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“‘A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not the purpose of a ship.'”

From iBerkshires; full article here:
Williams Mathematician Steven Miller, a member of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, is advocating for a cost-benefit analysis: the complete reopening of Williamstown Schools …
“Hopefully, we’ll know more next week as to what’s coming,” he said. “But that also doesn’t give us a tremendous amount of time before then to try to provide our input as to — are we going for a one solution, one-size-fits-all commonwealth or are we going to say that a rural district that has not had as many [COVID-19] cases maybe would have a back to school different plan than Boston.
“We should consider trying to advocate … all students coming back to classes and what that would entail.
“There are plenty of unknowns, but one of the things we have observed right now is that there is a tremendous cost to what we’re doing,” Miller said, referring to school closures. “To me, as a mathematician, it’s a cost-benefit analysis. What are the costs of having a lockdown versus not having a lockdown? What are the costs to doing the remote learning versus bringing students back? What would be the cost to having some of the students come in where you … keep the classrooms at a minimum?
“Unfortunately, there’s no solution that will get us everything we want and still be perfectly safe. The expression I’ve been using is: ‘A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not the purpose of a ship.’ At some point, life has risks, and we have to decide what level of risk is acceptable. What are the benefits of going forward and what are the costs?

Yale to Williams and Back

I’m an associate professor of mathematics at Williams now, but my academic career began as an undergrad at Yale in the 90’s. This post is parallel to Yale and Missouri, and a sequel to Uncomfortable Posting. For me, one of the purposes of college is to freely and civilly discuss and learn from each other. I am thus worried by recent actions at many schools, including my alma mater, where passions get so heated that this goal appears unattainable. I wanted to share some links as food for thought.

I urge people to read these and related articles, especially the third link which is the article sent to the residents of Silliman, and reflect on the direction our nation’s campuses are moving. If we stay silent, it is other voices that will be heard and viewed as speaking for all.


College Condemns Classroom Sex Show … WSJ

From the Wall Street Journal

“CHICAGO—Northwestern University reversed course on Thursday and condemned a live demonstration of sex in a classroom, after defending the act earlier in the week.

“Many members of the Northwestern community are disturbed by what took place on our campus,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said in a statement. “So am I.” He said the university was launching an investigation”.

Thanks to jfw for his email heads up. PST prevents more timely posting.

Original EphBlog post by Ronit and following discussion here. Prediction of one discussant proves correct.


Student Blogging as College PR

There’s an article in The New York Times this morning (“M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to the Nth Degree“) that discusses how colleges are using student blogs to publicize life at the college and entice prospects. It notes:

Dozens of colleges — including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale — are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

Notice that Williams isn’t mentioned.

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Williams People in the Chronicle

Raphael rosen

As I was glancing at my department’s copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the following article caught my eye.

In the world of alumni class notes, Raphael Rosen’s updates stand apart. Forget weddings, new jobs, and babies. Mr. Rosen [in photo, distorted by a mirror at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, where he works] let people know he’d gone to Carson City, Nev., for the World Beard and Moustache Championship.

It was his answer to the class-notes conundrum: What do you say when your fellow alums seem to be traveling the world, becoming doctors, starting families, and saving starving children—all at the same time?

“In some ways, I had no choice,” says Mr. Rosen, Williams College Class of [‘]00. “I was not in a master’s program, not in a high-paying job. I just had to send in the stuff I had.”

In subsequent updates, that stuff has included watching a power-tool drag race, taking a Segway ride through San Francisco, and buying a five-pound pair of brass shears.

It is always difficult to find something interesting to say. My class notes input for the past year, and presumably for the next four, have consisted mostly of “Diana is still working on her PhD in math.” However, everyone else seems to be doing something brilliant. Kudos to our class’s correspondent, Matt Earle ’07, who occasionally comes up with a theme that makes it easier to find something awesome to say. He once asked us to tell a story of the most ridiculous thing that had happened to us during the previous three months. That one was fun to read.

The article continues:

No college may be as class-notes crazy as Williams, Mr. Rosen’s alma mater. Several years ago the college started printing a separate publication just for class notes—called Williams People—after the voluminous section threatened to take over the entire magazine and its budget. The August 2008 issue, full of wedding photos, obituaries, and news of mini-reunions, set a record at 144 pages.

The editor, Amy T. Lovett, says editors of other alumni magazines thought that one without class notes would fail. It didn’t. More alumni report reading the magazine, Ms. Lovett says, including one who said he had stopped reading it before the change because he felt too much pressure from the class notes.

With that, my issue of Williams People arrived today, and I read the entire section for my class. It was lengthy! I am glad everyone has so much to share. I was happily surprised to see so many 2007 alums as roommates and traveling around the world to visit each other.

Click below for the full article, which includes a reference to the Climb High, Climb Far stairs.

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Wick Sloane ’76, After Midnight

In the same halls that served as setting for Good Will Hunting, Professor Wick Sloane burns the midnight oil teaching College Writing I, to a class of very dedicated students.

Age range? 18 to 59. Languages other than English spoken by his students? Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Somali. 

What’s more, he scurries home to meet his 4am deadline for Inside Higher Ed in order that we can read about it now. Judging by the results, I’d say those students are in the best of hands. Read the whole thing.


Link to Wick’s pamphlet, “Common Sense — The Bachelor’s Degree is Obsolete.”

(link added by Ronit at Wick’s request)


Olmsted Teaching Prizes

Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but one of my absolute favorite things about Williams graduation is the awarding of the George Olmsted Jr., Class of 1924, Prizes for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching (to use their full name).  I loved nominating one of my high school teachers, and I embrace fully the idea of Williams recognizing those who helped get the fabulous students to Williams in the first place.  Tom Friedman wrote about them in his column back in 2005 after speaking at graduation that year, providing a nice bit of notoriety for this great program.  A great quote from Morty in that article:

“When you are at a place like Williams and you are able to benefit from these wonderful kids, sometimes you take it for granted. You think we produce these kids. But as faculty members, we should always be reminded that we stand on the shoulders of great high school teachers, we get great material to work with: well educated, well trained, with a thirst for learning.”

I noticed in our feed from Williams (on the left side there for those who may not have noticed) that the prizes were announced yesterday (click here for the full press release).  I don’t expect that everyone will read below the fold, so I wanted to put their names here on the front page…after the jump I’ve put in a few highlights from the full release.  For those who don’t know, the winning four teachers get flown in with their families for graduation and are recognized as part of the overall graduation hoopla.  They receive a cash prize and their respective school receives a donation as well.  Please do follow the links above for more info on the program.

  • Bradley E. Conant, Dirigo High School in Dixfield, Maine
  • Karen S. Franke, Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H.
  • Jeffrey C. Markham, New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill.
  • Tracey M. Wilson, Conard High School in West Hartford, Conn.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks again to all of those high school teachers who inspired us, guided us, and also pushed us when that was needed!

Anyone have a particular high school teacher or coach that influenced you in a way you still remember?  Please share stories in the comments…. Read more


Middlebury Update

Hat tip to Jeff for this article on Middlebury. There is only a single mention of Williams, so I’ll put my comments below the break.

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Humanities thrive at Williams; Oakley quoted

A recent New York Times article discusses the decline of humanities in colleges, with only 8% of students nationwide majoring in the humanities. Students apparently want courses of study that will lead more directly to a job; the lowest percentage of students in the humanities was during the economic crisis of the ’80s.

I remember reading an article a few years ago that discussed how Dartmouth students were lobbying for more content in their classes that would be directly applicable to a job; this article reminded me of that one. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous, because there are many good reasons to get a liberal arts education, and job training was never supposed to be one of them.

The article points out that students at Williams have no such qualms studying the humanities — I have tried to determine the percentage of humanities majors at Williams, but have been unsuccessful; I suppose it is way above the 8% average, something above 25%. Williams actually has a center for humanities called the Oakley Center for the Humanities, and as such the article deftly quotes Mr. Oakley himself:

The humanities continue to thrive in elite liberal arts schools. But the divide between these private schools and others is widening. Some large state universities routinely turn away students who want to sign up for courses in the humanities, Francis C. Oakley, president emeritus and a professor of the history of ideas at Williams College, reported. At the University of Washington, for example, in recent years, as many as one-quarter of the students found they were unable to get into a humanities course.

I think that a humanities education and the accompanying analytic and intellectual skills one learns from it are a rare and precious opportunity. I am currently extending that opportunity as I study graduate-level pure mathematics, which is not considered a humanities discipline, but was one of the original liberal arts. I think that any time that a student can spend studying ideas for the sake of studying them, and really delving deeply into them, is time well spent developing the mind.


College Sustainability: Williams Gets a B+ (Amherst Too)

The Boston Globe has published an article entitled, “Harvard, Dartmouth, UNH earn high ‘green’ marks,” in which it goes over the College Sustainability Report Card, published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute in Cambridge, MA. Williams received a B+, as did Amherst. Ratings probably of interest to Ephblog readers:


On the Other End of the Log at Auburn

An interesting article in The New York Times on Kelly Jolley, Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Auburn, and his bootstrapping of the department over the past 17 years from a tolerated backwater to a philosophy powerhouse:

Jolley is almost single-handedly responsible for this state of affairs. When he first arrived at Auburn as a young professor 17 years ago, there were just a handful of philosophy majors, and there wasn’t much interest inside the department or the administration in adding more. Today, however, there are about 50 philosophy majors at Auburn. If recent history is any guide, a handful of them will even pursue Ph.D.’s in philosophy at highly competitive graduate schools and go on to become professional philosophers. “I don’t know of a comparable department at a comparable school,” James Conant, a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, where two of Jolley’s former students are now studying, told me.

Well worth reading, and all the more impressive since Auburn–a land grant college centered around the idea that education needs to be “practical”–isn’t centered around the liberal arts vision like Williams.


An Educational Trend (SaaS) and a Verity (Teachers Matter)

I just came back from attending the ECAR Symposium 2007 entitled, “Higher Education IT: New Boundaries, or No Boundaries?” and thought I’d pass along two “findings,” as they say in the analyst biz: Software as a Service (SaaS) is hot within higher education, and despite all the technology possibilities these days, students still want to have face-to-face interactions with teachers.

Regarding SaaS. This is when a vendor creates an application and delivers it over the Web, rather than selling you software that you install yourself. Due to the popularity of my Google Apps report, I was invited to give a presentation on SaaS-based productivity applications (information worker applications such as creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, managing e-mail, collaboration, and content management). The public knows these applications by names such as Google Apps and Windows Live: a shorthand way to think of them is as Microsoft Office online. At the beginning of 2007 no major vendor sold them; 12 months later, Adobe, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! either offer them or are developing them.

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NYT: “Elite Colleges Open New Door to Poor Youths”

Although The New York Times article mentions Williams (along with Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, UVA, and UNC), it’s really about Anthony Jack, a graduating senior at Amherst.

Some interesting stats:

In their groundbreaking 1998 study of 28 selective universities, William Bowen, the former president of Princeton, and Derek Bok, now the interim president of Harvard, found that 86 percent of blacks who enrolled were middle or upper middle class. (Amherst was not included in that study.) The white students were even wealthier.

In Mr. Jack’s class of 413, 15 percent, or 61, students, are from families with incomes of less than $45,000 a year; about two-thirds of those are from families earning less than $30,000.



There was a Williams event in LA two months ago. It was called RoadScholars and featured, among others, Sam Crane.

I just finished watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean from the window of my hotel room in sunny and warm LA.

I am here to give a talk – actually I will give the same talk twice – on political change in China to a group, a fairly large group, of alumni from Williams College. There are several other faculty members here with me to give other talks. It will be quite a circus of academic performance! It all lasts one day, tomorrow, but should be pleasantly intense.

Here are some of the thoughts I will toss out tomorrow.

Kudos to Williams for holding such events and to Sam for blogging about them. But why is it so hard for the rest of us to find out any details? Where is the speaker list? The program? The slides? Why must Williams be so insular so much of the time?

Ah, well. The RoadScholars appears to be a program with some staying power. When will the College learn that transparency creates success?


MIT’s Entire Curriculum to be Online

According to a story in The Boston Globe, MIT’s entire curriculum will be online by the end of the year. It’s driving visitors to the site: MIT forecasts it will see 1.5 million visits in March, but it’s unclear whether that number applies to the entire MIT web site or just the curriculum section (called “OpenCourseWare”).

Courses that include video presentations tend to draw online crowds, and popular courses include Linear Algebra, Physics I, and Principles of Macroeconomics.

MIT students also use the site to take practice exams and to help them determine which courses to take next semester.

Even so, roughly 60 percent of visitors to the site come from outside of North America, and about half are what MIT calls “self-learners” — folks who are neither students nor educators but are presumably drawn to MIT only by the sheer joy of learning.

As folks say in the marketing biz, it no doubt helps increase MIT’s brand awareness.


Small College Football on the Web

For those wishing that they could watch Williams sporting events other than the Williams/Amherst game, technology is coming to the rescue. The Associated Press published a story today in which they describe how some colleges and universities are broadcasting games via the Web.

Big Sky Conference’s Northern Arizona offered webcasts of home football games last year. Using the four cameras already set up to provide replays on the stadium scoreboard, the school added audio from its radio broadcasts along with continually updated statistics.

“Our fans love it,” said Steven Shaff, a spokesman for the school’s athletic department. “We had people in Alaska, parents of students in Canada, watching our games last year.”

This season, the entire nine-school Big Sky Conference will webcast all football, basketball and volleyball games, using technology from Salt Lake City-based SportsCast Network LLC.

Fans will be able to choose which team’s audio feed to which to listen. Games will be archived and can be downloaded to portable devices like Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod.


To Blog or Not to Blog, That Is the Question

According to The New York Times, some college presidents have taken to blogging.

Some command-and-control types are horrified — “Veterans of campus public relations disasters warn that presidents blog at their peril; ‘an insane thing to do’ is how Raymond Cotton, a lawyer who advises universities and their presidents in contract negotiations, describes it.” — while others think it’s a great idea: “Bob Johnson, a consultant to many universities on marketing, said he was mystified that university officials had not generally embraced blogs. Mr. Johnson said student blogs, for example, could be a ‘hugely effective’ recruitment tool, even if they carried the implicit promise — or threat — of uncensored truth, however unflattering.”

Which brings us to Williams. While President Morty Schapiro would be a terrific blogger, I hope Williams doesn’t do the imperial blog thing — assuming, of course, that Williams ever has an official blog.

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Trawling for Plagiarism

After saying in October that using anti-plagiarism software would undermine the trust between the university and its students, Harvard University is now licensing that software from iParadigms LLC.

The Bloomberg story cites a sobering statistic:

Of 56,611 undergraduates surveyed in a 2005 study by Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity, 37 percent admitted copying Internet material without attribution, compared with 10 percent in 1999.


So Who’s Going to Start the Magazine “01267”?

Atlantic Media, the parent company of The Atlantic Monthly, has started a new magazine named “02138.” It’s a glossy magazine about all things Harvard. The New York Times article about its debut issue calls it “a luxury lifestyle book,” similar to Hamptons Magazine, Palm Beach Illustrated, and Rich Guy. The New York Post takes the first issue of 02138 to task for its article on the 100 most influential Harvard alumni, saying “a lot of it is just media-centric puffery.”

So, of course, the question arises, when are we going to see 01267? As Ephblog makes clear, Williams alumni can wax on forever about Williams-related goings on and alumni. Of course, since Williams churns out only 500 graduates a year — compared to Harvard’s thousands when you add in all the graduate schools — maybe media companies figure a 01267 magazine wouldn’t capture “a large enough demographic,” as they say in the biz.

Perhaps Ephblog should rename itself to 01267, billing itself as an online luxury lifestyle magazine and garnering funding from VCs and articles in The New York Times. Or maybe we just sit on the sidelines and see if 06511 is next.


[College] Run Like Day Care

An article in today’s The Boston Globe entitled, “Ex-dean says Harvard run like day care,” starts off by saying, “Harvard University leaders are running the school like ‘a day care center for college students,’ trying to dazzle undergraduates with concerts and a new pub, rather than teaching them to be responsible citizens.” The article summarizes the views of Harry Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, that he states in his new book, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education.

The article goes on to say,

…the book is the result of his attempt to make sense of the forces pushing his beloved university into a “consumerist” mode.

He said that other elite universities suffer many of the same problems.

Parents paying the full cost of Harvard, or $41,675 this year, “expect the university to treat them like customers, not like acolytes in some temple they are privileged to enter,” Lewis writes.

They routinely call professors to complain about their children’s grades, he writes, and they believe that the university should erase any evidence of bad academic performance or personal misconduct, excusing those failings as symptoms of psychiatric problems or disabilities.

Harvard, meanwhile, participates in the coddling, Lewis said. Administrators, he argues, get carried away with their concern about Harvard’s low scores on a student satisfaction survey, compared with peer institutions.

That American colleges are taking a consumerist bent is not a new concept. Professor Fred Rudolph ’42, an expert on the history of American colleges and universities, made that point in a lecture he gave at Williams in 1993. (A transcript of the lecture is in the appendix of the current paperback version of his book, Mark Hopkins and the Log: Williams College, 1836-1872.)

So the question arises, has Williams been equally obsequious to students, or has it done a better job of combining education and consumerism than Harvard?


A Class Size of 855

No, not the entering class size at Williams, but rather the enrollment in the most popular class at Harvard: “Positive Psychology.” As The Boston Globe puts it, it teaches a

new area of psychology that focuses on what makes people feel good rather than the pathologies that can make them feel miserable.

Next in popularity are an economics class (669 students) and a second psychology course (550 students) taught by the same teacher of the first course, a Mr. Ben-Shahar. As the Globe notes, with two courses he’s teaching more than 1,400 students. In Williams terms, that would translate into teaching two-thirds of the student body within one semester.

Damn, why didn’t I go to Harvard? That way, I could fondly remember almost getting run over in Harvard Square, and taking a course with 854 other bodies. As it is, I’m stuck with memories of kicking through the golden leaves in Williamstown and taking a course from a Pulitzer award-winning author with 17 laughing, argumentative friends. Oh, well. Live and learn.


Endowment Watching

The National Association of College and University Business Officers released data on college and university endowments. Not surprisingly, Harvard still has the largest endowment with $25 billion, followed by Yale ($15 billion), and Stanford ($12 billion). Williams weighs in at #37 with $1.3 billion, To put that number in a little perspective, it is larger than the University of Toronto and, more importanty, Amherst. Alternatively, “if you added up the endowments of the 10 historically black colleges with the largest funds, they would not equal the endowment of Williams College.” Not bad for a school with only 2000 students.

What surprised me is that Grinnell has passed Williams in liberal arts endowment. I guess this was true in 2003 as well, but I somehow missed it. I can’t any stories about Grinnell receiving a very large gift, so how did it surpass Williams? It is a smaller college in a less wealthy part of the country, so the shift is surprising. The only suggestion I can find is that Grinnell spends less of its endowment than Williams:

Grinnell College in Iowa had the distinction of being the wealthiest liberal-arts college, with an endowment of $1.3 billion in 2004. But Grinnell spent only 4% of its endowment that year. In fiscal 2005, the figure fell to 3.5%.

Mickey Munley, vice president of college and alumni relations, says the school has a policy of spending 4.5% of the average size of the endowment for the last three years. He says the school relies on its endowment for half its spending and needs to be conservative about its withdrawals. In fact, Mr. Munley says, the school has plans to bring down the rate to 4% by 2007. At the same time, the school expects to raise its tuition and fees — now just under $35,000 — so they are more in line with rivals. “We are trying to be responsible for future generations of students,” he says.

This might imply that Grinnell is not on the building spree that our alma mater is at the moment. So the Williams administration builds facilities to “benefit future generations of students” and Grinnell saves its money. I suppose the correct strategy depends upon whether you think the new buildings will be a net positive. Given the quality of the new science facilities, art building, and Goodrich Hall, I like the adminstration’s strategy.


Horowitz and Evidence of Bias

Given the frequent allusions to David Horowitz’s ad in the Williams Record and complaints of ideological narrowness among the Williams faculty, the two of you not burnt out on the topic might be interested in the hearings on the “Academic Bill of Rights” taking place at Temple. David Horowitz offered lengthy testimony, but made some interesting admissions in interviews after the hearings.

That is all. My apologies to David R.


So… Why Give If Your College Has a Big Endowment?

Ben Stein had a piece in The New York Times on November 7th discussing why alumni should give to colleges and universities with large endowments. Well, that’s not quite true — he was talking about a specific case, Yale, where he went to law school.

His November 7th essay was actually a follow-up to a column that he wrote several weeks earlier. As he paraphrased on November 7th, he posited on October 23rd,

Yale has such a wildly successful endowment and makes so very much money from it that the sums dwarf what it is possible for us as alumni to give, unless we are fantastically rich. Our contributions to Yale are trivial compared with its investment return, while the same donations could be so much more meaningful to smaller. nonprofit groups- like ones that help veterans or lost dogs and cats. I also pointed out how much the Yale endowment director, David F. Swensen, is paid, and wondered if that was right.

Well, he apparently got a ton of e-mails, letters, and calls about that stance, and the November 7th column was a bit of a back-pedal job. However, his revised view is one I find interesting — and certainly one that I subscribe to: Yale deserves his support not so much for logical reasons, but for the humanity of the place. He says, “I’ll keep giving to Yale, and with a full heart, for the memory of Henry Varnum Poor and the many other kind souls of New Haven. Not everything is about reason.”

He explained,

[My giving] has to do with a man named Henry Varnum Poor, the scion of an old New England family. He was either associate dean or assistant dean of the law school when I was there, covering subjects like financial aid and admissions. He was a dapper, bald-headed fellow with steel-rimmed glasses that evoked New England rectitude, and he wore supercool J. Press checked sport jackets. He sent me the treasured letter of admission in the spring of 1966 that told me I had been accepted.

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College President = Balance Budget, Raise Money

The New York Times ran an article on October 31st, profiling a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education that stated that college presidents are more inclined to worry about fiscal matters rather than educational matters.

Some excerpts:

The presidents said they believed they were judged slightly more on whether they had a balanced budget than for the quality of educational programs. Five of the six top concerns they cited related to money: rising health care costs, rising tuition, financial aid, technology costs and inadequate faculty salaries. The sixth was retaining students.

Discussing daily activities, more than half of the presidents, 53 percent, said they spent part of every day on fund-raising. The next most frequently mentioned daily activity was budget and finance matters (44 percent). Only 41 percent said they dealt with educational leadership on a daily basis. Even fewer presidents, 28 percent, – said they attended to student life matters every day.

Despite the emphasis on financial matters, nearly a fifth of the presidents said the facet of their jobs they were least prepared for was fund-raising. Eleven percent said the part they were most unprepared for was dealing with legislators and other political issues. And 11 percent pointed to budgetary issues as their Achilles’ heel when they became presidents.


Gender Disparities in Higher Education and Incentive Effects

There has been quite a lot of talk in the Blogosphere of late about the overall gender disparity in higher education, with approximately 135 women in college for every 100 men overall. Despite the claims of the anti-Summers crowd, men still have an overwhelming majority in the G-heavy fields comprising computer science, math, all sorts of engineering, and the math-heavy sciences of Chemistry and Physics.

It might surprise some of you to discover that I am finding it quite difficult to get as worked up about this percentile disparity as I do about other areas in which men are discriminated against. For instance, I am a staunch opponent of the perverse Clintonian reinterpretation of Title IX that requires sports participation mirroring the gender ratio of the school to avoid gender discrimination claims. I find the argument “women on average earn less than men, therefore there’s systematic widespread discrimination in the workforce” to be both socially ignorant and logically flawed at best (if there is sufficient demand, I’d be happy to provide my reasoning in another post). I also am adamantly opposed to what Christina Hoff Summers called “The War Against Boys” — the very real discrimination against males in pre-college education. While this discrimination may discourage men from going to college in the first place, there is no way that it can explain the entire sex disparity in higher education. In fact, I would be quite surprised if this early discrimination were more than 25% of the cause of the disparity.

When presented with a numerical or percentage disparity, I generally have two sets of thoughts:
(1) Conditional probability and Bayes’ Theorem — Mere disparities don’t tell us anything. What is the relevant group and what is the relevant population? Figure out if there is still a disparity after comparing.
(2) People respond to incentives — What are the incentives elsewhere that might fully explain or sharply mitigate the perceived disparity?

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Leave It to Beaver Beckons

A September 20th article in The New York Times entitled, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” notes that:

At Yale and other top colleges, women are being groomed to take their place in an ever more diverse professional elite. It is almost taken for granted that, just as they make up half the students at these institutions, they will move into leadership roles on an equal basis with their male classmates.

There is just one problem with this scenario: many of these women say that is not what they want.

Many women at the nation’s most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Having watched their mothers struggle to balance home and career, as a History professor at Yale puts it, “The women today are, in effect, turning realistic.”

An interesting side effect of this is that, for such elite colleges, including Williams, Alumni Fund and capital gifts may lessen. With fewer investment bankers, executives, lawyers, and physicians in the alumni mix, the number of $2,000, $10,000, and $1 million gifts will probably decrease. Williams has an interesting gift profile — it’s a rhomboid or cut off pyramid shape. We have very few alums who give $10s of millions of dollars (unlike Harvard, for example), but have a healthy group who give $50,000 here and $2,000,000 there. If that section of givers starts to shrink, the bottom of the pyramid — those who give $25 and $250 — will no doubt be asked to give more.

This year’s goal for the Alumni Fund is $9.6 million — a pretty hefty sum for a school with 23,000 alumni. So if you’re in the below $1,000 group, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to give a bit more in the coming years….


How Colleges Responded to Katrina

For readers interested in blogs and Web site design, I just published a short report comparing how the top 30 colleges/universities (per U.S. News) responded to Katrina on their Web sites.

This is not about the offline behavior — for example, which college is taking in the most students — but rather how they altered their Web sites to disseminate information about student aid, fundraising, alumni status, etc.

Dartmouth, Duke, and MIT did the best job at making it easy for their various constituents (students, alumni, staff) to share information, via well-designed mini-sites as well as blogs and message boards. At the other end of the spectrum, Grinnell and Harvey Mudd have made no reference to Katrina on their Web sites whatsoever — something I find hard to believe, given the national angst and the fact that they must have had some students and alumni impacted by the destruction.

Another oddity is CalTech. Over Labor Day weekend, it had a notice up about Katrina. But rather than pointing to fundraising efforts or notifying people of classmate/alumni whereabouts, it just noted that mail delivery in the Gulf area would be delayed.

Although not mentioned specifically in the report, Williams sits on the border between Best and Standard Practices.


Recruiting Athletes, Small College Style

The New York Times ran an article today entitled, “In Recruiting, a Big Push From Small Colleges, Too.” It describes how small colleges recruit athletes, using Haverford as an example.

Amy Bergin, Haverford’s volleyball coach, makes some interesting observations:

“Of 1,000 I’ve contacted, about half will reply,” Bergin said. “About half that reply will be academically qualified. About half of them will be truly interested in Haverford. About half of them will be actually good enough to play volleyball for us. About half of that group will apply for admission. About half of them will get accepted. And about half of them will decide to come here. If that happens, that’s a really good year. That’s almost eight girls.”

“There are the girls who say, ‘Well, I’m a Division I talent,’ ” Bergin said. “And I think, ‘Forget it.’ I don’t need the attitude. I’ve got to spend four years with these girls. I cross girls off my list all the time because I think they’ll be high maintenance.”

Mike Murphy, the men’s lacrosse coach, offers some thoughts on working with Admissions:

The high school goalie Murphy is welcoming to the Haverford campus is Kevin Friedenberg of Needham, Mass. Murphy has scouted Friedenberg twice. Seconds after shaking Murphy’s hand at the student center, Friedenberg hands over his transcript, which Murphy scans in seconds and offers immediate advice.

He wants Friedenberg to take as many Advanced Placement courses as he can in his senior year. “You’re a good student, but that’s the first thing that admissions will ask about,” Murphy said.

“When recruiting at this level, if you don’t take your cues from the people at admissions and use it to guide the prospects on their academic record, you’re just crazy,” Murphy said. “That’s probably as important as identifying athletic talent.”

He sums up by noting:

“You start this process knowing of hundreds of kids you think you might want to play for you,” he said. “But you know that only a few will actually be on the field at your first practice. And none of them will be on scholarship and all of them can walk away at any time. They can just quit. So you better have made your choices carefully, and they better have come for the right reasons.”

While I’m sure Williams’ practices differ in some way from Haverford’s, they’re certainly a lot closer to Haverford’s than, say, Ohio State.

On a side note, for folks interested in better understanding Williams’ admissions processes (admittedly by proxy), I highly recommend The Gatekeepers, by Jacques Steinberg. It follows the admissions process at Wesleyan over the course of a year (1999).


Helicopter Parents

An Associated Press story on Sunday talks about “helicopter parents” — parents of college students who “hover” over their children. For example, calling to complain to college administrators when their sons or daughters get bad grades, or

Recently, one parent demanded to know what Colgate planned to do about the sub-par plumbing her daughter encountered on a study-abroad trip to China.

According to the article, consumer-oriented parents expect a superb experience for their kiddies at $40,000 a year, and aren’t bashful about pointing that out to college administrators.

To foster student self-reliance, colleges have turned to skits, lectures, and reading lists to explain to parents that a certain amount of student flailing (without the crutch of parent intervention) is expected and good.


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