Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

College Offers ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus’


We have a new winner for Dumbest College Course of All Time award.

Presenting, “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus”

Yes, it’s a real, full-credit course, offered at Skidmore College, which is among the most expensive colleges in the nation.

(via The Daily Caller)

What Caused the Grad School Debt Crisis?


Per Jane’s post below, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that bad policy created the increase in graduate school debt found in the new NAF (New America Foundation) report.

First, most of the increase occurred between 2008 and 2012, after a 2006 law eliminated the cap on borrowing from the federal government for grad students. It looks like the Bennett hypothesis is at work here: the government’s decision to offer more money to student borrowers was quickly followed by a massive spike in student debt.

What’s more, income-based repayment and student loan forgiveness policies can encourage students to take on additional debt by providing an opportunity to avoid paying it back. Jason Delisle, one of the NAF study’s authors, wrote about a program by which Georgetown Law quite explicitly takes advantage of federal loans and income-based repayment to educate students on the taxpayer’s dime. As more graduate and professional schools get wise to this loophole, the problem is likely to get worse.


National Labor College Folds, Migrates to Michigan State


For several years, the AFL-CIO ran its National Labor College in the Washington, DC area. I wrote about it back in 2009. But late in 2012, the AFL-CIO decided to close it because it cost too much money. Last year, the college seemed to find a new home at Michigan State University, but quite a few taxpayers and politicians objected to the use of state funds for what amounts to a training school for union activists. As we read in this Lansing State Journal story, the state legislation plans to take a bite out of MSU’s appropriation as a result.

Hat tip: Ben Brubeck

A New Look at the Debt Crisis


Loans incurred by students getting master’s and professional degrees may be even more burdensome than loans taken out by undergraduates, says the New America Foundation.

Using Department of Education data, the authors of “The Graduate Student Debt Review” show how large those debts are. The total debt (graduate and undergraduate) for the median graduate of a master’s of education program is $50,879; for master’s of arts degrees, it is $58,539. Needless to say, law school debt is higher—$140,616, which makes the borrowing for an MBA look good, a mere  $42,000.

“[D]ebt for students who earned a range of master’s and professional degrees has surged in recent years and the trend gained significant momentum  in the years between 2008 and 2012.,” write Jason Delisle and two coauthors. They estimate that 40 percent of the $1 trillion in outstanding student debt comes from borrowing for graduate degrees (that figure includes Ph.D.s).

This is worth pondering. Undergraduate loans are troubling enough—the average debt for college graduates was $29,384 in 2012. But when you add graduate debt, especially as young people go back for another degree hoping to enhance their job prospects, it is scary.

We Have a Tower of Babel, Not a Marketplace of Ideas


For the last several decades, American higher education has seen an enormous increase in the number of “voices” on campus as various groups have pressed for and gotten their own “studies” programs. Unfortunately, that has not led to a more robust marketplace of ideas, argues Professor Robert Weissberg in today’s Pope Center piece. That is because those new “voices” tend to shut off criticism of their ideas by contending that they have their own special “ways of knowing” and that outside criticism must be rooted in opposition to the group itself, not to the particular point at issue. Rather than more reasoned debate, we’re seeing more ad hominem attacks.


Cal State Makes Race/Ethnicity Class Mandatory


What do you do when student interest in your Ethnic Studies classes wanes? Lobby university administrators to make classes in your department mandatory for all students!

That’s the solution Ethnic Studies professors at Cal State came up with.

Alexandra Desanctis of Notre Dame University reports in her feature story today at The College Fix:

Ethnic studies educators at Cal State University Los Angeles who feared their departments’ could waste away due to waning student interest have successfully convinced their peers to add a race/ethnicity requirement to graduate.

In a recent controversial vote – preceded by student and faculty protests claiming ethnic studies face extinction – the public university’s academic senate agreed to require that one of two mandated diversity courses needed to graduate must focus specifically on race and ethnicity.

As it stands, Cal State LA students must take two diversity-related classes to graduate, but neither must deal specifically with race and ethnicity…

There’s no “diversity” like compulsory diversity.

What are the odds that Cal State requires even once class in US History?

Click here to read the full story.

Two Perspectives on Gainful Employment


Anyone who thinks that reformers on the right think alike should look at two assessments of the latest federal “gainful employment” regulations. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity offers a scathing attack, while the Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson thinks that the rules have merit—and should be applied to all colleges, not just strictly vocational programs.

Aside from the authors’ differing styles, the articles differ on two main points. Vedder opposes the rules because they are directed mostly toward for-profit schools and because they are so stringent (“awful”): A graduate earning $35,000 ought to be able to pay $4,800 for a loan, he thinks.

In contrast, Robinson thinks that paying $400 a month for a student loan when one is earning $35,000 is a sign of excessive borrowing. While she agrees with Vedder that the for-profits are being unfairly singled out, she recommends that the rules be applied to all non-profits as well.

Vedder and Robinson agree that the government should not be in the college loan business. Vedder castigates the rules as another consequence of federal meddling. “Indeed, in a perfect world, the feds would exit the student loan business, replacing it with private entrepreneurs making loans or buying equity in future student earnings, thereby ending the need for ‘gainful employment’  regulation.”

But if they are implemented, the rules would likely reduce loans from the government, and that is a positive start, Robinson says: “Ever since the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, federal funding has been steadily ratcheting up—more money for more students to go to a huge array of schools. These rules are a long-overdue ratcheting down.”

An Embarrassment for Duke University Press


Much in the news of late has been feminist studies professor Mirielle Miller-Young of UC Santa Barbara, who assaulted a young abortion protester because she felt that the protest somehow violated her rights. (If you’re not familiar with the case, this Volokh Conspiracy post has the ugly details.) In this American Thinker piece by Deborah Tyler, we learn that Duke University Press is going to publish Miller-Young’s book A Taste for Brown Sugar. What passes for scholarship has fallen a long, long way.

When College Kids Have Too Much Time on Their Hands …


“If we don’t tolerate our 3-year-olds throwing rocks at each other, why take out a second mortgage so our 19-year-olds can get drunk and do the same?”

That’s the question Naomi Schaefer Riley asks in her recent New York Post column detailing the raucous, dangerous, and occasionally criminal behavior of drunk college students across the country.

The problem of substance abuse on campus is hardly new—it has become so embedded within American culture that we hardly think twice about it. But when victories and losses in college sports regularly lead to riots and violence, we need to wake up and recognize that college drinking isn’t always harmless.

If colleges and universities want to curb substance abuse, then they will need to do more than offer helpful advice from the campus health center. They will also have to raise academic standards. When students can earn “A”s and “B”s while being more disengaged than ever from their studies, it is clear too little is being asked of them.

The research of Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Esther Cho shows that college students spend, on average, less than one-fifth of their time each week on academic pursuits, but over half of their time socializing. It’s time to start demanding more of students and push them rearrange their priorities. If we do, we’ll have a lot fewer 19-year-olds with too much time on their hands.

Climate Science: Microcosm of Academic Orthodoxy?


In January 2012, sixteen scientists signed-off on a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The authors articulated climate change skeptics’ major criticisms of the alleged effects of CO2 emissions, addressed the American Physical Society’s claim that global warming is “incontrovertible,” and expressed concern that dissenting scientists are being quashed by the global warming establishment. “Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted – or worse,” the scientists wrote. 

Two months later, economist William Nordhaus, whose work was cited in the scientists’ WSJ op-ed to show that immediate implementation of emission controls would be detrimental economically, wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books arguing, among other things, that the scientists’ contentions regarding academic suppression were misguided. “I believe the opposite of what the sixteen claim to be true: dissident voices and new theories are encouraged because they are critical to sharpening our analysis,” Nordhaus wrote. 

In a blog post written last week by professor David Friedman, the legal theorist, economist, and author of the anarcho-capitalist classic The Machinery of Freedom takes issue with Nordhaus’s depiction of an accepting-of-unorthodox-views academic world. “He is describing how it should work but now how it does work,” Friedman writes.

“Academics have three ways of gaining income and status in their profession. One is by being hired by a university, preferably a top university, preferably with tenure. A second is by publishing articles in journals, preferably top journals. A third is by publishing original work that the rest of their profession finds convincing,” notes Friedman. The Santa Clara University professor thinks the third path to income and status in academia provides dissidents with a tactical advantage, but he thinks the hurdles are nonetheless substantial. “In order to achieve that sort of success . . . you have to get your work published. It also helps if you are offering your arguments from the pulpit provided by a tenured position at a top university. Those are conditions that the dissident may have trouble satisfying.” 

Professor Friedman concludes with an anecdote involving Leo Rosten, a former friend of his late father, Milton Friedman: 

On one occasion, Leo asked an MIT economist about minimum wage laws and got the conventional answer – that they reduce employment opportunities for unskilled workers by pushing up the cost of hiring them. He asked if that was the view of most economists and was told that it was. He asked why, in that case, economists did not make an effort to inform the public of the problem. 

The answer:

“I guess we’re afraid of sounding as if we agree with Milton Friedman.”

Georgia Bans E-Cigarettes on Campus Statewide


Taking a page out of the Michael R. Bloomberg nanny-state playbook, the state of Georgia has banned all smoking of any kind on public campuses statewide. Incredibly, this ban not only applies to traditional cigarettes and cigars, but also to newer “smoke-free” devices such as e-cigarettes.

Blake Seitz, of the University of Georgia, reports the details in his feature story today at The College Fix:

The Georgia Board of Regents has approved a sweeping measure to ban all forms of smoking — including tobacco-free e-cigarettes — on public campuses across the state. The ban was agreed upon last week after little debate, according to news sources.

Members of the Board of Regents acknowledged that the ban aims to force students to make better choices.

“I personally feel a great responsibility to protect our students from their own devices,” Regent Philip Wilheit told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“This is about behavior modification,” Regent Larry Ellis told the Athens Banner-Herald. “That’s what we’re all about in higher education.”

Mmmm. “Behavior modification”– It has such a nice socialist ring to it, doesn’t it?

Click here to read the full story.

Tags: e-cigarettes , smoking , bloomberg , big government

“Race As a Proxy”


There’s a big pull-quote in this Chronicle of Higher Education article on disease and genetic research:  “One thing we can’t do is use race as a proxy.”  Unless, of course, one is a university admissions official.

Seriously, this is perhaps the most common error in the Left’s defense of racial preferences in university admissions, namely that if some desired criterion is thought to have a racial correlation, then it must be okay to use race as the way one selects for it.   Thus, if a disproportionate number of black people are poor, then this justifies giving black people an admissions preference — even if most of the black people admitted are not poor (86 percent at the more selective schools studied in the propreference bible, The Shape of the River), and even if plenty of poor whites and Asian Americans end up being discriminated against.  Race as a proxy is “profiling” or “stereotyping” or bad science in other contexts, but fine in admissions.

Two Tangled Webs


A couple of thoughts on recent news stories related to race and higher education. 

First, as we await the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette v. BAMN, consider how that case might fit in with the latest news from California on SCA 5.  That is, in the Schuette case, it is being argued that a Michigan ballot initiative banning, among other things, racial preferences in university admissions ought to be struck down as antiminority.  And yet, in California, the SCA 5 legislative effort to repeal the ban there on racial preferences in university admissions was withdrawn because of pressure from a racial minority, namely Asians.  The takeaway, of course, is that racial preferences are (increasingly) unworkable and untenable in a society that is (increasingly) multiracial and multiethnic.  And we have learned that maybe banning racial preferences and discrimination is not so “antiminority” after all.

Second, Inside Higher Ed reports today that the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program illegally discriminates against black and Latino students.  The item follows a news story in The Miami Herald; the state scholarship program is based in part on SAT or ACT scores, state lawmakers recently raised those score requirements, and, while OCR officials declined to discuss specifics, they did say that the agency is “investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have the effect of discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race.”  But wouldn’t a decision to rely less on standardized test scores likewise “have the effect of discriminating against” those groups that do well on these tests?  The takeaway here, of course, is that the “disparate impact” approach to civil-rights enforcement leads to nonsensical results.

Getting More Girls into STEM


The push to get more girls to study STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) is going strong. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported on this effort (March 13, 2014, subscription only). It described YWCA USA’s programs to “to close the STEM gender gap” by looking for successful women to become mentors, creating after-school science programs, and designing a new curriculum for girls.  

The idea that young women are avoiding STEM subjects drives some people crazy.  A writer for Forbes said in 2012, “No matter where you turn, the stats are grim. Today, women hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs, and that number isn’t growing.”

Dare I say that such statistics might not be grim? Perhaps girls prefer other subjects to science and math? Perhaps men and women are genetically somewhat different and make different choices? Unfortunately, saying that can get you dismissed from your job in academia, as Lawrence Summers, once president of Harvard, found out.

Even though it’s hard to get advocates of more women in science to admit genetic differences, a 2013 Huffington Post article moves in that direction. The authors are researchers who studied the abilities and motivations of a group of American high school students and revisited them when they were 33 years old.

They found that students who have both high math and high verbal abilities tend to build their careers on their verbal, not mathematical skills. “[T]heir combination of skills provides them with more career options to choose from.” And more girls than boys are in this group, they say.

“More career options to choose from?” What is bad about that? A growing number of people are questioning whether a STEM degree is the easy route to success that is often claimed. Perhaps girls know this already.

Interesting Support for the Bennett Hypothesis


This EconLog post refers to a forthcoming paper in which the authors find that the cost difference between for-profit cosmetology schools where the student qualify for federal student aid and similar schools where students don’t qualify is just about exactly the amount of the aid the government makes available.


Surprise! Yet Another Hate Crime Turns Out to Be a Hoax


We’ve seen this kind of story so many times by now:

The Grand Valley State University student who found racist graffiti on her dorm room door’s whiteboard in mid-February is the same person who put it there, police have determined.

The racist message had included a stick figure in a hangman noose and the words “black b*tch die” and “f**k black history month.”

“When the incident was initially brought to the campus’s attention, several organizations and groups were highly alarmed, prompting assemblies, discussions in the classroom and a university-wide alert to the situation,” according to the Michigan-based college’s student newspaper, the Grand Valley Lanthorn.

Turns out, the incident joins the long and growing list of campus hate-crime hoaxes across the nation…

Click here for the full story.

This is just the latest example in a long history of phony campus hate crimes.

You’d think these fakers would eventually tire of pulling the same trick over and over again. Haven’t they ever heard of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Neat, Plausible, and Wrong


“Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong,” wrote H.L. Mencken in 1917. The “Sage of Baltimore,” who carved out an epic career in the first half of the 20th century by satirically attacking conventional wisdom, influenced a legion of writers (P.J. O’Rourke being an obvious and contemporary example) and forever changed the lexicon of individualists and Big Government opponents. But it was Mencken’s uncompromising pursuit of the truth, however counter-intuitive and unsettling it may have appeared to the readers of his day, that stands the test of time.

I’ve always been drawn to the kind of truth-telling and counter-intuitive reasoning employed by the Menckens of the world. Those methods attracted me to the study of economics as an undergraduate and heavily influence my reading choices today. That’s why I was thrilled to see Michael S. Teitelbaum’s latest article, “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage,” at The Atlantic. Although Teitelbaum avoids the flights of rhetorical fancy applied so masterfully by Mencken, his analysis of the science and engineering workforce is relentless, and his critique of the “echo chamber” that misinforms the public about the “national emergency” caused by an alleged shortage of scientists and engineers is unequivocal and comprehensive in scope. 

Since World War II, politicians and policymakers have, for various reasons, routinely sounded alarm bells about the need to increase the number of scientists and engineers. Those alarm bells were usually followed by programs and policies designed to increase the supply of such workers. “Unfortunately [they created] painful busts–mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts that inflicted severe damage to careers of both mature professionals and the booming numbers of emerging graduates, while also discouraging new entrants to these fields,” notes Teitelbaum. 

Today, American colleges and universities are conferring far more science and engineering degrees than there are science and engineering jobs (the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy’s Jay Schalin was one of the first commentators to call attention to this new phenomenon). Wage rates are stagnant and slow-growing. New technology, price shifts, outsourcing, and even geography can quickly affect the profitability and attractiveness of a particular S & E-related field. But despite the glut of science and engineering graduates, as well as the near impossibility of accurately predicting the patterns of S & E employment and job growth, the conventional wisdom emanating from the political class, from lobbyists, and from mainstream editorial writers is that S & E “workforce shortages” will damage America’s “global competitiveness.”

The number of high school students choosing to pursue science and engineering degrees is on the rise. Will this new generation of graduates live through the employment frustrations and hardships experienced by previous generations? “The repeated past cycles of ‘alarm/boom/bust’ have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities,” writes Teitelbaum. “In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired.”

Will the opinion molders pushing for more science and engineering graduates learn any lessons from such cautionary tales?

Prager U: What Did Your Parents Most Want You to Be?


Prager U has a tagline of “we teach what isn’t taught.”  This latest course by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is exhibit A in that regard. 

Many students are concerned about doing well in school in order to land a good job, but what happens once they land that job?  Is there a better, higher order goal to chase?  How about being a good person.  Listen to Rabbi Telushkin as he further elaborates:



(Best-selling author, columnist, and nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager created Prager University to counter the indoctrination, drivel, and apathy that pervades today’s college campuses.  With 5-minute, professionally produced videos from experts in economics, history, political science, and religion, PragerU offers big ideas on big topics, 5 minutes at a time.)

Another Silly Argument for Education Spending


I am as much a lover of the fine arts as anyone else, but had to gag when I saw this article, Who Knew? Arts Education Fuels the Economy in the Chronicle.

The authors are at pains to head off any reduction of government spending on arts education or even increase it if possible. They try to pull it off by claiming that arts education expands our total economic output and that for every dollar spent, an addition 56 cents of value is generated elsewhere in the economy. Gosh, if that’s true, let’s borrow and spend several trillion on arts education!

But this is silly stuff. Spending money on arts education merely diverts resources from alternative uses. When I spend money on my son’s piano lessons, that isn’t an investment and it doesn’t have any multiplier effect. It’s just money out of my pocket and into the teacher’s pocket. Nothing wrong with that. Both parties to the transaction are happy (as is the student). But it’s nonsense to claim that my spending (or any other) “fuels the economy.”

The fine arts do produce value for people. Simply spending money on arts education, however, is not the same as valuable output. In a free society, competition and discovery will lead to the optimal level of training for artists. Going beyond that, as invariably happens when government gets involved, does not lead to more production of value, but only to an inefficient allocation of resources.

Christian Professor Denied Promotion


University of North Carolina-Wilmington associate professor of criminology, Mike Adams, has been fighting for promotion to full professor for years–an effort he says has been thwarted by opponents of his outspoken Christian faith and political conservatism.

It’s been quite an odyssey for Dr. Adams. David French summarized the case almost seven years ago, here on Phi Beta Cons:

When Mike received tenure, he was a secular, liberal professor — with an absolutely unblemished record of professional achievement and an unbroken path to promotion.  After he became Christian and conservative, the university and department officials investigated his private e-mails, conducted a lengthy (and ludicrous) felony investigation against him, warned him against attending department meetings, changed promotion standards, applied different standards for different individuals, and — ultimately — denied him a promotion. 

Here we are almost seven years later, and Dr. Adams lawsuit against UNC-Wilmington, alleging discrimination, is expected to conclude today.

How slowly doth the wheels justice turn.

Student-reporter Ben Smith writes about the impending end of this long legal battle in his feature story today at The College Fix.


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