Education

Students at Purdue University soon will be able to apply for education funding in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings, a program that could revolutionize college financial aid at a time when costs are high.

Through its research foundation, the public college in West Lafayette, Ind. is rolling out the “Back a Boiler” program next month, using a concept known as an income-share agreement, or ISA, that would be available to rising juniors and seniors. Awards will start at $5,000 and will take into account a student’s cumulative debt. Students would repay the debt during the years immediately following college based on a fixed rate linked to their expected income, a gamble that could save them thousands of dollars as compared to traditional loans but also could cost them far more if they land high-paying jobs.

Purdue is the first American university to experiment with ISAs in more than 40 years, and if successful, could mainstream a novel alternative to private student loans.

Here is the full story.  Here is an Alex link, with links to other Alex links on this.

Here is the latest from Silicon Valley:

As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.

…a new crop of virtual assistant start-ups, whose products will soon flood the market, have in mind more ambitious bots that can interact seamlessly with human beings.

Because this wave of technology is distinguished by the ability to chat, writers for AI must focus on making the conversation feel natural. Designers for Amazon’s Alexa have built humanizing “hmms” and “ums” into her responses to questions. Apple’s Siri assistant is known for her wry jokes, as well as her ability to beatbox upon request.

As in fiction, the AI writers for virtual assistants dream up a life story for their bots. Writers for medical and productivity apps make character decisions such as whether bots should be workaholics, eager beavers or self-effacing. “You have to develop an entire backstory — even if you never use it,” Ewing said.

Even mundane tasks demand creative effort, as writers try to build personality quirks into the most rote activities. At the start-up x.ai, a Harvard theater graduate is tasked with deciding whether its scheduling bots, Amy and Andrew, should use emojis or address people by first names. “We don’t want people saying, ‘Your assistant is too casual — or too much,’ ” said Anna Kelsey, whose title is AI interaction designer. “We don’t want her to be one of those crazy people who uses 15 million exclamation points.”

Here is the full story.

In 2013, after all 25,000 high school students sitting state university entrance exams failed, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted that the education system was “a mess” and called for a complete overhaul.

Now it seems Sirleaf’s government has decided that rather than overhauling the education system themselves, they’re going to pay someone else to do it for them. Under a pilot program called “Partnership Schools for Liberia,” the Liberian government will outsource some of its primary and early childhood educational system to private companies over the next five years.

One huge contract has gone to a private company called Bridge International Academies — reportedly to the tune of $65 million. And it’s causing some real controversy.

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for the right to education, Kishore Singh, has denounced the plan as “completely unacceptable” and “a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education.” A coalition of teachers unions and civil society groups in Liberia issued an open letter announcing their opposition. Education International, an international federation of unions, has warned that “privatisation vultures” involved in the plan “pose [a] serious threat to Liberia’s public education system.”

…Bridge’s “academy in a box” model has attracted investment from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, which invested $10 million each. Bill Gates and the UK government’s Department for International Development are also investors.

Here is the Vox story.   As they say, big steps toward a much better world…

Here is coverage from prior efforts in Kenya, hat tips go to Dani Rodrik and Alex T.

Robin Hanson has a good post on this, here is one bit:

How did the industrial era get at least some workers to accept more domination, inequality, and ambiguity, and why hasn’t that worked equally well everywhere? A simple answer I want to explore in this post is: prestigious schools.

While human foragers are especially averse to even a hint of domination, humans are especially eager to take “orders” via copying the practices of prestigious folks. Humans have a uniquely powerful capacity for cultural evolution exactly because we are especially eager and able to copy what prestigious people do. So if humans hate industrial workplace practices when they see them as bosses dominating, but love to copy the practices of prestigious folks, an obvious solution is to habituate kids into workplace practices in contexts that look more like the later than the former.

…centuries ago most young people did signal their abilities via jobs, and the school signaling system has slowly displaced that job signaling system. Pressures to conform to existing practices can’t explain this displacement of a previous practice by a new practice. So why did signaling via school did win out over signaling via early jobs?

Like early jobs, school can have people practice habits that will be useful in jobs, such as showing up on time, doing what you are told even when that is different from what you did before, figuring out ambiguous instructions, and accepting being frequently and publicly ranked relative to similar people. But while early jobs threaten to trip the triggers than make most animals run from domination, schools try to frame a similar habit practice in more acceptable terms, as more like copying prestigious people.

The post is interesting throughout.  And via Brian S., here is Siderea on college, social class, and other matters.

There is a new NBER working paper from Omar Al-Ubaydli and John A. List:

This is a review of the literature of field experimental studies of markets. The main results covered by the review are as follows: (1) Generally speaking, markets organize the efficient exchange of commodities; (2) There are some behavioral anomalies that impede efficient exchange; (3) Many behavioral anomalies disappear when traders are experienced.

This is the best survey article on these claims that I know.

It’s time to apply or encourage your students to apply to the annual Public Choice Outreach Conference! This conference is a “crash course” in public choice with talks by Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan, Dan Houser, Johanna Mollerstrom and many others.

Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences.

The conference is June 10-12 in Arlington VA, there are no fees, room and board are paid and some stipends are available.

You can find more information and an application here. Apply now!

Kasich supporters are in a league of their own. They have by far the best credit ratings, on average. Some 86% have “excellent” or “good” scores. No other candidate’s supporters even breaks 70%. Kasich’s supporters are half as likely to have bad or fair ratings as anyone else.

The second is that Donald Trump supporters are the least likely to have “good” scores. Only half of them do (49.8%), slightly behind Hillary Clinton supporters (50.7%) and Sanders supporters (51%) and well behind the supporters of the other Republicans. Trump supporters are also far more likely to have “bad” scores than supporters of the other Republican candidates.

Here is the Brett Arends article, via George Chen.

I remember a very interesting debate that my father was involved in, where there was a water beetle that can’t travel very far and can’t fly. You have these in the north coast of Australia, and in millions of years, they haven’t been able to travel from one stream to another. And it came up that in the north coast of New Guinea, you have the same water beetle, with slight variations. The only way that could have happened was if New Guinea came off Australia and turned around, that the north coast of New Guinea used to be attached to the coast of Australia. It was very interesting seeing the reaction of the geologists to this argument, which was that ‘beetles can’t move continents.’ They refused to look at the evidence.

That is Geoffrey Hinton, being interviewed by Adrian Lee, mostly about AI and Go, interesting throughout.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

I will be doing an AMA on Quora on Thursday. Questions and votes are populating now.

Here are some previous sessions with economists Jon LevinAustan Goolsbee and Susan Athey. Lots of others, including Noam Chomsky,  Bob Metcalfe and Gillian Anderson.

A San Francisco start-up aiming to offer an Ivy League-level education at half the cost of elite US colleges has accepted a smaller fraction of its applicants than Harvard or Yale in its third year of operation.

Minerva, whose students move between California, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul and London while studying a largely online curriculum, will announce this week that it received more than 16,000 applications from 50 countries for 306 places, for an acceptance rate of just 1.9 per cent.

…With no sports teams, libraries or other overheads that contribute to the prestige of traditional universities but inflate costs, Minerva charges about $28,000 a year for tuition, room, board and other fees, offering scholarships through a non-profit arm. That compares to an estimated annual cost of $64,000 to attend Princeton.

…Its students are split into small groups for live interactive seminars, which are taught through a proprietary online platform that tracks their participation. They move together from one city to the next every six months, living in rented residence halls.

Here is the full FT story.

The authors are Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. and the subtitle is Conservative Professors in the Progressive University.  I found this book subtle and thought-provoking throughout.  Here is one good bit:

In fact, many conservative academics feel more at home in the progressive academy than in the Republican Party.  This alienation is not because most conservative academics we interviewed are Rockefeller Republicans. In some respects, they are more conservative than self-identified Republicans in the general population.  Instead, the Republican Party tends to trouble even the most conservative professors because they share with the American founders a small-c conservatism that is sensitized to the dangers of democratic movements.  This political orientation inclines conservative professors to look askance at the populism that has shaken up the Republican Party in recent years…

What also comes through in this book is the remarkable diversity of thought among the so-called “intellectual right.”  And I enjoyed this anecdote:

A professor of history at an elite university, meanwhile, turned right after taking a course with the Marxist historian Arno Mayer.  This admiring historian recalled Mayer announcing to his class, “I’m going to assign the book I most disagree with in the twentieth century, and I’m going to ask you not to critique it, but to recreate its arguments with intellectual empathy.”  The book was Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

If only the blogosphere was always so tolerant.  I feared I would be bored by this book, but I found it a work of quality scholarship, yet highly readable too.  Here is a Jonathan Marks WSJ review.  And here is a relevant column by Virginia Postrel.

Research shows that about a quarter of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs dropped out of university or high school before going on to join the financial elite, a greater proportion than those who achieved masters degrees.

Here is the Murad Ahmed FT piece.  Only about five percent of these super-billionaires have achieved a doctorate.

The paper title is Believing there is no free will corrupts intuitive cooperation, and the authors are John Protzko, Brett Ouimette, and Jonathan Schooler.  The abstract is this:

Regardless of whether free will exists, believing that it does affects one’s behavior. When an individual’s belief in free will is challenged, one can become more likely to act in an uncooperative manner. The mechanism behind the relationship between one’s belief in free will and behavior is still debated. The current study uses an economic contribution game under varying time constraints to elucidate whether reducing belief in free will allows one to justify negative behavior or if the effects occur at a more intuitive level of processing. Here we show that although people are intuitively cooperative, challenging their belief in free will corrupts this behavior, leading to impulsive selfishness. If given time to think, however, people are able to override the initial inclination toward self-interest induced by discouraging a belief in free will.

I would say that we need a large swathe of society to believe in ideals of free will and individual responsibility, even though such concepts are not entirely faultless from a metaphysical point of view.  For a given thinker, it is worth asking whether he or she adds to or takes away from that social belief.  For some writers, the concepts of individual blame and responsibility apply only to their intellectual adversaries!

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

From a School of Law email and press release:

George Mason University today announces pledges totaling $30 million to the George Mason University Foundation to support the School of Law.  The gifts, combined, are the largest in university history. The gifts will help establish three new scholarship programs that will potentially benefit hundreds of students seeking to study law at Mason.

In recognition of this historic gift, the Board of Visitors has approved the renaming of the school to The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University.

“This is a milestone moment for the university,” said George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera. “These gifts will create opportunities to attract and retain the best and brightest students, deliver on our mission of inclusive excellence, and continue our goal to make Mason one of the preeminent law schools in the country.”

Mason has grown rapidly over the last four decades to become the largest public research university in Virginia. The School of Law was established in 1979 and has been continually ranked among the top 50 law programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

Justice Scalia, who served 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke at the dedication of the law school building in 1999 and was a guest lecturer at the university.  He was a resident of nearby McLean, Virginia.

…The gift includes $20 million that came to George Mason through a donor who approached Leonard A. Leo of the Federalist Society, a personal friend of the late Justice Scalia and his family.  The anonymous donor asked that the university name the law school in honor of the Justice. “The Scalia family is pleased to see George Mason name its law school after the Justice, helping to memorialize his commitment to a legal education that is grounded in academic freedom and a recognition of the practice of law as an honorable and intellectually rigorous craft,” said Leo.

The gift also includes a $10 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, which supports hundreds of colleges and universities across the country that pursue scholarship related to societal well-being and free societies.

Most of all, I would like to congratulate Dean Henry Butler and also President Cabrera and Provost Wu.

As someone who has now taught (part time) at the Law School for over a decade, I simply love the quality and curiosity and drive of the students.  I am delighted to see this may get bigger and better yet.  And the leadership at the School of Law has long seen legal training as the true place to get a liberal arts education appropriate for the modern world.

This one is about the power of the individual, the authors are Makan Amini, Mathias Ekström, Tore Ellingsen, Magnus Johannesson, and Fredrik Strömsten:

Failure to express minority views may distort the behavior of company boards, committees, juries, and other decision-making bodies. Devising a new experimental procedure to measure such conformity in a judgment task, we compare the degree of conformity in groups with varying gender composition. Overall, our experiments offer little evidence that gender composition affects expression of minority views. A robust finding is that a subject’s lack of ability predicts both a true propensity to accept others’ judgment (informational social influence) and a propensity to agree despite private doubt (normative social influence). Thus, as an antidote to conformity in our experiments, high individual ability seems more effective than group diversity.

The co-editor on the paper was John List, a paragon of both innovation and self-criticism, but perhaps we need to ask a diverse focus group instead…

Mao

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.