Posts filed under ‘Education’
| 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
| Peter Lewin |
Naomi Riley’s new book on university tenure is creating a bit of a stir. It is of a kind with a number of similar works reflecting growing unease about the traditional arrangements in academe. One reads frequently about the lack of value for money that students get for persistently rising tuition fees. And a colleague of mine says he thought he was hired to do research and found out he was actually hired to create publications — and these can be drastically different things. (Witness the recent post by Nicolai).
I wonder how these arrangements have survived in the marketplace. Clearly, universities are multi-product firms. Education (for which tuition is paid) is only one of the products. Another is “research.” This is supposedly a public good (in large part — I guess some products of research could be proprietary). So it is reimbursed by the public purse — aka we have a rent-seeking situation with all its dysfunctions, including minimal feedback on product quality. There is no constituency of consumers to speak of. In effect the producers (the researchers) end up judging their own work and setting the standards and (perhaps most importantly) the rules of the game. Put this in motion and you get a system that serves only the players of the game — provides them with formidable isolating mechanisms and protections.
One implication is that the larger the share of revenue accounted for by tuition (as with liberal arts colleges) the higher the quality of teaching should be. And a growing share of tuition dollars should put pressure on these isolation mechanisms. Of course, where this tuition is paid mainly by the state (state schools) this would not be the case.
So, its a bit of a puzzle to me why the liberal arts colleges don’t have a larger market share. Why do the big “research” schools maintain their prestige attraction when they cost so much and produce such low quality teaching? Maybe its a kind of screening effect — the job market rewards students who graduate from prestigious schools so good students tend to go there and the teaching is irrelevant — a network effect.
| Dick Langlois |
Glenn Ellison has a paper in the new issue of Economic Inquiry called “Is Peer Review in Decline?” Here’s the abstract.
Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the fraction of papers in top economics journals written by economists from the highest ranked economics departments. This paper documents this fact and uses additional data on publications and citations to assess various potential explanations. Several observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the Internet improves the ability of high profile authors to disseminate their research without going through the traditional peer review process.
An alternative explanation is that the distribution of productivity among departments has gotten flatter, and Ellison can’t definitively reject that possibility. (Luigi Zingales and his coauthors had argued that the Internet has reduced the advantages for productivity of being at a top university.) But the explanation Ellison favors has to do with the increasing costs of the review process, especially at top field journals, where editors (he claims) have been increasingly demanding revisions. Because the costs of the review process are high and the benefits modest for prestigious authors, they increasingly avoid these journals.
| Peter Klein |
Contemporary data indicate that, on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. At schools with modest selectivity, grading is as generous as it was in the mid-1980s at highly selective schools. These prestigious schools have, in turn, continued to ramp up their grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.
| Peter Klein |
Do academic oral historians have the same legal protections as journalists? No, according to the US Department of Justice:
With the filing, the U.S. government has come down firmly on the side of the British government, which is fighting for access to oral history records at Boston College that authorities in the U.K. say relate to criminal investigations of murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes in Northern Ireland. The college has been trying to quash the British requests, arguing that those interviewed as part of an archive on the unrest in Northern Ireland were promised confidentiality during their lifetimes.
suggests that the Boston College researchers are mere academics, and seizing information from them should be easier than prying it from reporters “because the Constitution and the courts have long recognized the unique role which news reporters play in our constitutional system. See, e.g., Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 681; New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 268-71 (1964). The limited protections afforded news reporters in the context of a grand jury subpoena should be greater than those to be afforded academics engaged in the collection of oral history.”
Lots of interesting stuff above about informed consent, academic freedom, confidentiality, etc.
| Peter Klein |
Mike Ryall on the MBA curriculum (via Josh Gans):
What is the logic for having world-class academic researchers (who, for the most part, have never managed a business themselves) teach business classes to MBA students? The topics covered in many first-year microeconomics MBA courses, for instance, are a subset of those contained in Section III of Economics for Dummies. There may be good reasons for someone to pay $3,000 for a class taught by a researcher that covers the same topics in this $12 book — greater clarity and/or depth, for instance — but still, at a 250:1 cost ratio, students had better be getting something more for their money. It’s not clear that they are.
The argument is not unique to business schools, but applies more broadly across the college curriculum — hence the threat (to incumbents) of for-profit and other alternatives. Oh, but the University of Phoenix isn’t Harvard, you say? Consider: “In an earlier age, professors took their knowledge certification role seriously (with the fail rates to prove it). Today, many faculty view their role as educating everyone admitted to the program, passing them through, and leaving it to the recruiters to sort things out on the back end.” Of course, at most US colleges and universities, the goal of the undergraduate program is also to pass everyone admitted to the program.
See also: “Why Harvard and Yale Had to Merge” (via Troy Camplin).
| Peter Klein |
Last spring [Kemba] Walker approached UConn academic counselor Felicia Crump and asked her to help him figure out how to earn his degree in sociology so that he could enter the draft this year and still graduate. Together they built a schedule that required Walker to take courses last summer in Storrs and then a full load in both the fall and the spring. . . .
Walker took schoolwork with him throughout the Big East and NCAA tournaments, completing short required papers while postponing tests until after the season. He met with his campus tutor on Skype. And in his travel pack is a copy of New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, a book that Crump encouraged Walker to read as part of an independent study class on racism in sports. Before the Final Four, Crump suggested that Rhoden’s book would be the first that Walker had ever made it through cover-to-cover. After the win over Kentucky, Walker confirmed this. “That’s true,” he said. “You can write that. It is the first book I’ve ever read.”
Actually UConn has had some excellent students on its men’s basketball team (such as Emeka Okafor who, Dick tells me, graduated from the UConn Honors Program in three years with a 3.7 GPA in finance).
Anyway, I started posting this to have a bit of fun with our friends from the other side of the aisle. Then I realized that many economics and management majors probably haven’t read any books.
| Lasse Lien |
The Onion asks whether tests are biased against students who don’t give a sh…. — and whether in fact the whole education system is catering to those who don’t think education is a boring waste of time.
Now that I think of it I have on several occasions noted that lazy, uninterested students tend to do systematically worse on my tests. So I am part of this unreasonable and unjust system, and I expect many O&M readers are too.
I think we should all reflect on this over the weekend.
Thanks to Eirik S. Knudsen for the pointer.
| Peter Klein |
Earlier this academic year I assumed the Directorship of the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership here at the University of Missouri. My colleague (and former O&M guest blogger) Randy Westgren retains the position of McQuinn Chair. The McQuinn Chair was established in 2004 through a generous gift from Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn, and the Center was created soon afterwards by Bruce Bullock, the inaugural McQuinn Chair.
Look for a slate of exciting programs and activities about entrepreneurship, organization, innovation, strategy, and more in the coming months. To keep you up to date on the Center’s activities, as well as news and information from the wider world of entrepreneurship, we’re blogging as well at entrepreneurship@McQuinn.
| Peter Klein |
Congratulations to O&M friend Joe Mahoney for winning the Irwin Outstanding Educator Award for 2011. The Irwin Award is issued each year by the Business Policy and Strategy Division of the Academy of Management to someone who “(1) has demonstrated outstanding teaching capabilities in business strategy over an extended period of time and the ability to enable future strategy scholars to contribute original research as well as teaching effectively; (2) has had an important impact on strategy pedagogy through demonstrated expertise; and (3) cares deeply about the subject of Strategic Management and the development of his or her students.”
Joe has been my friend and colleague for several years and it’s great to see him join such luminaries as Michael Porter, Mike Hitt, Don Hambrick, Jay Barney, Kathy Eisenhardt, Pankaj Ghemawat, Will Mitchell, and Anita McGahan on the list of Irwin winners.