Debt, not equity

Aligning Compensation Incentives in Higher Education: Is Higher Education Debt or Equity?

It’s debt. You can’t sell a degree or use it as collateral. So, it’s debt… or more precisely, it’s a set of wildly overpriced consumer services that is marketed as a product and is usually paid for with a particularly onerous form of debt. So, however you want to describe it, “equity” isn’t a reasonable way to do so. Sweet Black’s, but how I despise lawyers. They are very seldom anywhere nearly as clever as they would like to believe themselves to be.

The debt police

It’s interesting to see how the education sector is one that is leading the move towards debt-based totalitarianism. Student loans are about the only loans that aren’t discharged by bankruptcy, and I tend to doubt that the Department of Education’s SWAT teams (!?!) are going to be invading any homes over unpaid credit card debts:

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

“I look out of my window and I see 15 police officers,” Wright said. Wright came downstairs in his boxer shorts as the officers team barged through his front door. Wright said an officer grabbed him by the neck and led him outside on his front lawn. “He had his knee on my back and I had no idea why they were there,” Wright said….

Wright said he later went to the mayor and Stockton Police Department, but the city of Stockton had nothing to do with Wright’s search warrant. The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in S.W.A.T for his wife’s defaulted student loans.

This raises numerous questions:

1. Why is the U.S. Department of Education permitted to issue warrants or call SWAT teams?

2. Why would the SWAT team assault an individual who is not responsible for the debts?

3. Upon which specific date was America pronounced dead?

If this doesn’t convince you that the U.S. Constitution is dead, America is dead, and we are watching the galvanic twitchings of a corpse, I don’t know what will. Personally, I’m rather looking forward to the first press conference by the Department of Education explaining why they accidentally killed an old woman who never went to college over the unpaid student loans of some clueless wonder with a useless college degree.

Of course, the youfs are so utterly stupid that even events like this won’t slow down the rate at which they are applying for student loans. Because an education is the best investment anyone can possibly make….

Homeschool or die vol. 7

If any other activity was this directly connected to increasing the teen mortality rate, it would be illegal:

Every two hours, a teenager in America takes his or her own life. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, and the rate of teen suicide has roughly tripled since 1960…. Scientists have identified many contributing factors: Discrimination, the number of sexual partners, substance abuse, being dumped by a romantic partner, parental divorce, child physical and sexual abuse, bullying and even excessive video-gaming play a role. Scholars at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center have offered a novel contributing factor to teen suicide: high school.

In a careful and persuasive paper released last fall called “Back to School Blues: Seasonality of Youth Suicide and the Academic Calendar,” Benjamin Hansen and Matthew Lang point out that suicides for 14- to 18-year-olds drop abruptly during June, July and August.

“The decrease in suicides for 14- to 18-year-olds during the summer months is stark, while the 19- to 25-year-olds see a slight rise in suicide rates during the summer,” the authors point out. “The fact that 15- to 18-year-old suicide rates decrease in the summer, but the 19-year-old suicide does not, suggests that the high-school calendar is playing a prominent role in youth suicide,” they conclude.

Given that the summer vacation reduces the teen suicide rate from 6.22 per 100,000 to 4.71, this means that banning public school would save 1,092 lives per year. This is far more lives than can be saved by most of the usual actions advocated by the save-the-children crowd. Since we are so often told that various laws are justified if just one child’s life is saved, and we also know that homeschooling is an academically superior method of education, how can anyone possibly argue in good conscience that eliminating the public schools is not an imminent moral imperative?

Banning public school will save more children’s lives on an annual basis than every vaccination program put together, in fact, it would save more children’s lives than seatbelt laws and child safety seats. Banning public school, or at least barring public school attendance after sixth grade, would reduce the third leading cause of youth death by 25 percent. And let’s face it, it’s not as if they’re even learning how to read or do math there anyhow.

Econ doesn’t stick

This may explain why today’s economists are so hapless; they simply don’t know the relevant core principles:

Unfortunately, however, most students seem to emerge from introductory economics courses without having learned even the most important basic principles. According to one recent study, their ability to answer simple economic questions several months after leaving the course is not measurably different from that of people who never took a principles course.

What explains such abysmal performance? One problem is the encyclopedic range typical of introductory courses. As the Nobel laureate George J. Stigler wrote more than 40 years ago, “The brief exposure to each of a vast array of techniques and problems leaves the student no basic economic logic with which to analyze the economic questions he will face as a citizen.”

Another problem is that the introductory course is increasingly tailored not for the majority of students for whom it will be their only economics course, but for the negligible fraction who will go on to become professional economists. Such courses focus on the mathematical models that have become the cornerstone of modern economic theory. These models prove daunting for many students and leave them little time and energy to focus on how basic economic principles help explain everyday behavior.

But there is an even more troubling explanation for students’ failure to learn fundamental economic concepts. It is that many of their professors may have only a tenuous grasp of these concepts, since they, too, took encyclopedic introductory courses, followed by advanced courses that were even more technical.

It may sound cool, at least to dorks, to be a quant or a wonk. But all the technical expertise in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t get the core concepts right. That’s why, in RGD, I attempted to begin at the beginning and leave as much jargon and econometrics out of it as was reasonably possible. I was fortunate, as about half my econ professors had a fairly sound grasp of the core concepts. But given the more common nature of those who didn’t, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that their sort are in the majority. As I’ve mentioned before, I once met a nominal econ major from a big state school who had never heard of Keynes or the General Theory.

In defense of college

This Cracked commenter’s explanation of why college is worthwhile is more than a little amusing:

College sucked for the first two years for me (as in I was one phone call away from talking to an Army recruiter) but then I ended up studying abroad for a semester, meeting some really cool people and professors and took classes in my major (Rhetoric) which were really eye opening and awesome. I started out as a judgmental hyper-conservative p***k and four years later, here I am graduating in three weeks as a well rounded, tolerant atheist. I don’t mean to toot my own horn (although if I could, I would, heh heh) but I’m certainly much better off, mentally, than I was before college. To me that’s what makes my mountain of debt worth it.

So, there’s some good news and some bad news, Mom and Dad. On the one hand, your son is broke, unemployable, and hugely in debt. On the other, he’s now an atheist. It’s a pity college recruiters and high school guidance councilors are not similarly forthright about the statistically probable outcomes.

The other thing that is always rather funny about the comments following post-bubble articles about the value of college is the way most of the people attempting to defend it are still in college. Which is to say that they are presently enjoying the short-term benefits without taking the long-term costs into account.

Academia and the myth of matriarchy

Apparently if you believe in the perfectly logical and long-held philosophical concept that the universe did not simply appear ex nihilo for no reason, you are academically unfit, but it’s perfectly fine for academics to subscribe to the totally ahistorical notion that Man was once ruled by female committee:

There is no real evidence that humanity every passed through a stage in which society was matriarchal, and abundant evidence to the contrary. Goddesses, of course, appear frequently in the world’s religions and myths, but the notion of a great prehistoric cult of the Goddess in Europe connected to matriarchal rule has no foundation.

Why bring this up now? Because higher education’s relaxed attitude about appointing faculty members who not only believe but who actually teach this moonshine demonstrates the hypocrisy of those who say that faculty members are acting out of the need to protect the university from anti-scientific nonsense when they discriminate against conservative Christian candidates for academic appointment. The possibility that a candidate for a position in biology, anthropology, or, say, English literature might secretly harbor the idea that God created the universe or that the Bible is true, is a danger not to be brooked. But apparently, the possibility that a candidate believes that human society was “matriarchal” until about 5,000 years ago is perfectly within the range of respectable opinion appropriate for campus life….

I take it as one of the great intellectual scandals of our age that this nonsense has gained academic legitimacy. Hardly a soul who vehemently defends the university’s need to protect itself from the dangerous presence of Biblical literalists and the like sees anything amiss in having a whole tide of anti-scientific, ahistorical ideological fantasy claim the status of an academic discipline. Could there be a version of women’s studies sans the myth of matriarchal prehistory? Surely there could be, as there are substantial numbers of feminist scholars who reject that myth. But the field as a whole has not done so. If it is necessary that a candidate for an academic appointment in biology demonstrate competence in evolutionary biology, it ought surely be necessary that a candidate for appointment in women’s studies demonstrate show the ability to distinguish historical fantasy from fact.

I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, but it is a useful thought experiment. Why won’t higher education hold women’s studies to ordinary standards of historical accuracy? Because contemporary American higher education cares far more about protecting its favored group of political ideologies than it does its standards of rational inquiry and scrupulous use of evidence. The standards are cited most conspicuously when they lend themselves to fencing off members of disfavored groups.

I’ve always found Sam Harris’s assertion that being a Christian somehow renders scientific work impossible to be an interesting one, considering that it is an intrinsically ahistoric and anti-scientific philosophical argument. And PZ Myers’s insistence that academics must subscribe to TEpNS dogma has always amused me, considering that he still subscribes to economic arguments that have been disproven for decades, and in some cases, centuries. If the standard that biologists wish to apply to other academics were applied to biologists on subjects such as economics or history, nearly every biology department in the USA would find itself empty.

A nation of cam whores

Lest you wonder what the teachers unions would do if they were given control over school curriculums:

The U.N. just concluded a two-week feminist jamboree — the Commission on the Status of Women, which is an intergovernmental body that negotiates documents later approved by the General Assembly. The CSW attracts scores of radical feminists — including this time a woman named Diane Schneider, representing the National Education Association. At a CSW panel discussion, Schneider said that “oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education.” She also said students should not be able to “opt out” of such classes, meaning they should be forced to learn about orgasms against their parents’ wishes.

It’s an interesting situation, to be sure. On the one hand, if the NEA program worked according to plan, the USA would benefit from millions of young women who wouldn’t be educated to go into debt in order to obtain university degrees that would permit them to spend their fertile years making Powerpoint slides, but would be well-equipped to perform on the Internet instead. Which, I have to admit, would be an improvement, if not much of one. On the other hand, given the success with which the public school teachers are presently teaching most students how to read, write, and do math, one has to assume that at least half the female graduates would end up performing inadvertent clitoridectomies before graduation, the rest would end up frigid, and the boys would require Viagra just to get through a Playboy.