Thursday, June 06, 2013
What We Talk About When We Talk About Fifty Bucks
When we talk about fifty bucks, we aren’t just talking about fifty bucks.
2) What fraction of those testing into developmental math classes took the free option? Did you go from 1% to 5% or 10% to 50%?
Interesting that they can't just pass on a retest but do have to have some instructor-guided review like they came to expect in HS.
One of the tenets of valid testing results is that the student must have studied what is being tested. Reviewing pertinent material refreshes that material. Thus students who can afford them, buy and study ACT, SAT, and GRE test preparation workbooks, which have the correct answers and explanations of why the correct answer is correct.
Not sure if I heard this from the same NPR story, but apparently if you're a daycare and you start charging a fee for late pickups, you will get more late pickups. That's because instead of just expecting parents to follow the rule (and a large fraction of them respect the system and do so) you have set a price for the extra care after pickup time, and some days it's more than worth the fee. The fact that there is a fee changes the social meaning of being late, and the parents don't feel as bad.
If your college is still experimenting with this, I'd like to see how students will react to a pay-for-success strategy. Essentially, offer the course for free, then charge them $50 afterwards if they are eligible to skip the full semester remedial math. As a student, I'd be much more willing to pay $50 if I knew I was saving a semester's tuition.
Also, as a student, I love to see success rates of these initiatives. Normally, this is done at the program level, but since this course has tangible outcomes, I'd love to see the college track them. It's very frustrating as a student to hear the platitudes and wonders of education as a vital tool for the knowledge economy (and so on), without knowing what happened to previous students.
Very often, when some entity or service that would otherwise cost money now becomes “free”, there is a danger that it would tend to be over-utilized, so much so that it would eventually become unusable for anyone. I suspect that if public transportation here in Big City were to become free, there would probably be so many people riding on the buses and trains that they would become so crowded that no one could use them.
Dean Dad’s experience with the math review classes seems that it might be an example of this. Something that previously cost money that is now free will draw a flood of additional customers, so many in fact that extra resources are now required to meet the demand. Not only are you losing the fees for the math review classes, you now have to spend additional money on extra sections and perhaps even have to hire additional staff.
However, I can think of counterexamples. One of them might be right here at Proprietary Art School. We have something known as a Learning Center, where students can drop in for individual tutoring in subjects they are have problems with. There is no charge for going to the Learning Center, and the tutoring is completely free.
But relatively few students take advantage of this service. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because students perceive that anything that is free isn’t really worth very much. This may be an example of something I call the “Chanel No. 5 Effect”, in which it seems that the more expensive a perfume is, the more bottles that are sold. Maybe we should start charging a nominal fee for students who show up at the Learning Center, somehow convincing them that they are actually getting something that is worthwhile.
But then again, students might perceive this as some sort of scam, designed to get more of their money. They would now be paying yet one more fee. It would be sort of like airline flying today, in which there seems to be a fee for just about everything, even for services that used to be free.
My students won't take most of the free help offered, though--all they want is the grade.