After a mere week or so at work, it can no longer be said that Catherine Rampell is the most underrated force in economics writing and journalism (or can it?).  Here is her post on which are the most expensive schools.  It is art and music schools, when you take all relevant costs and financial aid into account.  Excerpt:

Now here’s a list of the top 10 most expensive four-year private nonprofits, after subtracting the average amount of government and institutional grant/scholarship aid at each institution:

1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

2. Ringling College of Art and Design

3. The Boston Conservatory

4. Berklee College of Music

5. California Institute of the Arts

Do see the earlier MR post “Artists grew up in households w/typically higher incomes than doctors did.”  What does this imply about the competitiveness of the sector?  About our models of child-rearing?

Harry from Crooked Timber writes:

The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

The post is interesting throughout.  The book he is discussing is Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, which I have just ordered.

Faculty members at Alamo Colleges in San Antonio objected earlier this year to their chancellor’s move to make a course inspired in part by the popular self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People part of the core curriculum. Instructors said they felt left out of the decision-making process and weren’t sure if the course, which would replace one of only two required humanities classes in the core, deserved that kind of curricular billing.

It is strange, is it not, that the attempt to teach habits of highly effective people is considered gauche and unworthy of the time of students?  (It is unlikely that the objections stem from a belief that the wrong habits are being taught.  That said, you can read more about the Mormon roots of Stephen Covey and his ideas here.)  You can read more about the episode at Alamo Colleges here.



I thank a loyal MR reader — presumably for Singapore — for these images.

That is a new piece (pdf) by Andrew J. Hill, at the University of South Carolina.  It seems your child should beware the girl next door:

Parents are concerned about the influence of friends during adolescence. Using the gender composition of schoolmates in an individual’s close neighborhood as an instrument for the gender composition of an individual’s self-reported friendship network, this paper finds that the share of opposite gender friends has a sizable negative eff ect on high school GPA. The eff ect is found across all subjects for students over the age of sixteen, but is limited to mathematics and science for younger students. Self-reported difficulties getting along with the teacher and paying attention in class are important mechanisms through which the e ffect operates.

For the pointer I thank the ever-excellent Kevin Lewis.

The ski holiday company that is offering to pay parents’ fines for taking children out of school to go skiing has received tremendous support from parents since the promotion went viral.

Lee Quince, the owner of Bedford-based MountainBase, which sells holidays to Morzine in the French Alps, said: “90 per cent of the people who have got in touch have been supportive of what we’re doing.”

It was a fortnight ago an advert called ‘Are Schools in the UK taking the PISTE?’ ran, claiming that the company would pay any local authority fines parents received for taking their children out of school if they booked a holiday in March or April. But it wasn’t until last week the advert was picked up by the national press, reigniting a long running debate about the cost of holidays out of term time.

Mr Quince has admitted his company’s deal encourages parents to break the law, but said he has received a lot of support for the advert.

The company claims it has no choice but to put its prices up by almost 50 per cent during the peak season, which it claims is unfair on customers.

There is more here.

You will find it here.

Here is a piece on economic data.  What it says is fine, but it won’t interest me.  I wished this piece on hockey goalies had been longer and more analytic.  The same is true for this piece on corporations hoarding cash, which also could use more context.  Maybe it is I rather than they who is misjudging the market, but to me these are “tweener” pieces, too superficial for smart and informed readers, yet on topics which are too abstruse for the more casual readers.  I want something more like the very good Bill Simmons analytic pieces on Grantland, with jokes too, and densely packed narrative, yet applied to a much broader range of topics.  Barring that, I am happy to read one very good sentence or two on a topic.

Here is a piece on whether guessing makes sense on the new SAT.  It is fine but presents material already covered in places such as NYT.

Here is Silver’s introductory essay as to what they are about.  It is too sprawling and evinces a greater affiliation to rigor with data analysis than to rigor with philosophy of science or for that matter rigor with rhetoric.

I have long been a fan of Nate Silver, but so far I don’t think this is working.

Elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child – all from the sound of a human voice.

This is according to a study in which researchers played voice recordings to wild African elephants.

The animals showed more fear when they heard the voices of adult Masai men.

Livestock-herding Masai people do come into conflict with elephants, and this suggests that animals have adapted to specifically listen for and avoid them.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There is more here.

The announcement of the new, new SAT has created a lot of hand-wringing about SAT scores and their correlations with income and also race. Wonkblog, the New York Times and many others all feature a table or chart showing how SAT scores increase with income. Wonkblog says these charts “show how the SAT knowledgeorincomefavors rich, educated families,” and the NYTimes says about the SAT, “A Test of Knowledge or Income?” The consensus explanation for these “shocking” results is the evil of test prep as summarized by NBCNews:

…there is also mounting criticism as to whether students who can afford expensive SAT test preparation courses have an unfair advantage, especially given a strong correlation between family income level and test results.

Similarly, Chris Hayes blames test prep for inequality:

We’ve had…the growth of this tremendous testing and test prep industry in New York, along with the massive rise in inequality and it has produced a system in which the school is now admitting only three, four, five black and Latino students. The students they are admitting are almost entirely white, affluent kids with tutors or second generation, first generation immigrants from Queens and other places where the parents pay for test prep. You end up with a system where who you are really letting in are the kids with access to test prep, the kids with access to resources.

All of this is almost entirely at variance with three facts, all of which are well known among education researchers.

First, test prep has only a modest effect on test scores, on the order of 20-40 points combined for a commercial test preparation service. More expensive services such as a private tutor are towards the high of this range, cheaper sources such as a high-school course towards the lower. Buchmann et al., for example, estimate that private tutors increase scores by 37 points while a high school course increases scores by 26 points.

The average SAT score among those with a family income of $20,000-$40,000 is 1402 while the average score among those with an income $100,000 higher, $120,000-$140,000, is 1581 for a 179 point difference. Even if every rich family had a private tutor and none of the poor families had any test prep whatsoever, test prep would explain only 20% of the difference 37/179. If rich families rely on tutors and poor families rely on high school courses, the difference in test prep would explain only 6% (11/179) of the difference in score.

The second surprising fact about test prep is that it doesn’t vary nearly as much by income as people imagine. In fact, some studies find no effect of income on test prep use while others find a positive but modest effect. The latter study finding (what I call) a modest effect finds that in their sample a 2-standard deviation increase in income above the mean increases the probability of using a private test prep course less than whether “Parent encouraged student to prep for SAT (yes or no).”

Since test prep differs by income only modestly and since test prep increases scores only modestly, the effect of income on test scores through test prep is small, Modest*Modest=Small. Contrary to the consensus, test prep can in no way account for the large differences in SAT score by income.

The third fact is that test prep varies by race in the opposite way that people imagine. In the quote above, Chris Hayes suggests that whites use test prep much more than blacks. In fact, blacks use test prep more than whites, as is well documented among education researchers (e.g. here, here, here), e.g. from the first link:

…blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites from comparable backgrounds to utilize test preparation. The black-white gap is especially pronounced in the use of high school courses, private courses and private tutors.

Indeed, since blacks use test prep more than whites and blacks have lower SAT scores than whites the effect of test prep is to reduce not increase the black-white gap in scores. Of course, the net reduction in the gap is small.

by on March 9, 2014 at 10:49 pm in Current Affairs, Education, History, Web/Tech | Permalink

That is the new Ezra Klein-led news site, and a demo version of the site is at, where you can watch an explanatory video.  You can follow them on Twitter here.  They are on Instagram here.  YouTube here.

You can also think of this as a project in history, or on-line education.

That is a new and highly useful book by Stuart J. Hillmon, here is one bit from it:

Truthfully, majoring in economics is not really all that helpful for your admissions prospects.  This is true for two reasons.  First, knowing who does well in undergraduate economics is not terribly helpful in identifying who will be a good academic economist.  Unlike other fields such as chemistry or physics, what happens in undergraduate courses bears little relation to what happens in graduate courses.  For this reason, the committee cannot predict how well you will do as an academic economist based on your doing well in your undergraduate econ courses.  Consequently, they don’t give too much weight to your stellar performance in the usual undergraduate classes.

For this book, I would have asked for greater length, more discussion of government and private sector careers, and more discussion of non-orthodox paths through academic economics, or for that matter seeking employment at a teaching school or attending a Ph.D. program below the top tier.  You will note “Stuart J. Hillmon is the pseudonym for an academic economist who graduated from a top five doctoral program in economics and currently teaches courses in policy and economics.”  The book is structured accordingly and perhaps that will frighten some of you away.  If everyone were like Hillmon, I would not myself today be an economist.

Still, this is a good place to start if you are considering whether to get a Ph.D. in economics.

From Hollis Robbins:

As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).

The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.

A low-cost, high-value first-year education would allow students to transfer into a traditional degree-granting institution at a second- or third-year level, saving a year or more of tuition. Home-colleged students would have a year of personal attention to writing skills, research skills, oral-presentation skills, and the relationship of disciplines in the liberal arts.  The attention to oral and written skills may be particularly valuable to non-English-speaking students looking to succeed at an American college or university.

Accreditation is key, but if the problem has been solved at the secondary-school level for home schooling, why not in higher education?

Read the whole thing.

Here is the Bloomberg account, here are Krugman’s own words.  I say it’s a good move and if I were in an analogous position I would do something similar.  Think of it as another form of disintermediation.  Think of it also as being closer to useful airports and media centers.

More generally, the value of living in either New York City or Washington, D.C. — for those who seek influence — is going up.  Krugman’s decision reflects that broader reality.

Hans Noel flunks this test and says no:

I don’t think Clinton should be given a “tenured professorship.”+ Not because of his lack of a Ph.D. per se, but because, smart as he is, Clinton is not a scholar. He doesn’t do research. He is not in the business of contributing to the store of human knowledge. If Clinton is given a job as a tenured professor, what would he do? A “tenured professorship” is not a plum given to reward success. It’s an actual job.

The job of a professor is not the same as “being smart.” Academics write those pesky obscure papers that Kristof finds impenetrable and irrelevant because that’s how we learn things. The demands for publication may have perversities, but it is what drives people to do research.

I would offer a tenured professorship to any ex-President who is willing to spend real time with students and academic programs.  That would be in a public policy school, a public administration department, a university-wide appointment, or even a political science department.  A class actually taught by Clinton, even half of the time with another professor doing most of the actual work, would be fascinating.  And if you don’t like Clinton, or don’t think he is smart (not my view at all), consider this a student’s chance to see the (ex) emperor with no clothes, which is itself a learning experience.

I know people who have had Obama as professor — before he was President of course — and loved him, and not for partisan reasons.

Have I mentioned that universities tenure plenty of people who don’t do research?  Check out your music department, for a start, or Fine Arts.  Or (very likely but not always) your business school.

I recently read Noel’s book on political polarization and enjoyed it, especially his discussion of how intellectual elites have led the process of polarization.  Still, I would trade in having read that book for a five minute chat with Bill Clinton.

Addendum: I also would offer a tenured professorship to any ex-President who is not willing to spend real time with students and academic programs.  The job offer would more than pay for itself, given the money it would bring into the university, directly and indirectly.  Most universities support athletics programs, and pay the successful coaches millions more than any other state employee earns — can they not find room for a former Commander in Chief or two?

Public Choice Outreach 2014!

by on February 27, 2014 at 7:15 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

I write to ask your help recruiting promising undergraduate or graduate students for our annual Public Choice Outreach Conference. The 2014 Conference will be held on June 6 – 8, 2014 at the Hyatt Arlington conveniently located close to the National Mall and Georgetown areas of Washington DC. Applications are now available and are due on Friday, April 11, 2014.

The Public Choice Outreach Conference is designed as a “crash course” in Public Choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Many graduates of the Outreach seminar have gone on to notable careers in academia, law and business. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences as have a few mayors and other politicians! Applicants unfamiliar with Public Choice and students from outside of George Mason University are especially encouraged.

A small stipend is available and meals and rooms will be provided by the conference (for non-locals). Space, however, is very limited.

More information here.

P.S. Tyler and myself will both be speaking along with an all-star cast of scholars!