Category: Education

Friday Thoughts – May 31 – Class of 2013 – Congratulations… and condolences

By , 05/31/2013 8:27 AM

Always Free….. and Worth Every Penny”

Dear Class of 2013 – You’ve been scammed

It’s such a heartwarming image – budding young adults in their cap and gowns standing next to their proud parents…. smiling at their bright future as they clutch their college diploma – their ticket to prosperity….

The college degree has long been a foundation of the American dream …. The path to prosperity…. Lifelong friends…. exp

loring and expanding one’s intellect to find one ‘s true passion……

But the dream has turned into a nightmare for many….. the cost has skyrocketed – beyond the means of many middle class families; student debt has risen rapidly and the job prospects for graduates are much less attractive than in the past.

A debate has now moved to the forefront – William Bennett has just published Is College Worth It ? where he challenges the value of the traditional 4 year degree.

Let’s take a look at a few facts:

  • The cost of attending college has grown much faster than inflation – In 1983 total tuition at a typical private US university to get a bachelor’s degree was $11,000. That’s in 2012 dollars. This year tuition for one year was an average of $29,000. A public college charged in-state students $2,200 a year in tuition and fees — in today’s dollars. You could get a full four-year degree for $8,800. Today that will get you one year’s tuition, or $8,700.
  • The average debt for a graduate in 2013 is $35,200. And 58% of the 1.8 million borrowers whose student loans were began to be due in 2005 hadn’t received a degree.
  • Recent stuGraduatedies indicate the quality of the education is suspect – After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change. Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.
  • Job prospects are uncertain -There were 1.9 million unemployed college graduates in October, according to the Labor Department, a third of them younger than 35. About half of young graduates are either unemployed or are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree.
  • Certainly a degree is better than no degree – the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 4.1%, versus 11% for those with only a high-school diploma and 9.8% for those who began college but didn’t finish. Employed college graduates earned 37% more than dropouts in 2010, according to an Education Department analysis of Commerce Department data. A high school graduate can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree $2.5 million.

    Probably true – but that’s an average – it includes doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, bankers…. the data  for degrees without math or science is less convincing…. for instance, the typical worker with a BS in petroleum engineering earned $120,000 a year. Those with a degree in math and computer science earned $98,000……. the median worker with a degree in counseling psychology earned just $29,000…. and those with degrees in early childhood education earned $36,000.  Hmmmmm – the course of study matters…..

From the time this country was founded until right before WWII a college education was mostly for the elite class… a luxury that most could not afford… and not seen as the only path to a prosperous life.  As the country became prosperous a college education became inexpensive …..and available to all….  a diploma, any diploma,  became a virtually guaranteed path to a great job.

But 30 years ago things began to change…. A college education became an entitlement for middle class children…. Loans became widely available …..and colleges – especially private colleges – began to compete on amenities. Dorms became luxury apartments, gyms became athletic complexes and cafeterias became upscale food courts.  Academic demands also seemed to slip as did job prospects….

….. yet many – often those who could least afford it- took for granted, blindly trusted, that a college education was a great investment for their future …..regardless of the cost – regardless of the degree.

At the same time economic prospects dimmed… not only did blue collar manufacturing jobs move overseas, but service jobs began moving as well….. and the Great Recession accelerated the demise of state funding and forced the costs higher…..

Perhaps for a small, elite class the dream of an education in the classics will remain intact ……

……but for most the purpose of college now is to get a job….. and prepare for a lifetime of competing to earn enough to raise a family, pay taxes, save for retirement – and save for your child’s college education…….

There must be a better way….  very low cost learning models are rapidly emerging through virtual universities and MOOCs  – Kahn Academy, Udacity, Cousera, EdX…… that offer the hope of a radically different model for education – lower costs, better quality.  Respected NYT columnist and author Tom Friedman says  Revolution Hits the Universities….. David Brooks calls it a The Campus Tsunami.

Yet criticism of higher education is beginning to sound familiar – an aging industry, reluctant to change, unable/unwilling to adapt to new technologies, hanging on to aging business models, indifferent to customer needs…… sounds like print newspapers, retail, video rental, Ma Bell…….

……the pattern of established/entrenched leaders resisting change is also all too familiar. The shallow, petty views expressed in the NYT Editorial The Trouble with Online Education is a great example. It reminds me of retail executives in 1997 explaining why online retail was not going to be successful. Jeff Bezos did not listen ……and neither will today’s education entrepreneurs.

I am certainly no expert on education….but after just a bit of reading it seems to me:

  • Buyer beware – parents and students must be very careful in choosing a school and course of study
  • The US higher education system is too expensive and too ineffective to maintain the status quo
  • We are sending too many kids to college. Universities are turning out graduates faster than America’s labor markets are creating jobs that traditionally have been required for some degrees
  • A healthy robust higher education system is critical to not only the US but the world as well
  • Change will largely be driven from the outside – and a few enlightened/radical insiders.
  • A new and radically different higher education model will merge in the next 5-10 years that will allow anyone to get an education that leads to great job prospects for just $20,000.  Maybe they won’t have an organic juice bar, Saturday afternoons in the stadium, fraternity parties and a mastery of the classics – but they will be educated and ready to compete in the global job market.

More information

From WallStreet to Wal-Mart – Why College Graduates are not getting good jobs

Higher Education report – Britain

The High Cost of Dropping Out

Why a College Degree ?

Is College Worth It ?


Related Posts:


We Thought You Wanted an Education

Is the MBA Obsolete ??



Interesting unrelated facts:

  • 2013 is the first year since 1987 not to have any repeated digits – go ahead and confirm it – I did
  • The highest court in the land – The Supreme Court building has a basketball court – WSJ
  • “&” and “and” mean different things in movie credits. Two writers’ names joined with “&” means they collaborated, while “and” means they worked on the script at different times.


Friday Thoughts – Sept 21 – Lessons from a 4 Way Stop

By , 09/21/2012 2:31 AM

 “Always Free and Worth Every Penny”


I often marvel at the extraordinary level of trust interstate drivers have in their fellow drivers ….who are complete strangers…….

….think about it ….. you are cruising at 65 mph – 30 feet behind a car from Pennsylvania….  50 feet behind you is a car from Georgia – (5 feet if he is from New Jersey!)

on your left is an 18 wheeler full of something toxic quietly passing …. as you cruise past a tanker truck on your right carrying 18,000 gallons of extremely flammable gasoline.

……At that moment we all trust each other – the stakes are very high –  if anyone does something stupid …..suddenly change lanes….. or hit the brakes…… it will have catastrophic consequences.   Everyone knows exactly what they can do … and what they cannot do……  except maybe the guy from New Jersey –

Just as an aside –  Why do north bound NJ drivers scream along in Virginia at 90 mph – weaving in and out of traffic ?  What in the hell is in NJ is that makes them want to get back so fast ???

so we have extraordinary trust and skill at 65 mph….But slow down to 5 mph …….and introduce a 4 way stop – suddenly everyone just turns stupid……

The rules are not that complex. FUFO – First Up, First Out. … if two arrive at the same time the car on the right goes first.  Simple enough. …. even a Clemson grad can keep that in his/her head…..

But it breaks down all the time – you have seen it… someone who has the right of way starts just as some knucklehead decides to go …… they both stop 10 feet into the intersection….stalemate … They wait.. ….then  wave each other on…. Until they both start at the same time… stop and start the ritual again…… just crazy….

I have this friend ….there is a 4 way stop just a mile or two from his house ….and it is an endless source of entertainment for him … he is an odd fellow …. He has an overdeveloped sense curiosity….. you might say he is juvenile… childish… or maybe just a jerk. Rather than being a good citizen and follow the rules to get through the four way stop – he occaisionally uses the intersection to conduct experiments on human behavior….. and derive lessons about how people act in uncertainty…

On occaision he will drive through when he does not have the right of way….or when he has the right of way he will start and then stop –  just to see what people will do…. When others yield to him he will wave them on… and then he start…. Sometimes when he has the right away he will just wait to see how long others will wait to go ahead… and he has experimented with all kinds of waves, gestures, eye contact, horns…. Just to study how people react….

Now just to be very clear, I would never condone such experiments – you must agree this is totally unacceptable behavior and completely inappropriate… maybe even illegal…….…but since they have already taken place I see no reason why we all should not create some benefit from this foolish behavior….

After many years of experiments he offers these observations and potential lessons:


–          Hesitation creates doubt – When he hesitates – others hesitate… when his actions questions the rules….others question the rules……

–          Excessive politeness creates confusion– Often times it is as if those obnoxiously polite chipmunks – Chip N Dale– have wandered into the intersection

He waves and signals   “You first”
The other driver signals “ No, no no – you first”
He gestures back  “Thank you but I must insist, you first”
Other driver – “ You are so polite, but I couldn’t possibly – after you”
He signals – “That’s so polite, thank you”
and on it goes ……

–  Eye contact alone does not work – it gives both drivers the illusion that communication is taking place. My friend has discovered it confuses things- for the quickest resolution he looks down or looks the other way and waits – the other driver will take responsibility and take action.

Looking away clearly signals “I have no intention of communicating with you or moving – you are on your own and you better figure out what you are going to do. This technique is also sometimes useful when delegating to someone who does not want to take responsibility and constantly asks for direction.

–  Clarity of intention – if you clearly signal to others that you intend to go – even when you do not have the right of way – people will always yield. He has learned to slowly start into the intersection just as the previous car reaches halfway. He has demonstrated clear action before others (He drives an old car so that also signals he has less to lose.)

–  Don’t stop too quickly or easily –When he purposely enters the intersection when others have started – the other car always stops quickly – he has learned that if he just slows down he can easily avoid any collision. In over 15 years of experiments he has never even come close to a collision.

So next time we pull up to a 4 way stop maybe we should….. well, just follow the rules….. and when we find ourselves with a group of people operating in uncertainty maybe there are some lessons from a 4 way stop…..

Have a great weekend !


Related Post: It’s Not Locked !




Interesting unrelated facts:

– U.S. consumption of potatoes has dropped from a high of 145 pounds per person per year in 1996 to 118 pounds per person per year in 2011.

– Google Is Activating 1.3 Million Android Devices On A Daily Basis

– Word of the week – frisson  n: quiver, shudder, tremble, quake  – a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill. Friday Thoughts creates a sudden frisson – or disappointment when they see it arrive in their inbox.

– Sears Holdings lost its spot on the S&P 500  September 4. Sears, Roebuck & Co. was one of the original members of the S&P 500 when the index was created in 1957 (69 of the index’s original components are still in the S&P 500 today).

Back in January 1920, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was added to the Dow Industrials and remained as part of the index for nearly 76 years until it got booted out in November 1999.  And by 1965, Sears was the fifth largest stock in the United States.

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