June 24, 2013
On writing and the English MajorSo yesterday the New York Times published this piece, the upshot of which is to bemoan the…View Post

On writing and the English Major

So yesterday the New York Times published this piece, the upshot of which is to bemoan the…

View Post

January 3, 2013
theatlantic:


Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive?


You thought the rising cost of college tuition was bad? Then check out the rising cost of college textbooks. The American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry has put together this chart showing the egregious, 812 percent rise in the cost of course materials since 1978, as captured in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s consumer price index data. The price of all those Intro to Sociology and Calculus books have shot up faster than health-care, home prices, and, of course, inflation.
Read more.




Politicalprof: God I hate these “analyses.”
Speaking as an actual professor with 22 1/2 years of experience in this matter:
1. I ALWAYS CONSIDER THE PRICE OF A TEXT. So does pretty much everyone else I know. The “the professors don’t think about price” comment is both tired and intellectually lazy.
2. I HAVE NEVER BUNDLED A TEXT TO SOFTWARE OR SUPPLEMENTS. I know that’s a game, too. Bundles are not why prices go up.
3. THESE PIECES NEVER DISCUSS THE USED BOOK MARKET IN A REAL WAY. As a simple fact, the used book market means that the sales cycle of any new book today is all of one semester. After that, the book is in the used book market (even without evil bundles), and neither the author nor the publisher sees another penny. So publishers (and trust me, it’s the publishers who push this) act “rationally” and jack their prices up every new edition, all while pumping out new editions as fast as possible. Books used to have sales cycles of several years. Now they have sales cycles of one semester. 
Ironically, then, the act students take to save money (selling and buying used books) drives the cost of books ever upwards.
This is economics, people, not speculation. It may lead to books pricing themselves out of a market, or, more likely, to the emergence of lower-cost alternatives. (As an aside, when I discussed a FREE online alternative with my class, they admitted they basically never use e-books, so I don’t think that’s a real alternative yet.) But it’s why prices go up, not mystery bundles.
Are textbook prices a problem? Yes. But to fix the problem one needs to understand it, and dumb analyses like these in no way lend themselves to understanding or solving the problem.

theatlantic:

Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive?

You thought the rising cost of college tuition was bad? Then check out the rising cost of college textbooks. The American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry has put together this chart showing the egregious, 812 percent rise in the cost of course materials since 1978, as captured in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s consumer price index data. The price of all those Intro to Sociology and Calculus books have shot up faster than health-care, home prices, and, of course, inflation.

Read more.

Politicalprof: God I hate these “analyses.”

Speaking as an actual professor with 22 1/2 years of experience in this matter:

1. I ALWAYS CONSIDER THE PRICE OF A TEXT. So does pretty much everyone else I know. The “the professors don’t think about price” comment is both tired and intellectually lazy.

2. I HAVE NEVER BUNDLED A TEXT TO SOFTWARE OR SUPPLEMENTS. I know that’s a game, too. Bundles are not why prices go up.

3. THESE PIECES NEVER DISCUSS THE USED BOOK MARKET IN A REAL WAY. As a simple fact, the used book market means that the sales cycle of any new book today is all of one semester. After that, the book is in the used book market (even without evil bundles), and neither the author nor the publisher sees another penny. So publishers (and trust me, it’s the publishers who push this) act “rationally” and jack their prices up every new edition, all while pumping out new editions as fast as possible. Books used to have sales cycles of several years. Now they have sales cycles of one semester. 

Ironically, then, the act students take to save money (selling and buying used books) drives the cost of books ever upwards.

This is economics, people, not speculation. It may lead to books pricing themselves out of a market, or, more likely, to the emergence of lower-cost alternatives. (As an aside, when I discussed a FREE online alternative with my class, they admitted they basically never use e-books, so I don’t think that’s a real alternative yet.) But it’s why prices go up, not mystery bundles.

Are textbook prices a problem? Yes. But to fix the problem one needs to understand it, and dumb analyses like these in no way lend themselves to understanding or solving the problem.

2:24pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZPUuPyatcrhg
  
Filed under: College Education Books 
May 9, 2012
Student Follies

It’s exam time around these parts, and indeed around much of America. Consequently, lots and lots of students are stressed, worn out and worried. It’s predictable and perfectly understandable.

As a consequence, while most students manage to handle the stress with dignity and decency, a few, umm, don’t. And as is the case in all human management situations, faculty inevitably spend 90% of their time dealing with 10% of the people. With that as prologue, to the 10%!

1. No, dear student: you cannot come in after the final exam to discuss your concerns with the course. There are at least two reasons: 1) you’ve had 16 weeks to ask for help, and didn’t; and 2) I’m not sure your concerns should be with “the course” so much as with “your performance in the class.” As context, as you are an athlete, I do wonder just how such an exchange might go if the addressee was “Coach” instead of “Dr.”

2. No, dear student: you do not need to take the final —which is optional — if you have not taken a required test earlier in the semester. (Did I mention the student also missed the optional final and was asking for a makeup?) Really: it says the final doesn’t substitute for a missed test on the syllabus and multiple times on Blackboard. I repeated this point numerous times in class. It’s 20 strikes and you’re out with me.

3. No, dear student: you cannot miss every exam in the regular semester and just take the optional final. Even if you passed it, it would be insufficient. See post #2. 

4. Finally, dear student(s): no email that begins with “I know you asked us not to email you with grade questions, but … ” ever works. Ever.

Good luck during exams everyone, no matter which side of the desk you are on!

November 7, 2011
From the “Spinning in Despair” Files

My despair is only euphemistic, but in my large American government class today, basically no one had ever heard of THE TEA PARTY. You know, the central political group of the LAST TWO YEARS. 

If they’re not paying attention to what’s going on NOW, what chance do I have to put any of this in context?

Remarkable. The things one learns … 

October 26, 2011

Remaking education.

This is brilliant, and well worth a watch. Unfortunately, this is easier to say than it is to do…

October 13, 2011
On grading …

For my academic friends out there: is there anything more humbling than grading? You start with the hope that the logical, ordered and integrated ideas you have been presenting (or think you have been presenting) will have filtered through. And then you start grading.

It wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t what I hoped. 

Oh well. To paraphrase, “tomorrow, is another class.” Hang in there, friends!

October 7, 2011
"… . What is striking about this in Perry’s case—and indeed in the case of many tea party candidates—is that they no longer seem to feel any need to even offer lip service to the notion that education is important to building success and opportunities for peoples’ lives. Where once the notion was that getting a good education was key to creating and maintaining a large middle class in America, now the emphasis is on boot strapping one’s way to the top. Indeed, many tea party types seem resentful that their tax dollars are used to educate “others” at all—whether illegal immigrants, or the poor who “belong” here. Education is a “cost” to be limited or eliminated, not a “good” that pays itself back in untold and often immeasurable ways… ."

I’m with you (and Perry) on the illegal immigrant issue, as I’ve posted here before. First draft = incomplete. But Texas, like many states, is slashing support for higher ed, increasingly pricing it out of the reach of more and more people. (My own university has almost tripled tuition and fees in the last 10 years in the face of staggering budget cuts—and no, we haven’t seen big pay increases, fancy offices or big time sports here. It’s about a dollar for dollar swap, with tuition paying for cuts in state support.)

Also, the business groups Perry relying on for his reform proposals seem dedicated to the proposition that college is little more than jobs training … and given that Google did not exist the year I joined my current university (1994), I question the notion that a university can train someone to a job. We’re trying to help people develop an array of skills that can help them with a globalized world and to do jobs that don’t exist yet. And I’m not sure Perry believes that.

Politicalprof: Why Rick Perry’s Grades May Matter …

 Wait … isn’t Perry taking flak for supporting in-state tuition for non-legal residents?  And hasn’t Perry been pushing hard for a $10,000 college degree, precisely because he feels eduction is extremely important, and that it out to be affordable for everyone?  You can blast certain elements of the Tea Party all you want about this, but lumping Perry into the mix seems unfair to me.  He’s arguably been more focused on the importance of a college education than our President.

I’m no Perry supporter, and there are plenty of legitimate grounds that ought to disqualify Perry from office.  This isn’t one of them.

(via jeffmiller)

(via jeffmiller)

October 7, 2011
Why Rick Perry’s Grades May Matter …

In general, I am of the opinion that there is little to no correlation between one’s college grades and one’s chances of success in one’s chosen career. As a practical matter, if you can get past the first gatekeeper of your chosen field—and this, as all of us who have struggled to make it know, is HARD—the rest of your career is largely shaped by how well you do the job you have, the opportunities and options you have available to you, and a little bit of serendipity—the stuff that happens by accident but leads you down some paths and not others.

So at one level I am not particularly bothered by the fact that Rick Perry was a not very interested student/big time party boy at Texas A&M. Nor was I particularly bothered that his gubernatorial predecessor, George Bush, was likewise disinterested in school. After all, FDR was a playboy in his younger days, and Lincoln never went to college. Being an A student does not mean you will be an A president. (See, for reference, Jimmy Carter.)

But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve missed an important point about grades, at least in the case of people like Rick Perry. I’m beginning to think that, for Perry, the fact that he has been highly successful despite his poor school performance means that school basically doesn’t matter for anyone.

I’m still teasing through these ideas, so consider this a first draft of an evolving idea, but I think I’m on to something here. For example, an attitude that “school doesn’t really matter” seems to me to be  a helpful explanation for Texas’ education “reforms” under Perry. Whether at the elementary and secondary levels, or at higher education, Texas’ schools have been riven by ideological and budget challenges that seem likely to weaken the system substantially. 

What is striking about this in Perry’s case—and indeed in the case of many tea party candidates—is that they no longer seem to feel any need to even offer lip service to the notion that education is important to building success and opportunities for peoples’ lives. Where once the notion was that getting a good education was key to creating and maintaining a large middle class in America, now the emphasis is on boot strapping one’s way to the top. Indeed, many tea party types seem resentful that their tax dollars are used to educate “others” at all—whether illegal immigrants, or the poor who “belong” here. Education is a “cost” to be limited or eliminated, not a “good” that pays itself back in untold and often immeasurable ways.

We seem to have grown a generation of persons who believe that they are successful despite their educations rather than because of them. Which may be the biggest educational failing of them all.

September 28, 2011
Trying to decide which annoys me more …

1) The guy on the quad getting students to “like” his company’s product on Facebook in exchange for “free” T-shirts, jeans and bags, thus furthering the long-term marketizing of both young people and college life, as well as furthering the destruction of anything even sort of like privacy in the modern world;

2) the fact that that he is using a bullhorn to hawk his stuff, in clear violation of the university’s amplification policy; or

3) the fact that he keeps mispronouncing the name of the building in which I work.

Another lovely day, perfect for working with the window open, ruined by commercial noise. I think I see the future, and it looks a lot closer to Blade Runner than Star Trek.

September 26, 2011
To the student who asked …

The answer is: no. Today’s test, which accounts for five weeks of material, does not only cover Chapter 1 of the intro text.

Have a nice day.