Posts filed under ‘Education’
| Dick Langlois |
I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Gordon Winston, an interesting economist who should have been better known (to readers of this blog) than he was.
I’m sure I knew of Gordon when I was a student at Williams in the early 1970s, but as I didn’t take any economics as an undergraduate, I never had any contact with him. I really first met him when he interviewed me for a job at Williams in 1983 (which I didn’t get — not his fault). We kept in contact for a number of years after that, including during at least one Liberty Fund conference in the 1980s.
Gordon is probably best known for his later work on the economics of higher education, which I use in teaching. But readers might be even more interested in his earlier work on the timing of economic activities, which resulted in a 1982 Cambridge book by that title. In essence, Gordon was trying to work out in detail how to think about time in a production-function model of economic activity, something that the late Armen Alchian had adumbrated in his famous paper “Costs and Output” (the original 1958 RAND working paper version of which is now available here). Gordon cites Lachmann and Shackle, but I think his biggest influence was Georgescu-Roegen. The book ought to be especially interesting to grad students, since I suspect it opens up a lot of ideas for further exploration.
| Peter Klein |
The job-market value of education, as famously argued by Michael Spence (1974), derives from two sources: additions to human capital and signaling. By going to college, you learn some useful skills, but you also demonstrate to potential employers that you have the natural ability to earn a degree. Depending on the difficulty of obtaining a degree for students of varying abilities, a college degree may be valuable even if you don’t learn a thing — you distinguish yourself from those who weren’t clever or patient enough to jump through the necessary hoops.
Of course, the human-capital and signaling components aren’t mutually exclusive. But, as long as at least some part of the job-market value of education comes from signaling, the demand for higher education depends on its perceived signaling value, relative to the cost of signaling. And herein lies the rub: getting a college degree is a very costly signal. Suppose high-ability workers could demonstrate their value to the job market by obtaining some credential that low-ability workers can’t or won’t obtain, without forgoing the explicit and opportunity costs of 4+ years at college. This would be an attractive alternative for many, and bad news for the higher-education industry, which today has a virtual monopoly on credentialing.
Michael Staton makes precisely this argument in today’s HBR Blog: “The Degree Is Doomed.” Staton argues that new technologies increasingly allow the unbundling of the learning and signaling functions of higher education, and that alternative signals such as “work samples, personal representations, peer and manager reviews, shared content, and scores and badges” are undermining the value of the college degree.
There are sites — notably Degreed and Accredible — that adapt existing notions of the credential to a world of online courses and project work. But there are also entire sectors of the innovation economy that are ceasing to rely on traditional credentials and don’t even bother with the skeumorph of an adapted degree. Particularly in the Internet’s native careers – design and software engineering — communities of practice have emerged that offer signals of types and varieties that we couldn’t even imagine five years ago. Designers now show their work on Dribbble or other design posting and review sites. Software engineers now store their code on GitHub, where other software engineers will follow them and evaluate the product of their labor. On these sites, peers not only review each other but interact in ways that build reputations within the community. User profiles contain work samples and provide community generated indicators of status and skill.
These are specialized areas, and probably not substitutes for the credentialing function for other fields and industries. But low-cost, innovative, specialized signaling methods could pose a significant challenge to the university establishment.
Of course, even if higher education loses its credentialing function, it can still add value the old-fashioned way, through teaching.
Those of you attending this weekend’s ASSA meeting in Philadelphia may want to catch a great session sponsored by ISNIE and titled “The Economic Institutions of Higher Education.” I am presenting along with Henry Manne and Sarah Smith; Scott Masten is chairing and discussants are Bob Gibbons, Henry Hansmann, and Jeff Furman. The session is Saturday, January 4 at 2:30pm in the Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom, Salon L
| Peter Klein |
Gladwell has more in common with his academic critics than either he or they realize, or care to admit. Academic writing is rarely a pursuit of unpopular truths; much of the time it is an attempt to bolster prevailing orthodoxies and shore up widely felt but ill-founded hopes.
The subject here is Malcolm Gladwell, a favorite punching-bag here at O&M, but the general point is worth pondering. Despite the myth of the brave academic, wielding his tenured position as a shield against the powerful interests trying to bring him down, academics typically crave influence, acceptance, and security and are attracted to power — in particular, political power — like moths to flame. There are exceptions, of course.
| Peter Klein |
The WSJ profiles InfiLaw, a network of private-equity backed, for-profit law schools that is challenging the established model of legal education. From what I understand, InfiLaw seems to be the University of Phoenix of law schools, providing vocationally oriented training for the lower-end of the market (but, unlike for-profit business schools, charging upmarket prices).
InfiLaw’s schools aren’t designed to compete with the Harvards and Stanfords. The approach, the company says, has mostly been to target students, including many minorities, whose grade-point averages or LSAT scores don’t qualify them for admission at the top schools. . . .
Some in the academy think InfiLaw is compounding the problems in legal education, which is graduating far more students than there are entry-level jobs for lawyers. Critics, including former students who have sued Florida Coastal, see the company as a predatory outfit that peddles false promises to students in exchange for high tuitions.
Others think criticisms of InfiLaw are based on elitism embedded within the legal academy,
As we’ve noted before, it is unlikely that newer, private, for-profit colleges, universities, and professional schools can compete head-to-head with the traditional schools, but why should they? Certainly there is room for more creativity, experimentation, and innovation, structurally and pedagogically, in legal education, as with other forms of higher learning. InfiLaw may be ineffective, or even a scam, but viva la diversité!
| Peter Klein |
Via John Hagel, a story on MOOR — Massively Open Online Research. A UC San Diego computer science and engineering professor is teaching a MOOC (massively open online course) that includes a research component. “All students who sign up for the course will be given an opportunity to work on specific research projects under the leadership of prominent bioinformatics scientists from different countries, who have agreed to interact and mentor their respective teams.” The idea of crowdsourcing research isn’t completely new, but this particular blend of MOO-ish teaching and research constitutes an interesting experiment (see also this). The MOO model is gaining some traction in the scientific publishing world as well.
| Peter Klein |
Come to the CSIG Teaching Workshop this Saturday in Atlanta and find out!
| Peter Klein |
Tunji Adebesan and I are organizing the second annual teaching workshop for the Strategic Management Society’s Competitive Strategy Interest Group. The workshop is Saturday, September 28, 2:00-5:00pm, part of the upcoming SMS Conference in Atlanta. It’s open to emerging and established scholars in strategic management, organization, and entrepreneurship, or a related field.
This year’s theme is technological innovation and its impact on teaching strategy. The higher-education industry is abuzz with talk about MOOCs, distance learning, computer-based instruction, and other pedagogical innovations. Many of you are already using online exercises and assessments, simulations, and other activities in the classroom. How are these innovations best incorporated into the strategy curriculum? What can strategy scholars say about the impact of these technologies on higher education more generally? Are they sustaining or disruptive innovations, and what do they imply for the structure of the business school, and the university itself?
The interactive, participatory workshop begins with a panel session featuring experts on distance learning, online assessments, simulations, electronic textbooks, social media, and more. Panelists include Michael Leiblein (Ohio State), Jackson Nickerson (Washington University, St. Louis), Frank Rothaermel (Georgia Tech), and Bob Wiseman (Michigan State), along with Tunji and myself. Sample questions: Are MOOCs the future of higher education? Do they work? Can What are best practices for distance learning, and for incorporating online activities into the traditional classroom? Do improved distance-learning and collaboration tools facilitate new models for executive education and corporate training programs? How should strategy teachers make best use of social media, TED talks and other media, iPads, and other tools and apps, especially for younger students? Following the panel session, participants will break into small groups for in-depth discussion and practice using new tools. After regrouping, participants will discuss about what these innovations mean for the higher-education industry, and business schools in particular.
Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. If you’re planning to attend, please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can plan accordingly. Feel free to email me with questions or comments.
| Peter Klein |
Quote of the day, from Peter Gumbel’s France’s Got Talent: The Woeful Consequences of French Elitism, an interesting first-person account of the French educational system:
[T]he patterns of behavior established at [French] school appear to continue in later life, reproducing themselves most obviously in the workplace. If you learn from an early age that volunteering answers at school may prompt humiliating put-downs from your teachers, how active a participant will you be in office strategy discussions in the presence of an authoritarian boss? If working together in groups was discouraged as a child, how good a team player will you be as a grown-up? If you are made to believe as a 10-year-old that it’s worse to give a wrong answer than to give no answer at all, how will that influence your inclination to take risks?
I won’t repeat the apocryphal George W. Bush quote that “the problem with France’s economy is that the French have no word for entrepreneur,” but I will say that I have found French university students to be less aggressive than their US or Scandinavian equivalents. To be fair, when I’ve taught in France it has been in English, and I initially attributed the students’ reluctance to speak up, to answer questions, and to challenge the instructor to worries about English proficiency. But talking to French colleagues, and reading accounts like Gumbel’s (based on his experiences teaching at Sciences Po), I think the problem is largely cultural. The French system tends to favor conformity and memorization over creativity and spontaneity, which may or may not have a harmful effect on the performance of French organizations and French attitudes toward entrepreneurship and innovation.
I’m curious to know what our French readers think (but don’t hammer me with Bourdieu or Crozier references, please).
| Peter Klein |
Almost all dissertations in economics and business are of the “three-essays” variety, rather than conventional book-length treatises. The main reason is pragmatic: economics, management, finance, accounting, etc. are mainly discussed in journal articles, not books. Students writing treatises must spend the first year post PhD converting the dissertation into articles for publication; why not write them that way from the start? (An extreme example — perhaps apocryphal — concerns Larry Summers, who began teaching at MIT several years before receiving his PhD from Harvard. Rumor has it he forgot to submit the PhD thesis, and simply bundled three of his published articles and turned it in.)
Some counter that the traditional model, or some variant of it, has value — for instance, the treatise conventionally includes a lengthy literature review, more than would be acceptable for a published journal article, which demonstrates the student’s mastery of the relevant literature. My view is that the standalone literature review is redundant at best; the student’s mastery of the material should be manifest in the research findings, without extra recitation of who said what. I tell students: don’t waste time putting anything in the dissertation that is not intended for publication!
The May 2013 AER has a piece by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried, “One Essay on Dissertation Formats in Economics,” on the essays-versus-treatise question. The evidence seems to weigh pretty heavily against the treatise:
Dissertations in economics have changed dramatically over the past forty years, from primarily treatise-length books to sets of essays on related topics. We document trends in essay-style dissertations across several metrics, using data on dissertation format, PhD program characteristics, demographics, job market outcomes, and early career research productivity for two large samples of US PhDs graduating in 1996-1997 or 2001-2002. Students at higher ranked PhD programs, citizens outside the United States, and microeconomics students have been at the forefront of this trend. Economics PhD graduates who take jobs as academics are more likely to have written essay-style dissertations, while those who take government jobs are more likely to have written a treatise. Finally, most of the evidence suggests that essay-style dissertations enhance economists’ early career research productivity.
| Peter Klein |
On this blog we’ve tended to celebrate, rather than denigrate, diversity in higher education. While others fear that MOOCs and other forms of online learning will cheapen the product, we think that “education,” like “health care,” is not a homogeneous blob but a set of discrete, marginal goods and services that can be offered in a variety of combinations, at different prices, and via many forms of delivery, local and remote. Naturally, the dominant incumbents try to resist the innovative incumbents by erecting entry barriers — what else would you expect?
A recent New Yorker piece on MOOCs recognizes this diversity, and makes the fundamental point that US higher education is already diverse — in other words, the digital revolution is simply pushing the industry down a path it was already going.
When people refer to “higher education” in this country, they are talking about two systems. One is élite. It’s made up of selective schools that people can apply to—schools like Harvard, and also like U.C. Santa Cruz, Northeastern, Penn State, and Kenyon. All these institutions turn most applicants away, and all pursue a common, if vague, notion of what universities are meant to strive for. When colleges appear in movies, they are verdant, tree-draped quadrangles set amid Georgian or Gothic (or Georgian-Gothic) buildings. When brochures from these schools arrive in the mail, they often look the same. Chances are, you’ll find a Byronic young man reading “Cartesian Meditations” on a bench beneath an elm tree, or perhaps his romantic cousin, the New England boy of fall, a tousle-haired chap with a knapsack slung back on one shoulder. He is walking with a lovely, earnest young woman who apparently likes scarves, and probably Shelley. They are smiling. Everyone is smiling. The professors, who are wearing friendly, Rick Moranis-style glasses, smile, though they’re hard at work at a large table with an eager student, sharing a splayed book and gesturing as if weighing two big, wholesome orbs of fruit. Universities are special places, we believe: gardens where chosen people escape their normal lives to cultivate the Life of the Mind.
But that is not the kind of higher education most Americans know. The vast majority of people who get education beyond high school do so at community colleges and other regional and nonselective schools. Most who apply are accepted. The teachers there, not all of whom have doctorates or get research support, may seem restless and harried. Students may, too. Some attend school part time, juggling their academic work with family or full-time jobs, and so the dropout rate, and time-to-degree, runs higher than at élite institutions. Many campuses are funded on fumes, or are on thin ice with accreditation boards; there are few quadrangles involved. The coursework often prepares students for specific professions or required skills. If you want to be trained as a medical assistant, there is a track for that. If you want to learn to operate an infrared spectrometer, there is a course to show you how. This is the populist arm of higher education. It accounts for about eighty per cent of colleges in the United States.
Most citizens of the elite world described above know little about the second world, but have a vague sense that it is cheap and tawdry (and that its uninformed consumers are exploited by fly-by-night, for-profit producers). The online revolution has already had a huge effect on vocational education, though most of the media attention is on the so-far modest, very marginal effects on the elite world.
| Peter Klein |
I’m #57 on a new list of Top 100 Web-Savvy Professors. Teppo smokes me at #19, but I’m right up there with Clay Christensen, Noriel Roubini, Austan Goolsbee, Richard Thaler, and other luminaries. I don’t know the group behind the list or how the ranking was compiled, but it looks good to me. In any case, this will give you more names to follow on blogs or Twitter. Enjoy!
| Peter Klein |
Thanks to Pete Boettke for forwarding this thoughtful CHE piece on the dissertation defense. Like the writer, I never had a defense; I was exchanging dissertation drafts with my adviser (via snail mail — this was a long time ago), and one day he simply said, “Send me the title page,” and I was done.
Having participated as a professor in many defenses, both for my own students and for others at home and abroad, I not only appreciate the value of the defense, but recognize the substantial differences in defense formats around the world (fairly casual in the US, much more formal and ceremonial in Europe). I remember touring the University of Salamanca a few years ago and learning how defenses were conducted in the 15th and 16th centuries — multi-day events filled with huge parties and strange rituals, including the candidate spending the night before locked in a room and being stepped on by faculty and other students.
My favorite format is depicted in a 1987 New Yorker cartoon:
| Peter Klein |
Missouri friends, please join us next Tuesday for a lecture by Henry Manne on the governance and organization of US higher education institutions:
The Crisis in Higher Education:
Origins and Problems of University Governance
Henry G. Manne
Dean Emeritus, George Mason University Law School
Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 3:30-4:45pm
MU Student Center, Room 2206
University of Missouri
Sponsored by the Liberty and Justice Colloquium, University of Missouri
Free and Open to the Public
Henry G. Manne is Dean Emeritus of the George Mason School of Law and an expert on insider trading, legal education, university governance, and law and economics. He has also taught at St. Louis University, the University of Wisconsin, George Washington University, the University of Rochester, Stanford University, the University of Miami, Emory University, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University.
Dean Manne is an Honorary Life Member of the American Law and Economics Association, which honored him as one of the four founders of the field of Law and Economics. He launched the Law and Economics Center at Emory University and the University of Miami before bringing it to George Mason University. His monograph, An Intellectual History of the School of Law, George Mason University, traces the development of the law and economics.
Dean Manne’s other writings include such seminal works as Insider Trading and the Stock Market, Wall Street in Transition (with E. Solomon), and “Mergers and the Market for Corporate Control” Journal of Political Economy, 1965). He is also a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal. In 1999, the Case Western Reserve Law Review published the papers from a symposium honoring the many contributions of Dean Manne to the law and economics movement as The Legacy of Henry G. Manne. The Liberty Fund recently published The Collected Works of Henry G. Manne in three volumes.
Dean Manne holds a B.A. from Vanderbilt University (1950), J.D. from the University of Chicago (1952), J.S.D. from Yale University (1966), LL.D. from Seattle University (1987), and LL.D. from the Universidad Francesco Marroquin in Guatemala (1987).
| Peter Klein |
What explains the dominance of the US in elite higher education? Shailendra Mehta offers a novel explanation: the role of alumni. Graduates of US colleges and universities tend to identify strongly with their institutions and care deeply about their school’s reputation and ranking. Only in the US do alumni play such a strong role, not only in financial support (often connected with athletics), but governance.
[N]o group cares more about a university’s prestige than its alumni, who gain or lose esteem as their alma mater’s ranking rises or falls.
Indeed, alumni have the most incentive to donate generously, and to manage the university effectively. Given their intimate knowledge of the university, alumni are also the most effective leaders. Through alumni networks, board members can acquire information quickly and act upon it without delay.
All great universities are nonprofit organizations, created to administer higher education, which benefits society as a whole. But US universities found a way to integrate competition’s benefits into the European concept of nonprofit, or so-called eleemosynary, corporations. The lack of profit does not diminish an alumni-dominated board’s incentive to compete for prestige by, for example, hiring distinguished faculty, accepting meritorious students, and striving for athletic or artistic achievement.
I asked Scott Masten, O&M’s resident higher-education expert, for a reaction:
Interesting, but incomplete. Although boards have formal authority in most universities, in practice they exercise very little, as the recent brouhaha at the University of Virginia serves to illustrate. In fact, the “American model” traces only to the post-Civil War era, when research universities came into being, and effective authority devolved to varying degrees to an administrative bureaucracy and faculty. It was only following that period that U.S. institutions began their dominance. On that alone, one could argue just as convincingly that it was faculty governance that accounted for the success of American higher education. It seems to me there’s a paper on that out there somewhere.
| Peter Klein |
Joshua Gans’s Forbes piece on Stanford’s online game theory course brought up a larger point about higher education. I’ve been involved in various online, distance, web-based educational activities for many years. When designing an online course, the typical professor imagines each element of a traditional course, then creates a virtual equivalent. I.e., paper syllabus = html syllabus; books, articles, handouts = pdf files; classroom lecture = webcast lecture; office hours = chat session; pen-and-paper exams = online exams; and so on. The elements are exactly the same as before; only the method of delivery has changed.
This is almost certainly the wrong way to leverage the information technology revolution. The pedagogy is exactly the same. But isn’t this just what we would expect of entrenched incumbents? The record companies didn’t create iTunes. The online New York Times is pretty much like the paper New York Times; it took Google and Flipboard and other innovators to revolutionize the newsreading business. As we’ve noted before, isomorphism and stasis is exactly what we would expect from a protected cartel — disruptive innovation, in the Christensen sense, will almost certainly come from outside. (Hopefully after Yours Truly is comfortably retired.)
| Peter Klein |
An illuminating passage from James Ridgeway’s 1968 book The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis, a scathing critique of the university-military-industrial complex. Note the cameo by Jim March:
[University of California officials Ralph W.] Gerard and [R. Dan] Tschirgi are computer fetishists who insist information is knowledge, and that the function of a university is to provide information.
In 1963 and 1964 Chancellor David G. Aldrich, Jr., at Irvine, and Gerard got IBM interested in setting up programs there. The company agreed to install a 1400 system and to supply staff and engineers. An IBM employee, Dr. J. A. Kearns, came along to head the project and was given a part-time appointment at the Graduate School of Administration. The idea was to see whether the computer could be used as a library, for various administrative functions and for teaching.
Gerard paints a glowing picture. He says that one half of the students on the Irvine campus spend at least one hour a week on the computer, and that computers are used in teaching biology, mathematics, economics, sociology and psychology.
After speaking with Gerard, I went along to see the computer in action, and ran into a senior staff man who told me in a jaundiced manner that it wasn’t operating because they couldn’t make the new IBM 360 system work right. This gentleman was exceedingly glum about the possibilities of very many students learning much of anything on the Irvine computers. So was the dean of Social Sciences, James G. March. When I asked him about the use of the machine to teach sociology, he replied grimly that all the computer did was to print out some basic definitions in an introductory course, which, as he pointed out, one could get just as well from reading a book. He went on to say that a minute portion of any introductory course was on a computer, that students spent little time on them, and that most of the time was taken up programming them. March said the difficulty was to devise a system which could answer questions rather than ask them. The most one could really expect was to have a machine pose a problem to the student, who could then go ahead an answer it on his own.
The tech described here is dated but the book itself still packs a punch. In the late 1906s concerns about the close relationships between the federal government (particularly the Pentagon), public research universities, and industry (particularly defense contractors) were new. Now we take for granted that a primary task of the research university is to produce “applied” research in close cooperation with government and industry sponsors, to commercialize its scientific discoveries, to train students for industry, and so on. But this is a fairly recent — mid-20th century — development, and not an obviously desirable one.
| Dick Langlois |
Speaking of football. I just now received an email newsletter from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the union of which I am necessarily a member. The newsletter calls attention to a New York Times op-ed by Michael Bérubé, an AAUP activist who happens to be the Paterno Family Professor of Literature at Penn State. For Bérubé and the AAUP, the Penn State sex-abuse scandal “coincided with the steady erosion of faculty governance.” Peter has written critically about shared governance, which is a central and long-standing platform of the AAUP; and we can argue about whether shared governance is likely to be efficient in general. But it seems to me dubious that faculty oversight of athletics would have meant quicker detection of the offense and the cover-up at Penn State: the problem is less one of incentives than of impacted knowledge in a large bureaucracy. In yesterday’s news came the announcement that a history professor at Utah had been arrested for viewing child pornography on his laptop during a plane flight. How could this be? Isn’t the History Department under faculty governance?
What struck me most about the AAUP newsletter was the extent to which it reflected the academic coattail effect: issues of great popular interest or concern sweeping up in their wake lots of long-existing and dubiously related academic hobby-horses. Global warming is another, more obvious, example. At a university function a while back, I heard a retired faculty member bemoan the inexplicable lack of research and funding into the role of the family in global warming. Needless to say, she was a historian of the family.
| Peter Klein |
Mises considered the stock market the distinguishing feature of capitalism. “There can be no genuine private ownership of capital without a stock market: there can be no true socialism if such a market is allowed to exist.” But he forgot another capitalist marker: the MBA program. Cuba still lacks a stock market, but the streets of Havana will soon ring with sounds of PowerPointese. The Financial Times has the scoop. Just imagine running some Marxist Revolutionary rhetoric through the MBA Writer!
| Lasse Lien |
In case you wonder the author of this paper — Stefano Allesina — works in Chicago:
Abstract: Nepotistic practices are detrimental for academia. Here I show how disciplines with a high likelihood of nepotism can be detected using standard statistical techniques based on shared last names among professors. As an example, I analyze the set of all 61,340 Italian academics. I find that nepotism is prominent in Italy, with particular disciplinary sectors being detected as especially problematic. Out of 28 disciplines, 9 – accounting for more than half of Italian professors – display a significant paucity of last names. Moreover, in most disciplines a clear north-south trend emerges, with likelihood of nepotism increasing with latitude. Even accounting for the geographic clustering of last names, I find that for many disciplines the probability of name-sharing is boosted when professors work in the same institution or sub-discipline. Using these techniques policy makers can target cuts and funding in order to promote fair practices.
Allesina, S. (2011). “Measuring Nepotism through Shared Last Names: The Case of Italian Academia.” PLoS ONE 6(8): e21160. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021160