Assorted links

by on September 9, 2009 at 9:24 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

1. Paul Graham on writing by enumeration.

2. Doing Business: Rwanda's is the world's top reformer of business regulation this year.

3. New Malcolm Gladwell book of collected essays.

4. Why do so few U.S. college students graduate?

5. Ho-hum: James Patterson signs 17-book deal.

6. "…you'd rather add 17 more items to the line than one other person": a statistical look at when the express lane is faster.  Remember: the y-intercept isn't zero!

Dirk September 9, 2009 at 9:32 am

“Why do so few U.S. college students graduate?”

Because many of those students never should have gone to college to begin with. They have no interest in higher education. College has become a place for 18-year-olds to cool their heels until they can get their act together and get a job. Our society preaches college for all, but clearly college is a mistake for many. I don’t think the low graduation rate is a bad thing, necessarily.

Andy September 9, 2009 at 10:02 am

Dirk, you obviously didn’t read the article. Why do some colleges have graduation rates around 90% and others around 35-40%?

Dirk September 9, 2009 at 10:06 am

I did read the article and the article addresses that question. For instance “In effect, well-off students — many of whom will graduate no matter where they go — attend the colleges that do the best job of producing graduates.”

Variation in graduation rate from university to university can be explained by different populations of students.

TomHynes September 9, 2009 at 10:24 am

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/05/business/economy/05teen.html?partner=xoxohth

Half of college graduates under age 25 are in jobs that do not require college degrees.

Stephen Smith September 9, 2009 at 11:24 am

Ever since I read this, I haven’t trusted those Doing Business reports much:

http://www.pse.ens.fr/hautcoeur/M2_histoirefinanciere/Arrunada_doing-business2007.pdf

Rimfax September 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

Re: Rwanda,

Does this support the idea that a national-socialist stage is an unskippable milestone in the development of a modern economic culture? The skin crawls at the thought.

Sorry if (that!) this sounds like wingnuttery.

Andrew September 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

4. There should be fewer graduations. Part of the role of ‘education’ is to granulate performance. If the result is mainly binary, degree or not, then one way to differentiate on reputation is to increase attrition. Also what is magic about 4 (or now 5 years?). Is 4 (or 5) years really the magic optimum for EVERY curriculum? Someone’s resume could read “Completed 3 years at Harvard” with absolutely nothing to be ashamed about if we made it nothing to be ashamed about. Then we could focus more on what they are learning and how valuable it is to employers. GE supposedly attriterates 10% of their workforce every year. Their finance segment aside, what are they doing wrong?

anon September 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I second rob’s comment.

College is not for every kid, but even in a so-so public high school my kids attended where more than 25% of the kids drop put before graduating, 4-year college was presented as the primary post-high school option for all kids. Including the ones who would rather cook, become plumbers or electricians, or run their own beauty salon.

I have worked with college graduates who are less articulate, less numerate, and less capable than some high school students I know and employ.

Rich Berger September 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I was puzzled by a number of Leonhardt’s statements. For example he says

“About half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply. Some apply but don’t enroll. “I was really astonished by the degree to which presumptively well-qualified students from poor families under-matched,† Mr. Bowen told me.

They could have been admitted to Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus (graduation rate: 88 percent, according to College Results Online) or Michigan State (74 percent), but they went, say, to Eastern Michigan (39 percent) or Western Michigan (54 percent). If they graduate, it would be hard to get upset about their choice. But large numbers do not. You can see that in the chart with this column.”

So you send a low income student to a more difficult school and he is more likely to graduate? I can understand that being surrounded by more highly motivated peers can put pressure on you to perform, but wouldn’t a more difficult college also increase the chance for failure? Which would predominate?

And how about this excerpt – “Money is clearly part of the answer. Tellingly, net tuition has no impact on the graduation rates of high-income students. Yet it does affect low-income students. All else equal, they are less likely to make it through a more expensive state college than a less expensive one, the book shows. Conservatives are wrong to suggest affordability doesn’t matter.”

How about quoting those “conservatives” specifically saying that? I am familiar with the criticism by conservatives/libertarians that subsidizing higher education largely increases its cost. I have not heard that affordability doesn’t matter.

I think many of the Times writers assume that the readers are intellectually lazy liberals and write accordingly.

jjj911 September 9, 2009 at 1:13 pm

I fully agree with Andrew. The ridiculous focus on degrees per se is faulty. I wager that the set of all dropouts from MIT, Caltech, Berkeley and CMU who majored in engineering are vastly more qualified than the average degree holders of most large, unselective universities or even grads of selective universities in soft majors with very severe grade inflation.

Jacqueline September 9, 2009 at 3:11 pm

@Rich @John: I don’t think you should equate “more difficult to get into” with “more difficult to get through.” The reverse may actually be true. I have read in a few places (forget the sources, though, sorry) that the “elite” schools really coddle their undergraduates. Once you get in, they don’t let you fail — lots of grade inflation, flexible policies, second and third chances, etc.

Careless September 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Do the authors deal with witless funding of university sports programs? (Steve Spurrier, for one, gets a $1M or $2M+ salary to oversee USC’s stellar football program.)

… Spurrier might not be worth his paycheck, but his football program as a whole makes a profit. Big-school football/basketball programs are usually a very bad example for wasteful spending

John Thacker September 9, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Jacqueline, oh, I agree that the signaling model is a possibility. That’s a model whereby the only benefit that a school (or a better ranked school) really gives you it that it signals to employers that you could get into that school (and maybe that you could pass it.)

I just wonder if the author would agree, since it seems like his claim inevitably leads to that conclusion.

John Wilson September 9, 2009 at 4:44 pm

1: But Tyler, do you agree with this statement? “If you’re eating at a restaurant you suspect is bad, your best bet is to order the cheeseburger. Even a bad cook can make a decent cheeseburger.” If ordering a cheeseburger is not the optimal strategy, what is? Assume walking out is not an option.

AADL September 9, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Re: Gladwell’s essay on Enron, for a very simple and graphic(al) explanation of that firm’s collapse, see
Hewitt Heiserman, Jr., _It’s Earnings that Count: Finding Stocks with Earnings Power for Long-Term Profits_, pp. 107-11, 184. I still recall Skilling’s denunciation of an analyst on a conference call, who had asked him for an explanation of the special purpose entities that helped fool investors unfamiliar with those vehicles.

anon September 9, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Since you put both a Paul Graham link and a “is college worth it” link together, there is another Graham essay that is appropriate and very worthwhile.

I give a copy of Graham’s “What You’ll Wish You’d Known” to all the high school seniors I know personally.

His advice to students to “stay upwind” is a world of wisdom.

Also this:

Look for smart people and hard problems. Smart people tend to clump together, and if you can find such a clump, it’s probably worthwhile to join it. But it’s not straightforward to find these, because there is a lot of faking going on. … In practice, “stay upwind” reduces to “work on hard problems.”

Andrew September 9, 2009 at 9:33 pm

What about we give poor kids money and then when they graduate they reap the reward. Well, we already do that with loans and jobs. Loans push the cost to later but also increase the price. So, education is a cash to cash leveraged investment. How many people are really thinking about education that way? Intellectual hobbies are fine.

If you want to make resources a smaller factor in completing college then make college harder. Flunk the rich kids out.

Sammler September 10, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Wow, that’s a bad article. It’s particularly notable for its complete failure to disambiguate cause and effect (“Students more likely to graduate go to colleges with higher graduation rates!”).

Why did Mr. Cowen link to it? A pop quiz for commenters?

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