrette, roast veal, pureed butternut squash, emmental cheese, and vanilla flan with caramel sauce for dessert.

But wait, this delicious meal is what a Paris student eats for lunch on a typical school day.

Nina Camic happened to see a lunch schedule posted on the side of a school during a recent trip to Paris.

20141121.COCParisSchoolLunch1

I won’t translate the whole thing, but the ministry has proclaimed that today, for example (“Mardi”), children from age 3 through 10 shall eat: a salad of chopped endive for starters, along with chinese cabbage with an herbal vinaigrette, then they will proceed to roast veal with a puree of butternut squash (which shall be organic), this will be followed by two cheeses — emmental and mimolette (the latter, btw, was banned by our FDA because of the way it is manufactured — the rind depends on some mite activity and the FDA appears not to like that), and finally, there seems to be a choice of two desserts — a flan, either chocolate, or vanilla with caramel sauce. This is the main meal of the day for French kids. Supper at home is a light and simple affair.

Enjoy your holiday meal today!

December 24, 2014

The ‘deadweight loss of Christmas’

by Grace

If you’re still trying to find last-minute Christmas gifts, maybe you should relax and consider that there is a sound economic reason to give cash.  Gift-giving creates what economist Joel Waldfogel called the “deadweight loss of Christmas”, which is the monetary loss that arises from people making bad gift choices for other people.

In a 1993 American Economic Review article “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas,” Yale economist Joel Waldfogel concluded that holiday gift-giving destroys a significant portion of the retail value of the gifts given. Reason? The best outcome that gift-givers can achieve is to duplicate the choices that the gift-recipient would have made on his or her own with the cash-equivalent of the gift. In reality, it’s highly certain that many gifts given will not perfectly match the recipient’s own preferences. In those cases, the recipient will be worse off with the sub-optimal gift selected by the gift-giver than if the recipient was given cash and allowed to choose his or her own gift. Because many Christmas gifts are mismatched with the preferences of the recipients, Waldfogel concludes that holiday gift-giving generates a significant economic “deadweight loss” of between one-tenth and one-third of the retail value of the gifts purchased.

Gift cards may be cutting into the deadweight loss.

The real drag on the economy then isn’t gifts; it’s bad gifts. And Mr. Waldfogel cheers the rise of the gift card as a substitute for the bad gift: Something you can buy your niece or grandson when you have no idea what they actually like.

“What’s interesting about gift cards is that they are a lot like cash but have emerged as a way to give the choice to the recipient without the ickiness of cash,” he says. In other words, the deadweight loss problem he identified in 1993 may be on the wane because of a technological advance.

On the other hand, it is estimated that between 10 to 30 percent of gift cards are never used.

What’s not mentioned is the pleasure experienced from giving and receiving presents.  It’s hard to put a price on that, and we should remember that it’s the thought that counts!

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Mark J. Perry, “Holiday shopping? Consider the most economically efficient gift of all: cash, and avoid the deadweight loss of Christmas”, Carpe Diem, December 17, 2014.

Josh Barro, “An Economist Goes Christmas Shopping”, New York Times, December 19, 2014.
DEC. 19, 2014.

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December 23, 2014

A Marshall Plan for higher education?

by Grace

In consideration of “the sky-high unemployment rate of recent graduates” and soaring student debt levels fueld by clueless students, Victor Davis Hanson proposes a Marshall Plan for higher education.

… There should be a Marshall Plan on campuses to advise and help students in their second and third years about post-graduate employment. Financial counselors should warn students when their tuition debt reaches unsustainable levels. One would think university counselors early on would mandate consultations with students on job preparation, faculty would mentor students about job opportunities, and in general the employment rates of recent graduates would be well-publicized. What sort of business hikes its charges while lowering the quality of its product? Answer: one that is subsidized by the government.

Whoa!  If expansive government intervention is considered detrimental, then a Marshall Plan seems like overkill as an attempt to help solve today’s problems in higher education.  Although the Marshall Plan may be favorably viewed by most people, a credible counter argument is that its sterling reputation is in fact “a modern myth”.

… there is no convincing evidence that the Marshall Plan caused Europe’s growth. For instance, U.S. assistance never exceeded 5% of the GDP of the recipient nations. As Cowen points out, “The assistance totals were minuscule compared to the growth that occurred in the 1950s.”

Moreover, receipt of aid did not track with economic recovery. France, Germany and Italy began to grow before the onset of the Marshall Plan, while Austria and Greece expanded slowly until near the program’s end. Great Britain, the largest aid recipient, performed most poorly.

Far more important for Europe’s growth was policy reform….

The Marshall Plan may have been a generous act, but that doesn’t mean it spurred Europe’s recovery. The real lesson of the Marshall Plan is that entrepreneurial culture, legal stability and free markets are necessary for economic success. Liberty, not money, is the key to prosperity.

In which case the better solution may be for the government to take a smaller role in helping finance college.  Maybe growing subsidies are actually hurting the low-income students they are intended to help.

It’s not just that many colleges and universities are bleeding taxpayers. The government’s overall strategy to subsidize higher education is failing at its core task: providing less privileged Americans with a real shot at a college degree. Alarmingly, it is burdening low-income students with risks they cannot bear and steering them into low-quality educations.

A Marshall Plan initiative for today’s college woes could easily become a bureaucratic, costly fiasco with unintended consequences that cause more harm than good.

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Victor Davis Hanson, “The Campus as California”, PJ Media, December 14, 2014.

December 22, 2014

Will a nurse soon replace your general practitioner doctor?

by Grace

According to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writing in The Week, some types of doctors will soon become as rare as the “dodo bird”.

… look at the future of the general practitioner of medicine. This is considered the epitome of the high-skilled, secure, remunerative job. Four years of college! Four years of medical school! Internship! Residency! Government-protected cartel membership!

And yet, this profession is going the way of the dodo bird.

To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

Then you need to look at companies like Theranos, which allow you to get a blood test cheaply and easily at Walgreens, and get more information about your health than you’d get in a typical doctor’s visit.

A nurse and a computer will replace the “general practitioner”.

But, you say, we won’t be able to get rid of the human general practitioner absolutely. People will still need human judgment, and the human touch.

You are right — absolutely right. But the human we need is someone with training closer to a nurse’s than a doctor’s, and augmented by the right software, would be both cheaper and more effective than a doctor. You might pay a monthly subscription to be able to treat this person as your family “doctor” — although most of your interaction would be with software via an app. They’d be better than a doctor, too — trained in general wellness and prevention, and being able to refer you to specialists if need be.

Related:  ‘Nurse practitioners are projected to nearly double in number by 2025’

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Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, “How computers will replace your doctor”, The Week, December 15, 2014.

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December 19, 2014

‘To-do lists are evil’

by Grace

Since I am a slave to my to-do lists, the first item on this list of tips to help you “be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m” made me stop and think.

  1. To-do lists are evil. Schedule everything.
  2. Assume you’re going home at 5:30, then plan your day backwards.
  3. Make a plan for the entire week.
  4. Do very few things, but be awesome at them.
  5. Do less shallow work — focus on the deep stuff.

Here’s more on the evil of to-do lists.

To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why?

It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.

Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.

Instead of making a list, schedule your tasks.

Scheduling forces you to confront the reality of how much time you actually have and how long things will take. Now that you look at the whole picture you’re able to get something productive out of every free hour you have in your workday. You not only squeeze more work in but you’re able to put work into places where you can do it best.

Yes, this makes sense!  But it means I would have to put more thought into my planning.  Instead of thoughtlessly listing the things I want to accomplish, I would have to think about how many hours are available that day.  It’s a little more work, but if it became a habit it would be easy.

All these tips come from “insanely productive” Cal Newport:

  1. He has a full-time job as a professor at Georgetown University, teaching classes and meeting with students.
  2. He writes six (or more) peer-reviewed academic journal papers per year.
  3. He’s the author of four books including the wonderful So Good They Can’t Ignore You. And he’s at work on a fifth.
  4. He’s married with a young child and handles all the responsibilities that come with being a husband and dad.
  5. He blogs regularly about productivity and expert performance.

And yet he finishes work at 5:30 p.m. every day and rarely works weekends.

He must be doing something right!

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Eric Barker, “How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.”, The Week, September 18, 2014.

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December 18, 2014

Informed consumers put pressure on rising college costs

by Grace

For the first time in years, the rise in tuition at many colleges is expected to be below the rate of inflation.

Today’s college students are more aware and informed about rising costs and financial aid, and more sensitive to price. That’s going to put ongoing pressure on the whole higher education industry’s finances, according to a Moody’s report (paywall) which gave a gloomy outlook for the whole sector.

A severe version of this is putting major pressure on US law schools, which are actively competing on tuition (paywall) for students, slashing faculty, or closing altogether. Since the 1970s, US tuition costs for undergraduate and graduate degrees have climbed to historic highs. But tuition hikes have slowed substantially as the number of schools have grown, spurring more competition.

This year, a far greater number of the graduate and undergraduate schools Moody’s surveyed projected under 2% tuition growth, a fraction of what we’ve seen for years, and below the cost of inflation:

20141214.COCDecliningTuitionIncreases1

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Max Nisen, ” People are getting smarter about college costs and it’s squeezing the whole industry”, Quartz, December 4, 2014.

December 17, 2014

Gifts for college students

by Grace

Do you have a college student on your gift list?

Here’s a list of “20 great holiday gifts for college students”.

This idea caught my attention.

Airplants. These super-cute, trendy plants survive on air — do not plant them in soil — and can be perched anywhere to decorate a dorm room. (Many are under $10).

20141215.COCAirPlant1

 

Holiday Gift Guide: 25 Under $25 for College Students and Young Adults

An electric kettle that boils water in a few minutes for tea or hot chocolate would probably be welcomed by almost any student.

20141216.COCElectricKettle1

 

Another idea is to give the gift of experience.  Maybe something like tickets to a concert or cooking lessons would appeal to your college student.

However, for the recipients in my life, I consider cash to be the best holiday gift for young adults.

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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, “20 great holiday gifts for college students”, CBS Moneywatch, November 24, 2014.

“Holiday Gift Guide: 25 Under $25 for College Students and Young Adults”, Grown & Flown, December 13, 2014.

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