All posts by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson

Learning Takes Time

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 y…

Instant Revolution? Technology and Higher Education

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 …

Buying a Refrigerator, Choosing a College

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 effo…

How Do Randomized Experiments Contribute to Educational Research?

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 objecti…

Let’s Talk About Economic Inequality

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 thi…

The New York Times Blunder

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 thi…

The Student-Loan Interest-Rate Conundrum

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 int…

Student-Aid Simplification and the States

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 informatio…

Excessive Student Borrowing: Private Loans and Bankruptcy

(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 ar…

When There Aren’t Enough Classes to Go Around

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 o…