Monday, January 9, 2012

Smackdown Opportunity

Unimaginative unoriginal douche at the Atlantic posts "question" about whether colleges should have labels! Like the nutrition labels on cereal. Because buying college is totes like buying cereal, yo!

Here's some flava:
Should each college be required to post--one-click from its homepage--externally audited consumer information for prospective students? The data might include: the percentage of freshmen that graduate in four years, the progress they make in reading and critical thinking, the employment rate and earnings for recent graduates by degree, and (as the Occupiers would approve) the actual four-year cost of school, including cash and loan financial aid, broken down by family income and assets.
He apparently wants people to weigh in on his brilliant idea, so have at it. Sporks at the ready, colleagues.

28 comments :

  1. We can see that you selfish professors don't want to provide consumer info. Apparently, you guys know that the schools and universities will be exposed (further) as producing FAR TOO MANY graduates; and charging grotesque, unjustified tuition rates.

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  2. People would read those labels as infrequently as their foods'. Show me the number of rock climbing walls, popular sororities and average RMP score!

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  3. I find it interesting that Nando's energy for bitching never, ever flags. You were really duped, weren't you. I'm sorry that happened to you. But nutritional labels would not help anybody. Despite the use of numbers, they do not portray an objective version of reality.

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  4. Nando,

    Why on earth are you here? This is an academic blog for proffies to complain about their jobs. If that's you, then get with it.

    If it's not you, go away.

    Why is this so hard?

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  5. Seems like a reasonable proposal to me.

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  6. Hi Nando. I'm the moderator here. Your earlier comments about student debt - on other posts - are certainly valid and useful in some contexts. They didn't always fit the threads, and I confess it didn't seem to me that you were enjoying your visit to CM.

    This comment, although thankfully not about "non dischargeable debt" reveals even more about you. This is probably not quite the right blog for you.

    It doesn't bother me that you think profs are selfish; certainly some are. But this is a blog where proffies talk about the misery of being a proffie. If that sounds like fun, please to enjoy - as they once said in the GOON old days.

    If not, your comments risk running up against the rules of the blog.

    It's certainly possible to be combative, but we like our violence prof on prof here.

    Best,
    RGM

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  7. Nando, I'm a current undergrad and I disagree with what you said in your post. The information is already out there on the colleges' websites. Tuition rate changes by year, graduation rates, crime rates, etc. It's all there if one looks for it and knows what to search for. If a perspective undergrad/grad student can't take the time to look for the information they need to make an informed decision then I fail to see how the institution is at fault for the student's laziness.

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  8. It is interesting to note which industries get the warning/information labels. Cigarettes, food, and now colleges. An odd mix, that's for sure. You would think table saws, lawn darts and frozen street lamps would have labels showing the number of injuries (figures cut off, impalements and frozen tongues, respectively) before we'd be concerned with college graduation rates.

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  9. I forgot to mention that I like Nando. He makes us all look more sane. Also, I typically diagree with him so his obnoxious comments might dissuade people from supporting his side of the argument. Win!

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  10. I welcome labels like this. My university would do very well if they were used. Our tuition is low ($6k/year), the costs of living here are relatively low, and we create a lot of opportunity, economic and otherwise. This is partly because Fresno is one of the poorest and least well-educated communities in the U.S.A.

    Most of my students are going into engineering, K-12 teaching, and the health sciences. Still, whenever I get one interested in an abstruse, competitive field like astronomy, I hand them a copy of "A Ph.D. is Not Enough," by Peter Feibelman. This is because I want my students to know exactly what it is they're getting into, how few jobs there are, and how important it is to have a viable Plan B. (Would-be astronomers can make far more money with less aggravation in computing and energy.) The result is that my students are absolutely sick to the teeth of me telling them this.

    I hesitate to raise a hand against Nando, because I feel sorry for him. He's obviously half crazed with fear and anxiety about his student loans, which of course are non-dischargeable, just like the ones I'm still paying off, and I recently became a full professor. If Nando weren't so broke, I'd recommend he see a psychiatrist.

    His opinion about history being a "worthless" major wasn't encouraging, though. More troubling is that he ran up these loans studying to be a lawyer. How could he not have known that law is a notoriously competitive profession, where the shark ethic rules ("eat the wounded")? Indeed, didn't Nando run up those loans relying on making big bucks making life hard for people just like me?

    If, instead, he wanted to serve the public good, I welcome him to move to Fresno and become a district attorney. Even better, he could easily become a teacher here: he might even be able to get student loan forgiveness that way.

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  11. Nando has been baited on his own blog by pro-law school troll, so he comes over here to bait the educational professonals. The truth about legal education is that the ABA does not give a crap that they have too many law schools producting too many law grads who are chasing too few positions. Nando was put through that wringer and he is rightfully bitter that he wasted three years for a terminal degree that he cannot ever use.

    You may not like what he writes, but the way things are going in higher ed, you're going to hear from a lot more like him.

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  12. P.S. to Nando: If you do come to Fresno, I suggest you do your homework to find out what Fresno is like, first. It gets very hot in the summer here, but it's a dry heat. The air quality isn't good, but litigation involving this might be a source of work for you. It's one of the most ethnically diverse communities anywhere, so you might want to brush up on immigration law, since it's a big issue here. We also have a high crime rate, since there is real poverty here. Still, it's been a good home to me. I've been here 11 years, and I have yet to tangle with the irate parent of a snowflake. (When immigrant kids don't do their homework, they don't blame me.)

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  13. The discharge can be painful if one is alone.

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  14. Frod: I'd settle for students having a plan A when they come to undergraduate. Knowing why they are in school, what they plan to get out of it, and what it costs.

    I don't think a 'nutrition-label' approach would capture that, because the experience is so different for every student. But somehow, students, parents and society need to move away from the College-is-the-path-to-a-better-life-so-just-go-to-college-and-everything-will-magically-come-up-roses mentality. Unfortunately university adminflakes aren't going to do that, because they see students as cash cows. This is one of the biggest sources of 'the misery' for me, because I find it hard to take pride in a school that wants to treat scholarship as if they were selling used cars.

    Nando: you've got to realize that most of us here largely agree with you - we do not support using high tuition and enrollment increases to balance uni budgets. We do not support producing gluts of graduates who can't find jobs. I've tried making this argument to administrators, jumping up and down pulling my hair out. It's like talking to a wall.

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  15. The label should include faculty pay: "At Big Corporate University, most of the classes are taught by people in the wage category you are seeking to escape by enrolling in the first place. The smiling faces on the BCU home page are the handful of full-time faculty with solid middle class incomes we keep on staff to maintain our image. But your contact time will be mostly with the adjuncts who are skating along the poverty line. They'll teach you everything you need to know to be successful in life with a BSU degree!"

    Ever since one of my employers warned us to never discuss our pay with our students or risk losing their respect, I knew something was amiss. The really sad part was that the admonition included the full time faculty as well!

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  16. Nando's not wrong, but the idea that the higher education bubble is the fault of "selfish professors" is laughable.

    Also, dude, students aren't consumers or customers. The ones who think they are, we tend to hate.

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  17. Southern Bubba, Ph.D. said "The discharge can be painful if one is alone."

    I have a John Wayne-esque image of you, in a dusty wooden building, having just shot yourself in the foot. Unable to walk, you take a slug on a bottle of whiskey and mutter "The discharge can be painful if one is alone."

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  18. Such a discharge would be especially painful if it happened when my foot was in my mouth--which is not infrequently the case. That could, unfortunately, result in a form of non-dischargeable loneliness.

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  19. "Nando's not wrong, but the idea that the higher education bubble is the fault of "selfish professors" is laughable."

    It is in the law - most of the professors who teach there are dropout lawyers who teach using the obsolete yet terrifying Socratic method*, while their students graduate not knowing how to draft a will. The major problem is that law school is partially stuck in the 19th century, when people would come out of law school, pass the bar, then be apprenticed off to some small firm to learn how to do the boring paperwork that takes up most of a lawyer's time. The legal wing of Corporate America doesn't want to do that sort of training, so it all falls on the rookie's head.

    Legal education is the weak link in the chain of postsecondary education; people are beginning to understand that they are not better off with "JD" at the end of their name. They are also beginning to figure out that some of these masters degrees and Ph.D.s aren't worth it either.

    (For the record I neither love lawyers nor the law; dealing with either is a hassle or a money suck. Why I spoke up for Nando was that he trained for a job that he cannot do, and that kind of futility gets on my nerves.)

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  20. Most of that data is pretty easy to find, and a few college guides explicitly use it in their evaluations and rankings. What I don't understand is how, given the tendency of people to make very impressionistic and specific decisions about their educations, anyone expects this data to affect either institutional behavior or student choice.

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  21. * The Socratic method does well in philosophy classes, possibly science lecture courses where you can trust that the students are ahead of the curve.

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  22. I'd be in favor of something along those lines, though some of the issues listed strike me as important but hard to quantify ("progress. . .in reading and critical thinking"), and some strike me as both harder to track and less significant than you might think (with all the transferring going on, not to mention economic distress that leads to drop-outs and time-outs and transfers, the number of freshmen who start at a particular school and graduate from that same school 4 years later, which is usually what is measured by such statistics, may or may not be significant; employment statistics present similar issues). And better information about what attending a particular school actually costs is already in the pipeline, I believe.

    Like AdjunctSlave, I'd also like to see some information about who actually teaches the courses under what conditions of employment (and, at least at state schools, where such information is often in the public domain, what they make). That's especially true for the courses students will take in their first few years. Here, too, meaningful statistics are more complicated to compile than it might seem, but you could learn a good deal about comparative the freshman/sophomore experience at various schools by describing mode of teaching, class (and, if relevant, discussion section or lab) size, instructor employment status (FT/PT/TA) and course load, etc. for a few key classes: freshman comp (or the first required writing-intensive class if freshman comp isn't required), one or two 100- or 200-level humanities classes that are crucial to the core curriculum, something along the lines of a history or civilization survey, micro- and macro-economics, intro psych and/or soc., and the key intro classes in math, biology, chemistry, and/or physics that nearly all STEM majors take. It's far from a full picture, and to some extent you'd just learn what kind of school it is (R1, R2, SLAC, etc.), but if a student is likely to get through all of the above without ever spending time in a room that seats fewer than 30 people with a full-time, tenure-track professor, that says something about the nature of the experience. If one can get through all or most of the above without having any contact with a TT professor, even in a large lecture hall, that's a sign that the school really isn't investing much in the foundations of undergraduate education. Schools where a student would encounter TT professors mostly on a lecture-hall stage, and mostly graduate students (not adjuncts) in small rooms fall somewhere in between: it's not the SLAC experience that many people hold up as the ideal, but if the lecturers are excellent and the graduate students well-qualified (and if the undergraduates are well-prepared and ready to take off to a certain degree on their own), it can be a good one (this describes my undergraduate experience, and I thrived on it. I also got more contact with TT professors in seminars as I moved into my junior and senior years.)

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  23. @Nando: I'm sorry that law schools have begun overproducing JDs in the same way that gradate schools have been overproducing PhDs for years. It *is* a racket, and one that's all the worse because students pay for it, expecting to be able to recoup their investment (and pay off their loans) with high salaries; at least those of us who went for Ph.D.s didn't have that expectation (but we also didn't expect to earn much, and so, in many cases, only considered grad-school offers that wouldn't require us to take out loans). But as far as I know, there aren't any law proffies here. Most of us are busy producing B.A.s and B.S.s (and the occasional M.A. and Ph.D.), and many of us firmly support the principles that not everybody needs even the B.A. or B.S., and that many who do shouldn't start trying to get one when they're 18 and completely clueless about why they want/need the degree. The combination of cluelessness/struggling and growing indebtedness and/or overwork to avoid indebtedness is particular painful to watch, but many of my students, at least, are so pressured by other forces (parents and other "mentors," guidance counselors, etc.) that they absolutely dismiss any suggestion on my part that they take some time off, or at least cut their course load to something they can handle, even if it means a longer time to degree.

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  24. The administration for the place I used to teach at could have used a label like that for granola: "Contains nuts and flakes."

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  25. I'm currently using a label very much like the one described. After my spouse took a cardinal-direction-state-university pseudo-post-doc position that was incredibly horrible, I've been using the metrics provided by US News to figure out just how shitty schools are. Besides the basics (graduation rate, scores, class size), one stat I think is really telling is the comparison between the schools grad rate and the predicted grad rate based on quality of incoming student.

    However useful I find this information, I wouldn't want it mandated, for one simple reason. Schools (primarily crappy ones) would adjust their operating methods to improve their statistics. Which sounds good, but the easiest way to get a higher grad rate is to pass more students, not teach them more. Lowering the bar makes them look better while producing a stupider student.

    Nando: while I agree that any wanna-be-student looking at schools should use the information you speak to, I think the student should do the investigative research to find it out. Self-published data is always suspect, and mandating it here would have negative consequences.

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  26. @Nando (in general): If you passed the bar, get to work. Many lawyers get into it for the "be your own boss" aspect so hang out a shingle, put an ad in the yellow pages, and start defending traffic tickets and DUIs or drawing up wills.

    I understand there are start-up costs, malpractice insurance being the biggest, but I've known lawyers that "make house calls" (met their clients in public places or the client's office) because they didn't have an office or their own. They essentially worked out of their car.

    Stop occupying our misery and get to work.

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  27. Sawyer, then Nando would really have something to be miserable about: actual customer service!!

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  28. Representing people whose houses are being foreclosed on might be another option for Nando. Given the extent to which the banks have screwed up, he(?) might even get a decent contingency fee once in a while. For the rest of the time, at least he'd be occupied, helping people, and getting some experience. I've known a few solo-practice lawyers. They weren't rich, but they were reasonably happy (and in a few states, if you take on public-interest cases, you might even get some help with those loans).

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