July 23, 2012, 4:14 pm
We are not the first to suggest that enrolling for college classes has a lot in common with signing up for a gym membership. The promise of both types of investment is that you will emerge from them a changed person. The gym provides an opportunity for you to build muscles, slim down, or become more fit; the college offers an environment where you can learn facts and theories, or learn how to do certain things, or perhaps change in deeper ways, in values or in outlook or in the range of people you know.
But as many gym members who sign up in response to a New Year’s resolution know, just forking over the cash won’t make your mirror image look any different three months later. And registering for classes won’t by itself make you smarter or more learned or better able to solve problems. Both types of enterprises offer you the opportunity to transform yourself, in smaller or larger…
July 2, 2012, 12:53 pm
The notion is widespread that higher education, and maybe all education, is about to be transformed by technology. This hope or fear (depending on where you sit) is fed by the breakneck pace at which new technologies burst upon the scene. Enterprises like Google and Facebook are among the poster children for this observation, and who can fail to be astounded by the way first the iPhone and then seemingly ten minutes later the iPad transformed first the cell phone and then the portable computing industries. Perhaps most important, these devices have quickly transformed the way many of us communicate, read, and organize many aspects of our lives.
Technology and technical change certainly have great potential for changing education. The way students study today is dramatically different from the way they studied even a decade ago. But questions about the pace and character of change…
June 11, 2012, 11:51 am
A recent New York Times editorial gave welcome support to efforts to pressure colleges and universities to provide clearer information to prospective students about how much it is likely to cost them to earn their degrees. Of course, the institutions that stepped up to the plate are likely those that already are trying hard to communicate clearly. Those that hope to trick students into enrolling in programs that are really beyond their reach will probably be at the back of the line in these efforts.
College pricing is complicated. Students need much more and much simpler information. Waiting for perfect data instead of moving forward in the direction proposed by the Obama administration risks making the best the enemy of the good. If we wait until we can explain perfectly, we will wait forever.
That said, the idea that we can provide standardized, simple information about, for…
June 5, 2012, 12:35 pm
Interpreting the research findings reported in the Chronicle and other journalistic sources that keep us up-to-date on the latest happenings in and knowledge about education is a challenge for well-trained researchers. It is virtually impossible for anyone else. Does the headline accurately represent the study’s findings? Is this really a study or just a summary of existing data? It this disinterested research and analysis or advocacy disguised as research in an attempt to make it seem objective?
These questions are difficult enough without expecting readers to fully understand the differences among research methodologies. But we think greater insight into some of the common approaches to increasing our knowledge of the causes of and solutions to problems in education is both possible and vital for those concerned with education policy. In this post, we shed some light on randomized…
May 29, 2012, 11:23 am
Many of us in the policy community are eager to find practically feasible ways to expand educational opportunity in our society. Many of us also believe that reducing economic inequality would make expanding opportunity much easier—and many of us also believe that, even apart from its negative effect on equality of opportunity, the spectacularly large economic inequalities that exist in the United States (and some other rich countries) are both unjust in themselves and destructive of other things that we value.
And yet in policy discussions, we really don’t talk much at all about direct measures that would reduce inequality, like taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rate as wages, tax policies that are more progressive (or in some cases less regressive) overall, expansion of the earned-income tax credit, robust inheritance taxes, changes in the minimum wage, and the like. …
May 17, 2012, 11:41 am
The New York Times made a huge statistical error in their overwrought article about higher education borrowing on Sunday. They reported that 94 percent of bachelor’s graduates leave college with educational debt. The correct number is around two-thirds. Few people will see the correction tucked into Wednesday’s Times – certainly not nearly the number who saw the lead sentence on the web version “Nearly everyone pursuing a bachelor’s degree is borrowing money …”.
Everybody makes mistakes, but this one is revealing in several ways. First, the “New York Times analysis” cited as the source was incompetently done. They actually calculated the following figure: among students who borrowed while in college, what percentage still owed money when they graduated? Not surprisingly, very few college students pay off their student debt while in college. Sarah Turner, a professor …
May 6, 2012, 10:39 pm
The current discussion of student-loan interests rates has created a welcome focus on college access and on the difficulties some students have repaying their education loans. The federal government does need to take greater responsibility for protecting students from unmanageable education debt.
Unfortunately, the issue is much more complicated than the current political discourse might suggest. There isn’t time to develop a sound long-term plan addressing this issue before July 1, when the interest rate on a subset of loans students will use next year is set to increase. Locking in current interest rates for another year is likely the only viable solution.
But this is a solution that solves a small set of problems for a small subset of students. A better solution depends on a clear understanding of the issues and a realistic perspective on what really matters for educational…
April 26, 2012, 10:54 am
Student-aid programs that require a complicated application process or that involve multiple programs with different eligibility criteria, different eligible expenses, and unpredictable award levels are less effective than those that are transparent, predictable, and easy to access. Despite strong evidence that simple programs are more likely to increase college enrollment and success, there is considerable resistance to simplification. Understandably people worry that collecting less information on which to base the allocation of grant aid will make it more difficult to distribute the funds to those who need them most.
A new College Board report should help ease the concerns.
There is a tradeoff between targeting and simplicity. If we don’t know that one family has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, while another family with the same annual income has no assets, we…
April 19, 2012, 12:34 pm
(Photo by Flickr/CC user taberandrew)
Stories of students struggling under the crushing burden of $80,000 of debt or more for a bachelor’s degree that has yet to lead to employment are not representative, but they are more common than they should be. Virtually all students with so much undergraduate debt have relied on private loans, in addition to federal loans. Federal policy makers should move to end the confusion between these two forms of borrowing.
Many people believe that student loans are on the verge of ruining the economy, or at least destroying the lives of a generation. Others suggest that these students are simply irresponsible. Instead of taking either of these extreme perspectives, we should think carefully about the systemic problems contributing to this situation and potential policy…
April 8, 2012, 9:33 pm
The recent discussion in California community colleges about the possibility of charging higher prices for courses in high demand pushes us to put our economists’ hats on to gain some perspective on this controversial idea. As state funding fails to keep up with enrollments in public colleges around the country, many states are struggling to meet the needs of students. Tuition levels have increased quite dramatically in recent years as institutions look for ways to replace the state revenues on which they have depended.
General tuition increases generate anger. But increases limited to specific courses seem to generate even more anger. Will low-income students be excluded from courses they need to graduate? Do we really want to ration access to high-demand courses through the price system?
It is not uncommon for schools to charge lab fees for science and studio art courses or to …