Data Visualization on College Costs

The Times published an interesting visualization today on the cost of colleges. I invite you to take a look at it here.

The bottom line is that the cost of college is a serious issue in this country, but not quite in the way that many people think. Colleges with intimidating list prices aren’t the biggest problem, because they often offer substantial financial aid and have very high graduation rates. Low-income students at these colleges certainly don’t have it easy. Many initially struggle to fit in on elite campuses. Yet the bulk of them go on to graduate, emerge with manageable amounts of debt and get good jobs.


The real problem is elsewhere: among for-profit colleges and public colleges with lower list prices but much lower graduation rates. They often produce students with debt and no degree, which is a miserable combination.

Maybe that’s the key there. It might seem like a better play to pay less uprfont for schooling, but you pay a lot more in the long-term, either in debt or in reduced income from not graduating. To use an imprecise analogy, in a way it’s like buying a cheaper mattress. You’ll walk out with more in your wallet but your back will tell the story over time. And it will hurt.

You know how I see for-profit schools, which are not just a problem ethically but also because they simply rarely work. But the true tragedy here is public colleges. Not all of them, of course, but those with fewer resources and less ability to support their low-income students on the path to graduation. Those students thought they were getting a deal, but not all colleges are cut from the same cloth, and price should only be one part of the puzzle. Not to pretend it’s easy to pay for such schools – the entire system is broken – but it’s not as cut-and-dried as it seems at first glance.

Trouble on Campus

Wall Street Journal reporting on some issues that are threatening college sustainability.

Take a look:

While there is no single number that indicates a tipping point to becoming unsustainable, said Ken Redd, senior director of research and policy analysis at NACUBO, “It’s becoming more and more of a strain on schools.”

Since private, nonprofit schools get more than a third of their total funding from net tuition revenue, the NACUBO report warned, continued declines in that pool of money “may limit institutions’ ability to fulfill their educational and public service missions.” The authors added, “The situation for small institutions appears even more precarious.”

The source of financial aid dollars is another cause for concern. Schools in the study reported that, on average, 10.7% of total undergraduate institutional aid was funded by endowments; there is no dedicated revenue source covering the rest.

Yikes. It’s a good idea, but the smaller schools, which are nonetheless full of hard-working educators and staff, are going to need a different model if they want to still be around in a few decades.

It’s hardly a bad time if you’re a student, unless, of course, your school eventually goes belly up like some have.

Considering I’m about to get a doctorate (although we’ll see whether or not I work in academia…), it’s something worth keeping an eye on.


An Innovative Approach for Kroger

This is interesting.

Take a gander here.

  • ​Kroger this week introduced “Feed Your Future,” a learning and education benefit for workers, as part of the company’s larger “Restock Kroger” growth effort, according to a news release. Feed Your Future will support both full- and part- time employees, whether they are pursuing GEDs, MBAs or professional certifications, Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in the news release.

  • Employees must be with the company for at least six months to qualify for Feed Your Future. Kroger will offer workers an education benefit of up to $3,500 a year – or $21,000 over the course of their employment – toward education and development opportunities. It also will allow employees a leave of absence to focus on their education without losing their position or seniority within the company.

That sounds great, for those who are able to take advantage. Frankly, any for-profit company that isn’t extremely in the red should truly invest in their employees and their lifelong learning. As I’ve said many times, there will not be any careers for which your learning will end after a traditional college education, and if employers want the best workers, they should be helping to mold them, or support them as they forge ahead to mold themselves.

Interesting detail, though:

  • McMullen credits lower federal taxes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for giving Kroger the ability to provide the benefit to workers. The tax overhaul is expected to save the grocer about $400 million per year, and Kroger executives have said they will use around a third of that savings to benefit workers, including pay raises and boosting the company match to employee 401(k) savings plans from 4% to 5%.

Well. As much as it pains me to see that destructive law cited, the lesson remains the same, that extra money should not simply remain in the hands of the few and should be used for the benefit of the many, particularly when it comes to education. If Kroger truly follows through on this, it’s nothing but a good thing. (Though they could use more than “a third of that savings” if they really wanted to…)



On “Levelling the Field”

Great and touching article in the Times over the weekend.

Check it out here.

He has many valuable suggestions, a few of which I will highlight here.

It is common to harbor fond feelings toward your alma mater. But to be a responsible, forward-looking member of your college’s extended community, look a little deeper. Make it your business to figure out exactly whom your college serves. What is the economic breakdown of the current student body? Some colleges trumpet data about underrepresented minorities and first-generation students. But many don’t. And either way, there are follow-up questions to ask. How has that mix changed over the past 10 years? What policies are in place to increase those numbers? You may not get a direct answer. No matter. When they call you as part of the annual fund-raising drive, press the issue.

This is harsh but necessary. Obviously I attended elite schools, and they might not like to see this, justified by higher-wealth alumni giving more so being selected for, in an endless loop. But if they truly care about moving the society forward, they should make access more even, and alumni, those with power, should push them to do so.

Legacy admission must end. By some counts, children of alumni, almost all of them from the top economic quartile, account for 10 percent to 25 percent of the students at the top 100 universities. In 2011, an analysis of 30 elite schools found that legacy candidates saw a 23 percentage point increase in their chances of getting in compared with otherwise similar candidates. Among the Harvard class of 2021, 29 percent had a parent, grandparent or close family relation who attended the school.

Being a legacy, and thus any child being a legacy, you want your child to have every advantage. But I also care about the issue. And I think more good would come out of relative equality.


Colleges say they need legacy admissions to encourage donations. But a 2010 study by Chad Coffman, Tara O’Neil and Brian Starr looked at alumni donations at the top 100 universities and found no discernible impact of legacy admission on giving.

There’s your data.

Another suggestion:

To help students who come from the middle and working classes, cities and states should adopt models like the City University of New York’s ASAP program, which provides intensive advising, money for textbooks and even MetroCards to smooth a student’s pathway to his or her degree.

Schools tout college acceptance, but the numbers for persistence are much lower. Support is needed, and the question is only what sorts of support can be provided.

The big bomb:

This may seem counterintuitive, but please stop giving to your alma mater. Donors to top universities are getting hefty tax deductions to support a system that can seem calculated to ensure that the rich get richer. If you feel you must give, try earmarking your donation for financial aid for low-income, community college students who have applied to transfer to your alma mater.

Well then. I’ll leave that with you.


One Way to Raise Teacher Pay

They got what they wanted by going on strike in West Virginia.

Is that what it would take everywhere else? With weakening unions, the possible pitfalls of this strategy are numerous. But I applaud these teachers for sticking to their principles, and I am glad they won this battle. Sadly, they may yet lose the war, as I’m sure the state’s politicians will find a way to gut their funding more than they already have.

Might we see more of this around the country, especially in more left-leaning locales? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see

Armed Teachers

So here’s our president, talking like he knows things.

Essentially, he wants to create a subset of armed special forces… teachers.

It barely needs to be said that most of what he says is unlikely to come to fruition.

But I wanted to briefly reflect on the idea that teachers can and must be more than those who convey information. This is a fact. We have long had outsize influence on our students of every age, and a person’s favorite teacher is usually one of their most cherished people. Teachers often double as coaches and other types of leaders – sometimes for money, but sometimes just for love – and despite how little respect our field receives from some quarters, it’s true that almost none of us are “just” teachers.

I believe, at its best, teaching can, itself, be a heroic act. But it absolutely shouldn’t require being a superhero. We have enough trouble retaining skilled educators.

None of this is going to happen, of course. (And it wouldn’t even work, but that’s beside the point.) Yet it’s profoundly sad, at least to me, that the acting of educating others is not considered enough.


Here’s a surprisingly short article from The Guardian about the awful current situation in Oklahoma education.

This quote sums things up pretty well.

“Most of our teachers work second jobs,” says Darlene Adair, Wagoner’s principal. “A lot of them work at Walmart on nights and weekends, or in local restaurants.” Ms Adair hopes that Walmart does not offer her teachers a full-time job, which would be a pay rise for many.

This is nuts.

And unfortunately, there is little in the offing that could possibly solve the crisis.

What worries me isn’t just the difficult lives that the educators have, but what might happen twenty or thirty years from now when those students are responsible for jobs and families that they may not have the skills and knowledge to manage effectively. It’s a crisis now, but it could easily become a catastrophe later.

Clearly they should pay the teachers more – if any decide to stay at all – but ultimately, it’s all, in my opinion tied to the fact that teaching isn’t seen as a career to aspire to, or one that is prestigious at all, especially for those who are coming out of school with debt to manage. According to a recent poll, despite how vital education is, it’s not even in the top ten most admired professions in this country.

Unfortunately, with the way educators are spoken of and/or dismissed, I don’t know how to change this.



On Teacher Personalities and Compassion

Hello and happy 2018.

If you remember what I referred to last week, I spoke about authenticity and how important it can be for educators. But as much as I think I made some good points, pushing readers to strive for authenticity doesn’t mean a whole lot if we don’t actually define the term, at least to some extent.

So what does it actually mean to be authnetic, then? I don’t actually know for sure, but at the moment I believe it’s when you live the same way both inside and outside of the classroom. This could mean that your classroom persona is inauthentic and should be more aligned with your external life, or it could mean the opposite. I do believe that as an educator, you can’t truly hide your personality behind too much artifice. Maybe you can pretend for most of a day or a week or a semester, but whatever the real or authentic version of yourself is, it will be revealed. And this is a good thing. As educators, like most humans, we are often pushed towards exuding confidence whether or not we actually feel this way, and it seems likely to me (though I have no proof of this) that a disconnect between a classroom personality and an external one could be driven by a struggle with confidence, either in the sense of having too little and trying to project otherwise, or having too much and being thus unable to adequately reflect on challenges. I’ll come back to this.

Having posited this, I wonder if there are personality traits that correlate with better educators. Surely we’ve all experienced effective educators  and thus have images in our minds about what that looks like, but this is entirely subjective. I did some cursory research and came up with a couple articles, one here, and one here. And those links cover almost all of the traits you might have guessed, including patience, graciousness, and optimism.

All of this seems to be amorphous and purely superficial to me, though. What I think is needed is a comparison between the way educators are seen by their colleagues, friends and partners, and the way they are seen by students, ideally students old enough to have a solid grasp of adult personalities.

Imagine a survey that does not seek to condemn. One that lists personality traits and asks participants whether or not TeacherX possesses and/or displays them. Once complete, TeacherX’s results can be compared between their students and the others in their lives.

I doubt any educator would receive an absolutely equally matched score. I am sure some of the most persnickety teachers I ever had would come off as warm and generous to the people closest to them. Returning to my point above, perhaps the educators who were most similar inside the classroom and out might be those who didn’t chase an expression of self-confidence but those who practice self-compassion, which you can read about in this recent article here. The article states:

““The first and most important thing to do is to notice that voice in your head – that running commentary we all have as we go about our lives,” Mr. Barker said. “Often that voice is way too critical. You beat yourself up for every perceived mistake. To be more self-compassionate, you need to notice that voice and correct it.””

Every educator has a few dozen chances to make a mistake in each class, and even the best of us will indeed make many mistakes. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, we can improve, and not spend so much effort trying not to fail. Again, I have yet to study this, but I think this would lead to considerably more authentic teaching, teaching that admits to flaws but does not punish people for having them, teaching that encourages honesty and sharing when needed and not superficial bluster.

I think a list centered on compassion and related traits would be far more instructive than the vague list of beneficial attributes you can find all across the internet. Once a framework has been built, perhaps it would be easier to determine how authentic most teachers are, and potentially compare this to their success as educators. How to measure said success is a question for another day, but I think talking about authenticity will only get us so far without some sort of metrics to support the concept.

What do you think?

Evidence on Sector-Focused Job Training

(No, that’s not a pun on the name of this blog, but it is a little funny.)

MDRC is a nonprofit that does research on the implementation of behavioral design in various disciplines. My colleagues and I were lucky enough to attend a seminar of theirs over the summer, and I consider their work to be among the best and most accessible in the behavioral science world. Today I’m writing about a podcast of theirs, in which they describe positive results from tailored and sector-focused job training. You can, and should, listen to the podcast (which is only seven minutes long) at this link.

To summarize the findings, MDRC has been analyzing a program called WorkAdvance, which is “a sector-based, skill-building model, launched in 2011 as a national Social Innovation Fund project sponsored by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the Center for Economic Opportunity. WorkAdvance providers work closely with employers in New York, Tulsa, and northeastern Ohio to help job seekers prepare for and enter quality jobs as well as succeed and advance in the labor market.”

It should come as little surprise to you that actually focusing the training on what the specific populations have needed has improved their results significantly. WorkAdvance prepares its clients for work in burgeoning industries, including IT, medical billing, and long-haul trucking (I’m, uh, not so sure about the long-term prospects of that one, but they know more than I do). The key, though, is that the training is designed alongside the employers, to provide the clients with the very specific skills they are lacking from most applicants.

The results were clear. To paraphrase the podcast, participants were much likelier to attain credentials and employment in their desired field, and two years out were earning 14% more than they otherwise would have. That may not seem like much, but is a considerable difference, especially for clients with less experience or expertise. To wit, the program even increased earnings for long-term unemployed, who are always a particular challenge in training and development.

Let me take a step back here and broaden the potential impact of this study. It seems obvious to posit that workforce development and other sorts of adult education need to be closely tied to employers or other goals that students might have, but a great deal of behavioral science is about common sense best practices that aren’t being done, after all. Job training programs are a dime a dozen, mostly because it’s easier to create a one-size-fits-all model. But without close working relationships with employers or schools (depending on what type of goals that students have), training runs the risk of becoming obsolete or irrelevant very quickly.

You can absolutely learn medical billing, or coding, or English just about anywhere and for not that much money (or even for free). But an employer who knows for sure that you’ve learned exactly the skills they require is much more keen to hire someone, all else being equal.

In my own field, plenty of my colleagues have taught “Business English” to interested parties. And there is absolutely a market for it. But most of the courses advertised are generic and outdated. I’m not sure how many textbooks I’ve seen that really want to make sure students know about fax machines, but it’s more than it should be. Imagine if more employers with international employees were involved in developing their own curricula with trainers and instructors, so that they knew exactly what their new workers had learned? Imagine how many fewer communication issues there might be.

Anyway, I encourage you to check out the podcast and look for other such evidence. The fact is, one-size-fits-all is really only good for baseball caps.