Thursday, September 25, 2014


Friday Fragments

Writing is good for you, says science.  “Even blogging or journaling is enough to see results.”

I’d rather blog than jog, myself.  Easier on the knees.


Higher ed wonks have been abuzz this week over adjustments to the ways the Feds calculate Cohort Default Rates for colleges.  CDR’s refer to the percentage of student loans issued for students at a particular college that have gone into default in the first three years after they were issued.  If a CDR for a particular school is too high, the school could lose its eligibility for Title IV financial aid.

The feds changed the way that they calculate the CDR, with the apparent effect of sparing some schools the ax.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it dodges the larger issue.

Let’s review.  A community college cannot turn anybody away who has a high school diploma or its equivalent.  It cannot deny loans to any student the feds deem eligible.  Students who only attend for a single semester, or even less, are counted in cohorts.  We are in a devastatingly slow recovery from the worst recession in 80 years.  And the best answer we can come up with is to crack down on colleges?

If you want to reduce default rates, reduce the percentage of college budgets paid for by students.  And maybe do something about a top-heavy economy that simply refuses to provide entry-level jobs that pay very much.  But punishing colleges because students they can’t turn away can’t find jobs is just bizarre.

That should be obvious, but it cuts against the grain of much current political discourse.  The conceit that colleges can be ‘rewarded’ or ‘punished’ with student financial aid is based on false premises.  It assumes that colleges have control over the most important variables.  They don’t.  Did a spike in defaults in 2009 reflect a sudden and unprecedented indifference to teaching, or a catastrophic global economic collapse?  


Speaking of reality, this piece by the president of Western Governors University really requires a response.

“Students are no longer place-bound.”  That would come as a surprise to most students at most community colleges.  Geography still matters.  Yes, online instruction offers an alternative, and there are times when that makes a lot of sense.  But actual students have situated lives, with family and work obligations that tie them to particular places.  Not all students, sure, but enough that simply waving them away in a rhetorical flourish is irresponsible.

We’ve found that the most vulnerable students are often the most place-bound, and the most responsive to in-person, high-touch services.  That makes them expensive to serve, even though the colleges that serve them get far less per-student funding than the colleges that serve the scions of the upper middle class.

I say that as a fan of what WGU has been able to do.  To me, the challenge worth facing is how to adapt some very real advances to the needs of actual students in actual places.  The epic failure of Udacity’s model at San Jose State University is instructive; Udacity’s first response was to blame the students for being too “needy.”

The challenge is to meet the needs, not to wave them off.


A few days ago:

The Boy: Dad, what made you decide to get a smartphone?

Me: Email, mostly.  Not having access to email when I’m out and about started to become an issue.


TB (incredulous): Email?  Really?

Me: Yeah.  Now I mostly use that, Twitter, navigation, and texting.  What do you use the most?

TB: Minecraft, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, the camera, and texting.  I never use email!

I am officially old.

Snapchat. Uh, yeah. Comprende? Perhaps he is trying to tell you something in the middle of that string of software titles, perhaps not, but you might tell him that you can't use that for communication at work because of data retention requirements so he knows you heard what he might have said.
I thought only eight colleges got nailed in the last round of the CDR thing. How big of a threat is this, really.
"And the best answer we can come up with is to crack down on colleges?"


This has been your edition of simple answers to painful questions.

" And maybe do something about a top-heavy economy that simply refuses to provide entry-level jobs that pay very much. "

I agree with your assessment of the economy, but am curious as to what you think the government can do about it. This problem has become much more severe since the Great Recession. The new requirement for substantial non-cash compensation for employees has had the expected impact on the amount of cash left for salaries, as well as increasing the reluctance to hire entry-level people. It's less risky to go for experienced people who can step right into a higher level of responsibility--let someone else do the training.
Well, what was different about the economy before, and have any government policies changed during that time?

Would one expect those changes to favor labor or capital?

This isn't tough.

Except the phenomenon is measurable in multiple global economies, all of who have different governments making different policy decisions. Actually, yes, when you take off the ideological blinders, it is tough. That's why it isn't solved.
"Except the phenomenon is measurable in multiple global economies,"

Yes, it is. It's much smaller in some than in others. In some (South Korea and Taiwan, for example), we have seen a mass movement toward better and better-paying work being available.

So, which countries are doing better? Which policies did they pursue? What were the differences between those countries and the countries that have done less well? Where did they start, and where did they end up?

This isn't about ideology. It's about empirics. Which countries that started rich did better than other countries that started rich? Which countries that started middle or poor are doing better now? What are the policy differences between those countries, and do those policy differences match the policy changes over time in the US or contradict them?

Make your case. Show us how South Korea's massive expansion of the financial sector and full-on assault on the trade union movement exists. Or show us how Great Britain's commitment to austerity has improved its position compared to Sweden since the early 2000s.

For liberals, ideology is something to be tested and improved, not something to be derided or worshipped. If you're making your case to liberals, you're going to have to use empirics, rather than appeals to shared disdain.

To put it another way, why are we poorer (per capita) than Bahrain, yet enjoy higher life expectancy? Why is Costa Rica, an unambiguously middle-income country, approximately equal in this category?

What are the patterns? What are the anamolies? Why does the US (and Bahrain) keep ending up on the bottom of quality-of-life indices despite its tremendous resources and capacity? Why do other nations, facing greater challenges, respond more effectively?
Why does the US (and Bahrain) keep ending up on the bottom of quality-of-life indices despite its tremendous resources and capacity?

Dunno about Bahrain, but I'd guess that a big reason the US ends up so low is that you aren't really a single country. Big regional differences, big differences between different parts of the same region… so those parts that are poor drag down those parts that re better-off (and you are decreasing the well-off parts by policies both governmental and social).

Also, while you have a lot of resources, they are increasingly siphoned off by what Galbraith called the Predator State*. Why else do you spend so much on health care for so little results, and resist so ardently any move to implement systems that demonstrably work more efficiently?

*Actually a combination of private interests and the regulatory institutions they've captured.
But what about Bahrain? Is there a predator state there, as well?

If so, what is it about the US and Bahrain that makes us uniquely prone to the assault of a predator state, as versus (say) Costa Rica or Sweden?

I do have my answers to these questions, of course, but the important thing is that I am asking them. I am asking questions about the real world and how it functions, not the pretend world in my head that Dantes keeps referencing (for example, ignoring details of DD's dog-finding story to create his own fictional narrative). This is the fundamental difference between the liberal ideology and conservative ideology -- liberalism can fail and be improved. Conservatism (much like True Communism) can only be failed.

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