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Posts by Richard Vedder


October 18, 2011, 12:40 PM ET

A Low-Tech Way to Lower Costs: Steve Trachtenberg's Idea

"It makes ... no sense to subordinate teaching to planting, cultivating, and harvesting when so few of us work on farms or live by agriculture ... we do not need the summer off." So spoke President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg of George Washington University in remarks to his faculty on November 11, 2002. President Trachtenberg was not the first, nor will he be the last, to propose pushing universities to a real year-round calendar. Instead of two 14- to 15- week semesters, have three. Students, if they wish, could study hard and graduate in three years, saving considerable amounts (even if per-semester tuition charges remained unchanged) and gain one more year in the labor force. That option could become more appealing if we rationalized federal student financial assistance.  With year-round schooling, buildings and equipment that lie idle for vast periods could be utilized far more... Read More

July 29, 2011, 05:10 PM ET

The Great Fee Scam

Suppose you went to buy a new car, agreed on a price, and the dealer then announced that there were a number of other fees that had to be paid: a dealer preparation fee, a license procurement fee, and a transportation fee (all of which dealers sometimes charge).  You would probably be a little irritated, but might agree to them. But suppose he or she then announces there is also a "dealer capital cost fee" (to pay for a new showroom), "a sales representative service fee" (to pay the salesperson's salary) an "information dissemination fee" (to pay for the dealer's advertising), and a couple of others as well, adding several thousand dollars to the cost of the car. You probably would leave the dealership in a huff without the car, and, if feisty enough, might call the consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau,  state attorney general, or some functionary of the Nanny State to... Read More

October 15, 2010, 11:42 AM ET

Why Do We Have HBCU's?

Jason Riley is a great writer, and both he and his wife Naomi (who is writing a book on tenure) have interesting and often provocative things to say, such as in Jason's great recent book on American immigration. Now Jason has stirred things up a bit with his Wall Street Journal piece that argues that historically black colleges and universities (hereafter, HBCU's) are serving black students very poorly, and have become something of an expensive, ineffective anachronism. This has stirred up some anger, and Michael Sorrell, writing with Marybeth Gasman, has used this blog series to argue that Riley is misinformed, inaccurate, etc., etc. Sorrell, by the way, is president of an extremely small black college in Dallas that once achieved something very difficult to accomplish in higher education: it managed to almost lose its accreditation. Ms. Gasman and Mr. Sorrell say the evidence shows... Read More

October 1, 2010, 01:45 PM ET

A Tale of 40 Professors at Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University has done something very cool, albeit under some duress. They have released in a document longer than some novels a list of every single instructor in the vast A&M empire, including the smaller affiliated schools, along with information on their salaries, number of classes taught, number of students, weighted student credit hours taught, etc. I went to my Chief Whiz Kid (student research assistant) Chris Matgouranis and told him to pick, more or less at random, 20 departments at the university's main campus at College Station.  I told him to find one highly paid professor with very little teaching load in each department, but also the opposite, one instructor who is modestly paid but has many students. The findings were startling, even for a jaded veteran professor like myself who thought he was aware of the budgetary priorities of major universities. The 20 high... Read More

September 24, 2010, 10:59 AM ET

A Modest Proposal: Searching for an Academic Bottom Line

Does much learning occur at the University of Michigan, Colorado College, or the University of Texas at San Antonio? Do students at Duke University fare better in the job market than their counterparts at Northwestern or Cornell? There are so many important questions like these regarding higher education for which we do not have answers, and colleges have generally resisted providing that information in a uniform matter that would allow comparisons of performance at colleges and universities by consumers, funders, and taxpayers generally.

I have a modest proposal of three ways that we could get immensely important information that would make for more informed customers and donors, stimulate healthy competition between schools, and promote greater concern for undergraduate education by the schools themselves, particularly the national research universities. Moreover, these proposals are...

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September 16, 2010, 12:17 PM ET

Should We Abolish Colleges of Education?

I believe the following stylized facts are roughly correct.

1. American K-12 students perform in a mediocre fashion on international standardized tests, and other data likewise suggest that the academic performance of American students is disappointingly modest.

2. Following from the first point, poor K-12 academic preparation is a significant reason why colleges need remedial education programs, and why they have high drop-out rates.

3. Great teaching leads to better results than mediocre teaching.

4. Most K-12 teachers have studied extensively in colleges of education.

5. Teachers who do not come from a college of education background do as least as well, and often better, than those with certification gained by taking education college courses. Programs relying on non-education-college-trained personnel like Teach for America are highly successful.

6. Standards in American...

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September 8, 2010, 10:16 AM ET

The Public Be Damned

Two decades ago, give or take a few years, a spate of books highly critical of higher education appeared: Charles Sykes' ProfScam, Thomas Sowell's Inside Higher Education, Martin Anderson's Imposters in the Temple, and Allan Bloom's best selling The Closing of the American Mind are four examples. These books were critical of the unproductive use of time and resources of faculty, on the alleged political bias of the academy, of the failure to teach important verities about life itself.

In spite of all of this, nothing really changed. The points Sykes made over 20 years ago hold more or less the same today, for example. While the academic muckrakers of the late 20th century had little impact, the muckrakers of the early part of the same century like Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) or Ida Tarbell (History of the Standard Oil Company) measurably impacted policies relating to food, health and...

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August 30, 2010, 04:00 PM ET

Is Obama at War With For-Profit Universities?

I have read and heard some commentators say that the Obama Administration is at war with for-profit private higher education. While in general agreeing with that I would amend that statement to say that the Obama administration has had several battles with the for-profits as part of a bigger war against capitalism.

In my view, the president is basically a socialist—a person who craves collectivist, government solutions to problems, and is deeply distrustful of private enterprise. Thus the government has taken control of iconic private automobile and financial-service companies, has viciously attacked Wall Street greed, has tried to manipulate more than ever the private use of money and credit, is favoring a huge increase in taxes on capital gains, etc. I am among those who believe that the current anemic recovery directly reflects the fear that businesses have of Obama, and their...

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August 24, 2010, 11:35 AM ET

'Forgive Us Our Debts, as We Forgive Our Debtors'

The line from the King James Version of the Lord's Prayer came to me as I contemplated college-debt issues of some importance this week.

First, there is the sad story of "Ethan Haines." Ethan allegedly was a law school graduate who mounted a large student debt (over $150,000) while in school, and now cannot get a decent job. In protest, "he" started a hunger strike, referenced in today's USA Today. It turns out that Ethan Haines is really Zenovia Evans. There has been some deception associated with this story, whose full accuracy I cannot now attest. Nonetheless, the issue of mounting debt is a huge one that needs the attention that "Ethan" and others are calling to it.  

Moreover, the problem is not confined to those attending professional schools. I have a recent graduate that I taught who has a debt that is probably three times his current earnings—meaning it probably takes at least...

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August 13, 2010, 11:52 AM ET

Colleges as Country Clubs

Easily (by a factor of two) the most commented piece in this blog series of the Chronicle is my "Student Evaluations, Grade Inflation, and Declining Student Effort" entry. Now, new and better evidence has emerged that, if anything, strengthens my initial convictions.

Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks are both University of California professors (different campuses) who have delved deeply into various surveys of student time use, and have related that data to other research that plausibly could explain the very real and substantial decline in the work effort of students. While some of their research is coming out in prestigious academic journals (the Review of Economics and Statistics and Economic Inquiry), the findings are nicely encapsulated in a short study done for the American Enterprise Institute. See "Leisure College, USA: The Decline in Student Study Time" available on the AEI web...

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