Monday, May 30, 2011

Why College is Not For Everyone

Katie Kieffer

Peter Thiel is rocking the boat of higher education. The libertarian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and co-founder of PayPal is sending liberal college administrators into a tizzy with his latest push to encourage young innovators to ditch college for two years and pursue entrepreneurship.

Last week, Thiel awarded 20 young people with “20 Under 20” Thiel Fellowships: $100,000 and two years of mentorship to develop entrepreneurial ventures in science and technology.

Thiel’s dismisses conventional wisdom, which says that college is the necessary next-step for success after high school. He understands that conventional wisdom is conventional ignorance now that the American university system is broken.

Today’s students pay bloated prices so universities can hire a fleet of non-academic staff to monitor student speech codes, distribute cookies in campus lounges and court elites like Bill Clinton to speak on-campus and warn young people never to believe: “There is no such thing as a good tax…”

Tuition is rising and debt loads are mounting while students at institutions as prestigious as Stanford’s Graduate School of Business are failing to learn basic skills. When Stanford graduate students rely on private coaches outside the classroom to teach them how to write for business, you know higher education is deteriorating.

I took a hybrid route for my own higher education. I went to college and started an entrepreneurial venture at the same time. My path was unique and challenging, so I understand first-hand that Thiel is offering young entrepreneurs the opportunity of a lifetime.

In college, your liberal arts professors may provide you with tips on how to outline your thoughts, but they generally expect that you already know how to give a 10-minute presentation or write a 15-page paper. Meanwhile, your business professors do not teach you how to run a business. Rather, they lecture you on business models, assign you to read case studies and tell you to look for an internship.

Looking back, I realize that I really did not need college. I think many young people do not need college to become successful. The real world lessons I took away from my college experience came from running a conservative student newspaper on a shoestring budget out of my dorm room and from the experience I gained during my internship in commercial real estate.

Today, historic numbers of high-school graduates are going to college. More than ever, parents are pouring their hard-earned savings into college educations for their children.

Venture capitalist, author and parent James Altucher argues that it is irrational for parents to blindly pay for their child’s higher education. New York Magazine reports Altucher as saying: “What am I going to do? When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that? … The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.”

It is not cruel and unusual punishment to expect an 18-year-old to finance his or her own higher education. In fact, forcing them to do so could help them decide whether they even need college. My parents told me, “You’re on your own for college.” So, I chose to be a college student and an entrepreneur simultaneously because I had a boatload of self-motivation, I was blessed with an academic scholarship that allowed me to graduate debt-free, and, because I had developed a growing network of accomplished mentors who generously coached me along the way.

Parents, before you feel tempted to write out that six-figure tuition check, consider doing yourselves and your child a favor by honestly assessing the skills that your child demonstrates. If your child thrives within structure or if they want to pursue law or medicine, then college is likely the right path. However, if your child thrives in a creative environment, is self-driven and is constantly innovating, you should consider offering them your own version of Thiel’s 20 Under 20 fellowship as an alternative to subsidizing their college tuition.

Thiel contends that many parents shy away from even thinking about a nontraditional path for their children because they view college as an insurance policy. “I think that’s the way probably a lot of parents think about it. It’s a way for their kids to be safe … an insurance policy against falling out of the middle class. …Why are we spending ten times as much for insurance as we were 30 years ago?”

That’s a good question. More high-school students and their parents should consider whether there is an entrepreneurial, Thiel-style alternative to success before they impulsively jump into college debt.


Crying Rape

Mike Adams

People often assume that self-described liberals are more supportive of due process than self-described conservatives. That certainly isn’t the case when we talk about the illiberal bureaucrats who run the United States Department of Education.

The notion that an adult charged with a felony should be put on trial using the same standard of evidence used for someone who has been issued a parking ticket is absurd. In fact, it is more than absurd. It is offensive to well-established principles of due process and fundamental fairness.

Recently, however, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced new guidelines that will force due process to take a back seat to political correctness. These guidelines will apply to sexual harassment and felony sexual assault cases.

The OCR has decided to teach universities something they already know; namely, that sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious offenses. In the process, however, they are putting innocent students at risk of being wrongly convicted of offenses that could potentially destroy their careers and reputations.

According to the new OCR guidelines, any college that accepts federal funding or federal student loans (close to 100% of our nation’s colleges) must now employ a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. This lowered standard replaces the traditionally accepted standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which, according to most triers of fact, is close to 100% confidence of guilt. In contrast, “preponderance of evidence” means the campus judiciary only needs to be 50.01% confident that a person is guilty of a given offense – even if that offense is rape, which, regardless of degree, is always a serious felony.

This mandate from the federal government will have profound real-life costs for real students. If we learned anything from the infamous Duke Lacrosse case it is this: Academia is quick to blame people for creating a “rape culture” on campus and slow to take responsibility for false accusations.

Unfortunately, Duke was not an isolated case. At Stanford, student jurors in sexual misconduct cases are actually given "training materials" that say things like, "Everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man's claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence” and “An abuser almost never 'seems like the type.'"

In other words, even highly respected universities like Stanford try to create unfair and partial juries prior to rape adjudications – in clear violation of the spirit of the 6th Amendment (Do you remember when liberals cared about the “spirit of the law”?). Adding a mere “preponderance” standard to such a toxic environment would be a recipe for disaster – disaster in the form of wrongful felony convictions.

The OCR mandates are not merely confined to actions. They apply to students' speech, too. Columbia University already lists "love letters" as a form of sexual harassment. The University of California, Santa Cruz, classifies using "terms of endearment" as sexual harassment. (Who could have ever imagined that one could be endeared and harassed at the same time?). At Yale, "unspoken sexual innuendo such as voice inflection" is considered sexual harassment. The absurdities are seemingly endless in 21st Century “hire” education.

Shortly after the evidence revealed that the accuser in the infamous Duke Lacrosse case was lying, I wrote a letter to Duke Professor K. Holloway. She was the ringleader of the “Duke 88” – a bunch of professors who publicly accused the Duke Lacrosse players of both rape and racism before they had their day in court. In my letter, I urged her to take responsibility for damaging the reputations of innocent students at her own university. Her response is printed below in its entirety:

“Mr. [sic] Adams: You have made the error of anticipating that I have some interest in what you have to say. I do not. K. Holloway.”

Professor Holloway may not be a rapist. But she is clearly a racist. Nonetheless, she has inspired me to write to the OCR with a modest proposal for handling sexual assault cases on college campuses.

Under my plan, any time a collegiate man is charged with rape his accuser is automatically charged with criminal libel. Is she fails to prove her case then she is automatically convicted and expelled.

I plan to write to Professor Holloway because I anticipate that she has some interest in what I have to say. My anticipation might be in error. But, unlike sanctimonious feminists, I’m prepared to face the consequences if I’m wrong.


British parents are choosing smaller preparatory schools

There’s not a trace of Hogwarts about Belhaven Hill, a small boarding prep school on the East Lothian coast, which is exactly the way headmaster Innes MacAskill likes it. The house itself looks and feels like a large family home, and at weekends MacAskill and his wife, Sandy, take a bunch of boarders down to the local supermarket to buy ingredients for the “come dine with the headmaster” contest.

The traditional values and homely atmospheres of small prep schools such as Belhaven seem to appeal to the post-credit crisis generation of parents. While the recession has prompted a fall in pupil numbers across the independent sector as a whole, Belhaven has grown by 5 per cent over the past year – to a grand total of 118 pupils. Figures from the Independent Schools Council show that almost 75 per cent of its 154 small prep schools are either maintaining their numbers or expanding.

In terms of fees, the ISC’s small prep schools (with a maximum of close to 150 pupils) are cheaper than their larger counterparts. Average day pupil fees at an ISC small prep school total just over £2,700 per term compared to £3,464 at a larger ISC prep school (with an average of just under 300 pupils).

But according to Henry Knight, headmaster of Woodcote House School in Surrey, which has 100 pupils, parents feel they’re getting even more value for money from the individually tailored approach offered by smaller prep schools, than from the one-size-fits-all style of larger establishments. His school has grown by more than 10 per cent in two years. “We know every boy, and understand exactly what it is that makes them tick,” he says.

Marcus Peel, who heads Malsis School in Yorkshire, which has 120 pupils and is maintaining numbers, believes that smaller prep schools offer more opportunities for pupils to participate. “In a small community such as ours everybody is somebody,” he says. “There are boys in our 1st XV who would never get near a first team in a bigger prep school and it’s the same for musicals and theatrical events.”

Mark Pyper, until recently headmaster of Gordonstoun in Moray, Scotland and himself an alumnus of a small prep school, observes that the quality of individual pastoral care is generally better at smaller, more intimate schools. “The experience of personal development in a family-type environment is something which the small prep school is uniquely placed to offer,” he says.

But if you want your child to go to a top ranking senior school, should you not be considering a larger, high-flying prep school? Richard Brown, headmaster of Dorset House, prep school in West Sussex, whose pupils go on to, among others, Winchester, Harrow and Wellington, insists that size has little impact on the quality of education. “There is no lack of rigour in a small school,” he says. “Results can be attained much more effectively when children are happy. It is about inclusivity, partnership and preparing children for today’s challenges – not wrapping them in cotton wool.”

Leadership is an intrinsic part of life in a small prep school, according to Knight, and this sets pupils up for the rough and tumble of senior school. “Everyone will be given the chance to lead at some level,” he says. “Not just as prefects and sports captains but also as tuck, chapel and dormitory monitors.” At Hanford School, a full-boarding establishment for 100 girls in rural Dorset, there are four committees of sixth formers who carry out roles around the school and look after homesick juniors.

Barnaby Lenon, headmaster of Harrow School in North West London, notes that smaller schools instil a sense of duty and self-confidence: “We find that boys from small schools have an ingrained confidence and sense of responsibility which comes from having had leadership roles at prep school,” he says.

The down side of a smaller prep school is usually the facilities – or lack of them. There’s a good chance the sports centre and theatre will be less sophisticated than at a larger prep school. But Richard Brown, whose school has grown by 12 per cent this year to 144 pupils, believes the smaller schools make up for this by offering an “authentic” childhood experience instead. “Small prep schools provide an antidote to a world where children grow up too quickly,” he says.

Malsis School is dotted with dens, with trees to climb and a stream to dam, while Hanford School has ponies, dogs, cats, chickens and large kitchen gardens. In summer children are taken riding through the countryside by “galloping matrons” before jumping into a (chilly) outdoor swimming pool.

Tom Dawson, headmaster of the 100-place Sunningdale School in Berkshire, which featured in a BBC Two documentary last autumn and has grown by 10 per cent this year, believes that flashy facilities can be a red herring. “If parents want a £5 million sports hall and a 50 metre pool, bedrooms with en suite facilities and plasma screens then they will go to a big school which can offer all that,” he says. “But if they want a school where every member of staff really knows all the children, where there is a real family atmosphere, where they won’t be lost in a crowd, then they will choose a small school.”


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