Category Archives: Academia

Where have all the student-athletes gone?

In the back of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue,” there’s a picture of her cross-country team and the caption of “The whole team was on the honor roll.”  My track coach was thrilled to announce one year that the varsity team had a 3.7 average GPA.

There is a long tradition of scholar-athletes: people who study hard and also apply themselves to athletics in pursuit of being a well-rounded person, strong in body and mind. The skills that make for a good student make for a good athlete, too.  My siblings, who both made the varsity basketball team as freshmen, went outside every single day to shoot hoops; it wasn’t enough for them to be at practice. I did extra math homework if there was a concept I wasn’t getting perfectly, read books several times (not just the assigned one time), and turned in papers that didn’t just scrape by the minimum word count.

So when I read about the UNC athletics scandal, it hurts. Instead of teaching these kids to apply the same dedication to their studies as they apply on the football field, administrators gave them grades for forged work or no work at all – in the best interests of the students, of course.


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College: the best seven years of your life

According to a new study by Complete College America, only 19% of students at public universities, and 36% of students at state flagship universities, earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. (Hat tip.) Only 10% of students who receive remedial education graduate on time.

Complete College America proposes a highly structured course track that guides students to on-time graduation.  My engineering school did something very similar: it outlined exactly when our required courses needed to be completed so that we could finish the sequence on time. It didn’t hurt that we had to declare a major at the end of freshman year (students in the liberal arts college were given until the end of sophomore year) and had an adviser walk us through the process.  Although my alma mater is a private school, the idea of guided, structured tracks is a good one that can be easily and inexpensively used in public universities.

That said, there is plenty of blame to go around for the sorry state of affairs.  Perhaps many students who are at university really shouldn’t be there, either due to lack of preparation, drive, or ability to focus on school work and not partying. “Guided Pathways to Success” won’t help students who aren’t able to register for the courses they need; many students at public universities have found that required courses are full before they even have a chance to register.  Universities lack an incentive to change this: they collect more tuition money from students who remain on campus for a longer time and can always throw out the canard about “declining state funding” if they are ever publicly called out for their behaviour. (It is well within the powers of a university to cancel some arcane course on Sanskrit Feminist Theory and divert those saved resources to a section of intro psychology.)

Complete College America also suggests dumbing down the college curriculum.  Okay, they didn’t put it exactly that way, but they did suggest that college requirements for Algebra II be done away with and replaced with statistics.  Now, I love stats and think that it should be required for almost any major, but am baffled as to why colleges are admitting enough students who can’t do Algebra II that eliminating the requirement has a measurable effect on graduation rates.

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Advice For College Students

Last year, I wrote some #AdviceForCollegeWomen and #AdviceForCollegeMen.  You can find it here.

I would like to think that my advice to “major in something useful, minor in something fun” is pertinent given that a lot of the pay gap is the result of a career-choice gap (i.e. the highest-paying professions are things like petroleum engineering and are often dominated by men), and that my advice to not get black-out drunk is important in an age wherein drunk people do mean things to each other.

Of course, no one gets rich – or even gets page views – off saying boring things like “Study and party, or study and don’t party, but make sure you study,” or “Don’t get pregnant and don’t get anyone pregnant.”

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Elite Universities: The Good, the Bad, and the Pathological

The Internet is all abuzz with a post about elite universities from The New Republic. (Find commentary here and here.) There are some issues with the article, namely, going from a legitimate gripe about the insane admissions process to assuming that “kids these days” are shallow, self-absorbed twits, or that “real learning” doesn’t happen at good schools.

I’m the first to say that the modern elite college admissions process is best ignored in favour of having a life and doing things that interest you. But the value of being at such a university is not just in the connections or the professors; it is one’s fellow students.

Back in high school, I found plenty of smart, motivated students in the honours and AP courses, but it wasn’t that challenging of an experience.  (I seem to recall spending five minutes a day on my AP chem homework.) That all changed once I hit university and found that I was one of five thousand people who had all been among the best students at their high schools.  My engineering and science professors often graded us on a B-/C+ curve, and when you looked around the room to wonder who would get the Cs, you often looked at yourself. Once my ego got over being whacked, it was a great experience: I worked harder than I ever would have before, for professors who demanded more out of me than any teacher had before, alongside students who were very smart, motivated, and intellectually curious.

It also showed me how very big the world is and how very many talented people are in it.  You can tell a teenager that there are four million high school seniors graduating with her and an awful lot of them are ridiculously brilliant, but it’s just an abstraction until she starts to meet hundreds or thousands of those people at a time.  It was an unnerving experience, but a valuable one: adults should understand that the world is full of talented people.

The problem that everyone from TNR to Stacy McCain has with super-elite universities is that people focus on admission and alumni connections, as if what actually happens at college is irrelevant. But that is a problem that is best solved by individual students and their parents, not by elite thinkers and planners.

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Starbucks: Educating Employees

Starbucks just announced that it would help its baristas obtain college degrees: those who work for at least twenty hours a week for two years are eligible for tuition subsidies at Arizona State University (online), and those who work for more than two years would be eligible for tuition reimbursement. (Story.)

I’m going to exercise a lot of self-control and not snark about how the higher education bubble has resulted in a lot of baristas already having college degrees. Let’s focus on the meat of this: we’re going back in time to when it was normal for kids to work their way through college.  When college is cheap, it makes sense to spend time working to pay for it: the reduction in time spent studying is more than offset by the fact that you’re paying for all of it by working.  However, when college is expensive, it makes little sense to work full-time and pay only a tenth or a twentieth of the cost.

The next time I order a marble mocha macchiato, I know that some of the exorbitant cost will be helping one of the baristas to get a degree.  That’s really neat.

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A tragic end after the loss of all good sense

The story of Daniel Kopin and Lena Sclove, both students at Brown University when the latter accused the former of rape, is rife with issues for discussion. But I would like to focus on this vignette:

The woman also wrote that she voluntarily took off most of her clothes and that, while she almost immediately began to regret the encounter, she never told Kopin she wanted to stop. Her grievance against him boiled down to the claim that he “moved [her] body around into whatever positions he felt best in” and seemed interested only in his own pleasure, and that he pushed her head down too forcefully while she was giving him oral sex, causing her to stop and tell him that “that was rude.”

Any crime has an objective element to it: we do not throw people in jail (or, in the instant case, throw them out of school) for not being mind readers or for relying on objective signals of acquiescence. Imagine with theft: “May I have a dollar?” “Okay….” Ten minutes later: “He stole my dollar! Charge him with theft!”  Certainly, there are issues with this as the repeated asking, combined with other signals, approaches coercion, but receiving a “yes” in response to a question is an objectively reasonable standard of consent.

I loathe being in the position of defending cads, but the particular cad in question should be defended against charges of rape.  Her problem with the encounter is that a man barely out of his teens was screwing her for his own pleasure and not her empowerment – so she accused him of rape.

At this point, I feel the need to channel my inner acerbic, chain-smoking aunt: Honey, of course he had sex with you for his own gratification. He’s a healthy young man. If you wanted a man to make love to you instead of fucking you, then don’t have sex with a man who isn’t in love with you.

As a raging conservative, I can explain to Lena Sclove why she felt so crummy after that encounter and everything that is wrong with it, starting with the premise that it’s a good idea to be sexually intimate with a man who doesn’t put your best interests first. (Here’s a hint: if he doesn’t do that outside of the bedroom, it won’t happen in the bedroom.) But I wonder if she can cogently explain the problems with it and why she was so upset after what was apparently a consensual sexual encounter. I wonder if she – or anyone on the Brown disciplinary panel – can explain the difference between being a selfish cad and a rapist.

I suspect that until our society can explain to young women that “consent” is a necessarily, but certainly  not sufficient, condition for a sexual encounter that will not make them feel crappy, we can only expect more of this – more men thrown out of school, more heartbroken women who can’t understand their pain.

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Filed under Academia, Feminism, Law

Enough of the self-satisfied navel gazing

No, I’m not talking about blogging; I’m talking about the college admissions essay, one of the most absurd and smug pieces of writing that young scholars will ever produce. (See here and here for some commentary on this subject.)

A personal statement is usually about five hundred words long (a page and a half double spaced); the subject matter is a 17-year-old who quite often, has lived an entirely normal life and lacks something profound upon which to reflect and the perspective that enables one to reflect upon such an experience.

I much prefer the idea of long essays that showcase a student’s creativity and ability to think critically and write something more complex than a five-paragraph essay.  There are also essays with neat prompts (e.g. “We flip to page 241 of your 300-page biography.  What does it say?”) that encourage students to think creatively and provide a bit of fun.

However, the current essays (“Tell us about a hardship that you overcame”) is, at best, a complete waste of time; at worst, it results in the whiny “listen to me, I’m a victim!” mentality that suffuses modern university campuses.  The current essay also encourages students to take private tribulations (e.g. family strife, a struggle with depression) and turn it into a literary tap-dance routine for the benefit of college admissions officials. Far better to let students show their personalities more indirectly and let them maintain some dignity.

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“Average debt load” is a lagging indicator

A friendly reminder from your math nerd blogger: “average debt load” of graduating students is almost always going to be substantially less than a new student will owe.  This is due to increases in tuition and fees that exceed inflation.

Using law school as an example, because I was just snarked down to about that, the most recent data available is from the Class of 2013.  (The Class of 2104 hasn’t graduated yet.) Those students were enrolled in law school from 2010 to 2013.  Law school tuition has increased by $4,000 – $5,000 per year.

Therefore, a student who is enrolled from 2010-2013 will be charged approximately $50,000 less than a student who is enrolled from 2014-2017.  As cost increases a few thousand dollars per year, the latter student will pay about $18,000 less for her first year than the former student did (2010 -> 2014 is four years * $4k or $5k/year); the same repeats for her second and third years of law school.

This is also why student loan debt continues to skyrocket; everyone is using data that is outdated, even if it’s the most recent data available.

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The Yoga Pants Debacle

Short version: a middle school asked female students to not wear leggings or yoga pants unless they also wear a shirt that comes to “fingertip length.”  This provoked outrage among elders who claimed that such restrictions were slut-shaming, blaming women for men’s sexual thoughts, and tantamount to putting girls in burqas. (Hat tip.)

There is a fine line between asking women (and girls) to dress appropriately for the situation and implying that they must dress to avoid drawing sexual attention from men.

Absent a burqa, the latter just isn’t going to happen. Men admired women in hoop skirts, bustles, ankle-length skirts, neck-high clothing, or whatever the fashions of the day happen to be.  (Back in the day, I remember being propositioned by a bartender when wearing a khaki skirt, Ralph Lauren sweater, glasses, and ballet flats.)

But that doesn’t mean that girls and women get to wear whatever they want without repercussions.  Men intuitively understand that they should dress professionally and appropriately for the situation.  Yet women take suggestions to dress professionally as an affront to feminism.

So let’s remove the whole sexual aspect and just say this: girls of Haven Middle School, please dress like you’re in school to learn, not like you’re in yoga class.

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Inevitably, a government programme ran out of money…

…to the detriment of those who relied on it.

Well, the PILF programme (public interest loan forgiveness) isn’t quite out of money yet, but it is on the chopping block in 2015. The petition says:

The Presidents proposed 2015 Budget includes a provision that will change the Public Interest Loan Forgiveness (PILF) program by capping overall forgiveness to $57,500. This change only hurts the hard working employees who work by serving their community often in low-wage jobs. These individuals’ student loan amounts often exceed the cap as they consist of people with more than a college degree: Social Workers, Speech Pathologists, Lawyers, etc. These dedicated public servants chose to work for the public good with the added promise that their dedicated service of 10 years would be rewarded with complete loan forgiveness, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them by a misstep by the administration. Please sign this petition and support those who work to help you.

(Hat tip: the many emails I’ve received from the ABA, asking me to sign onto this petition.)

The original idea behind PILF was that the government would help out the few dedicated public servants who needed help.  What happened (inevitably) is that graduates flocked to public service jobs, deciding that loan forgiveness after ten years was better than twenty years of payments. Those who would have left for the private sector after a few years continued to hang on to their jobs. Universities continued to increase their tuition, knowing that their students would not be responsible for paying it all back.

Unexpectedly, this boondoggle cost more than initially thought, as more graduates took advantage of it and sought higher amounts of debt forgiveness than originally planned.  So now the plan is to limit loan forgiveness to $57,000, an amount that is wholly inadequate for those who have taken on $200,000 worth of non-dischargeable debt.

As I’ve told many prospective law students and college students, debt forgiveness is current government policy, which is a far cry from an enforceable right that will still exist ten or twenty years from now.

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