Thursday, May 03, 2018

The Case Against Free College Tuition

Two highly contradictory happenings have occurred over the past year. On the one hand, published research increasingly suggests that the high returns on investments in higher education are minimally exaggerated (my argument in a forthcoming book) and often even non-existent (Bryan Caplan’s point in his new The Case Against Education). The private personal gains from college do not reflect much vocationally relevant learning, but rather diplomas tell employers that recipients are smarter, more disciplined, more motivated workers for reasons unrelated to college skill acquisition. This research suggests that we are over-invested in universities, and that public subsidies for colleges have a relatively low rate of return for the broader society.

The second contradictory trend is a growing movement to encourage attendance by making college “free.” States such as New York, Oregon and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Tennessee, have embraced the concept of free tuition for community college attendance. The newly elected New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has enthusiastically embraced the idea, first prompted most conspicuously by Bernie Sanders, to be financed in New Jersey by raising taxes on affluent residents, with the top rate on the income tax going to 10.75% from 8.97%, as well as increasing the sales tax.

There are some seemingly good arguments for free community college –we have free tuition for 11th and 12th grade, why not 13th or 14th grade (community college?)  The cost of  community college is usually low –far less than that at conventional four year universities –and often even less than per pupil costs at some outrageously inefficient large K-12 school districts. Therefore there is a case for nudging high-risk students with problematic academic records to go to these lower cost schools rather than expensive four-year universities, with easy transfer to the four-year schools if successful at the community college level. There are also attractive arguments supporting those wishing to acquire skills like driving long distance trucks or welding, well-paying vocational jobs in much demand.

However, there are three problems: the poor academic track record of community college attendees, the potentially very negative economic growth implications from financing so-called free college, and even some fairness issues. The most recent National Student Clearinghouse data show that 47% of community college enrollees drop out of school, far more than the 27% who graduate (others are still in school). Other research shows that completion rates fall the less students pay towards the cost, hinting that free tuition might raise already scandalously high dropout rates.

Decades of research by large numbers of scholars, including myself, show a huge negative relationship between income tax rates and the growth of income. High marginal tax rates, such as proposed by Governor Murphy, are also associated with big out-migration of productive citizenry. Factoid: from 2010 to 2017, some 2,520,022 native-born Americans on net moved into the nine zero state income tax states from the 41 others with such taxes. It is no wonder zero state income tax states like Texas, Florida and Tennessee tend to economically outperform high income tax states like California, New York, and New Jersey.

Rather than greater college attendance enhancing economic growth, my bet is it would be retarded. I have run literally hundreds of regression equations on the relationship between state higher education spending and economic growth: the relationship is almost always negative –higher spending, lower growth. Raising taxes on private sector earnings to fund colleges lowers growth because the output reduction associated with higher taxes on the highly efficient and market-directed competitive private sector is far greater than any positive effects of more education administered by less efficient and market disciplined higher education providers.

Lastly, it is unfair, creates poor academic incentives and an un-level playing field when you give free tuition to the academically marginal student entering community college, while her academically superior but perhaps financially similar status classmates face significant tuition charges at four years colleges.

The bottom line: on both growth and equity grounds, the “free tuition for all” model appears far less appealing than it first appears. Perhaps Governor Murphy would achieve better social outcomes by giving state assistance to students not universities, based largely on financial need but also on prospective academic success –in other words, some variant on voucher plans used at the K-12 level in several states. But given the research on higher education’s low social return mentioned in the first paragraph, even that approach may be undesirable.


UK: Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton

The former education secretary, Justine Greening, has urged firms to discriminate against applicants from Eton on the grounds that it is easier to get good A level grades if you’ve been to Eton rather than a comprehensive. There are several odd things about her statement.

First, why single out Eton? In terms of A level passes at grade A* or A, Eton is 12th in the independent school league table, behind Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s and City of London School for Girls, among others. Cardiff Sixth Form College is top, with 91.9 per cent of its students gaining A* or A in their A levels last year. I guess urging employers to discriminate against applicants from a sixth form in Cardiff wouldn’t have generated the same headlines.

Second, how many Etonians are going to be applying for jobs at 18 or 19, where the critical factor will be their A level results? According to Eton’s own stats, only four boys in 2015 started their career upon leaving the school, while 261 of the class of 267 went on to university. So is Greening urging employers to discriminate against the tiny handful of Etonians each year who apply for jobs at the age of 18 or 19? Not sure how much that will do to boost social mobility.

Third, Greening referenced ‘contextual recruitment’ in her speech and said that ‘software’ is available that enables employers to put this into practice. What this software does is ‘contextualise’ A level results by taking the postcode of the applicant into account – and just the postcode – so if two people apply for the same job with the same grades, the one from the more deprived postcode will be judged more impressive. But Greening is overlooking the fact that approximately 70 Etonians in each class of 267 are on means-tested full bursaries, which means they’re likely to live in the postcodes the contextual recruitment software will value more highly. So is Greening urging firms to modify this software so it discriminates against applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds if they happen to have gone to Eton? That will subtract from social mobility, not add to it.

Finally, Greening commits the common mistake of over-estimating the effect schools have on attainment. Secondary school exam results are between 50 and 60 per cent heritable and insofar as differences in the environment influence those results, the impact of schools is negligible once you control for different pupil characteristics. The general consensus is that schools alone account for less than 10 per cent of the variation in educational attainment – and I recently contributed to a research study that found their contribution is less than one per cent.

Greening may not realise it, but she’s given a massive endorsement to Eton, effectively claiming that it’s such a good school – so far ahead of every other school when it comes to the positive effect it has on its pupils’ A level results – that employers should take the boys exam results with a large dose of salt. It’s total balls of course, but if I was the headmaster of Eton I’d stick her speech in the next school prospectus.



Four current articles below

Half of all university degrees will be useless in ten years - as majority of employers admit business degrees are a waste of time

Almost half of Australian university degrees are at serious risk of becoming obsolete in the next 10 years unless they're overhauled, a new research paper has revealed.

Ernest & Young has called on universities to future-proof or risk major disruption following the release of its latest report, titled The university of the future.  

The dominant Australian university model is under threat of becoming unviable, and will leave graduates with more debt and poor job prospects, according to the report released on Tuesday.

More than 50 university leaders and policymakers were interviewed and more than 3000 students and employers were surveyed.

The dominant Australian university model is under threat of becoming unviable, and will leave graduates with more debt and poor job prospects, according to a new research paper    +5
The dominant Australian university model is under threat of becoming unviable, and will leave graduates with more debt and poor job prospects, according to a new research paper

Large numbers of academics, teachers and employers consider that many of the degree courses offered will soon be obsolete unless they are overhauled to reflect the rapidly-changing nature of industry and employment, the report found

Around 42 per cent of current and past graduates felt their degree needed to be overhauled. 

Only 36 per cent of those studying humanities, culture and social sciences and just 41 per cent of science and mathematics students thought their degree was relevant to their job.

The report follows a recent Grattan Institute prediction that more than 50,000 of the 250,000 students who started a bachelor degree in Australia this year will drop out.

'Australian universities are under threat from changing learner preferences, new competitive models and international competition,' Ernest & Young Oceania Education Leader Catherine Friday said.

'They need to move now to ensure they meet the needs of a changing society and changing economy. To succeed, they will need to deconstruct the higher-education value chain, offering new formats such as unbundled degree programs, continuous subscription-based learning and just-in-time learning options.'

The report urges universities to collaborate more closely with industry in creating course content to produce more work-ready graduates after 50 per cent of employers claimed that management and commerce degrees are not worthwhile.

'Australian universities are ranked last in the OECD ranking for the ability to collaborate with business on innovation,' Ms Friday said.

'Fixing that has become an urgent priority - 51 percent of international students believe their degree needs to be transformed and the university leaders we spoke to estimate that 40 per cent of existing degrees will soon be obsolete. Those institutions that can crack the new, flexible teaching learning models required will reap the benefits, as they outpace competitors that persist in delivering three to four-year degree programs that employers simply do not value.'

Just 41 per cent of science and mathematics students interviewed thought their degree was relevant to their job    +5
Just 41 per cent of science and mathematics students interviewed thought their degree was relevant to their job

Ms Friday believes there's a role for governments to define what they want out of the sector and needs to motivate the development of future offerings in collaboration with industry.

'For better or worse the policy choices of the past 40 years have given us today's education sector,' Ms Friday said.

'The policy choices we make now will define the education sector of 2030. Policy makers need to step above the fray and start making decisions that encourages a more effective and efficient model that builds on existing strengths.'

Marketing executive Michael Nguyen said little of what he learnt from his commerce degree had been relevant in the workplace.

'When you get out there, you have to know how to use platforms and create campaigns on social media,' Mr Nguyen told the Sydney Morning Herald.

'You don't learn that at university, you only learn textbook theory on things like what consumers do.'

University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor for education Peter Scott is already planning for the future.

'One of the things UTS is now doing is developing our strategy for 2027 and looking at unbundling the degree, redesigning the physical campus and working with industry,' Professor Scott told the Sydney Morning Herald.


Outraged parents slam 'fun police' schools that force kids to sit in supervised areas instead of playing before class

Parents have slammed Queensland schools for forcing their children to sit down instead of running around the playground before class.

The move is to keep kids from being too energetic before lessons.

Mother Tiff Lawrance sends three of her children to Scarborough State School, north of Brisbane.

'I think it's crazy. Why should our children have to miss out on playtime before school. My nine and seven-year-old hate having to sit down and wait until the bell rings,' she told Daily Mail Australia.

'I believe there are way too many restrictions placed on children these days and it's unfair. They are the ones that school is supposed to be about and at the end of the day they are the ones it's affecting.'

Ms Lawrence took to social media to express her frustration and quickly found out Scarborough State School wasn't the only one with the policy.

'My kids primary school, kids aren't allowed morning play time before school. They have to sit under the undercover areas until the bell goes to go into school. Just interested to see if any other schools enforce this as I don't agree with it,' she wrote in Facebook group The Redcliffe Peninsula Community.

In response Sarah Bell wrote: 'Our school has just introduced this, it's not a supervision issue, it was kids playing sport and getting hurt… that's what kids do! I think they need to be able to run around and burn of some energy ready to sit in the class and learn, crazy society we seem to be creating!'

Patricia Truscott said: 'At our school they have said strictly no playing on the equipment even if parents are supervising.'

Many parents said the rules were in place for the safety of children, particularly if they arrive at school early and are unsupervised.

A spokesperson from the Department of Education said principals at each school made decisions regarding the safety of students.

They said classes at Scarborough started at 8.40am and students who arrived early were supervised in covered areas to make sure they were safe.

'The principal has not received any complaints about before-school supervision,' the spokesperson said.

The Catholic school funding shambles 12 months on

One year after the unveiling of the Gonski 2.0 package, it’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on the shambolic and tortuous process the Turnbull Government is bumbling through as it tries to devise a new school funding policy, Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Executive Director Stephen Elder says.

‘The warning bells started ringing when Senator Birmingham decided he knew how to develop what he called a fair, consistent and equitable funding model without consulting anyone other than the independent school sector,’ Mr Elder said.

‘In taking that approach he ignored detailed research from Catholic education that showed the key parameter in his model – school SES scores – was deeply flawed and biased in favour of elite independent schools.

‘Unsurprisingly, the Minister went on to announce a new funding approach that has been rightly labelled the best special deal independent schools have ever had.

‘But that approach was riddled with policy mistakes, and the Minister has been playing catch-up ever since, much to the concern of his marginal seat colleagues in the Reps who don’t share the luxury of his six-year Senate term.

‘We’re now in the bizarre situation whereby the Minister promised he would deliver schools “absolute certainty” over their funding, but most Catholic and independent schools don’t know what they will receive in a matter of months when school SES scores are replaced for the 2019 school year.

‘In fact, looking back at all the claims made by the Minister when he announced his new funding policy, one wonders whether he actually knew what he was talking about.

‘Most of these claims are deeply misleading, and bear no resemblance to what has actually transpired – or to the funding model that the Turnbull Government legislated in June 2017, as the attached CECV Research Brief outlines.

‘The one-year anniversary is also a good time to reflect on the worst policy development process in recent times. Senator Birmingham:

·     Increased the importance of SES scores in school funding by removing the option of system-average SES scores for non-government school systems thereby:

o  Ignoring recommendations from the original Gonski review to replace SES scores.

o  Ignoring detailed research from Catholic education that demonstrated school SES scores were flawed and biased against Catholic schools.

·     Announced a new school funding policy that would fundamentally reshape Catholic education in Australia by making Catholic primary schools in many parts of Australia fundamentally unviable – without consulting with Catholic education.

·     Legislated new funding requirements for state and territory governments which have the potential to dictate how much funding these governments provide to schooling – again without actually consulting with states and territories.

·     Decided to use dodgy new data to fund students with disability in schools, even though he had said himself it failed a basic credibility test – leading to a situation in Victoria where independent schools now claim more than 25 per cent of their students have disabilities.

·     Published figures on the funding that Catholic schools would receive under his policy proposal that were deliberately based on an incorrect starting point to disguise funding cuts for over 600 Catholic schools.

·     Informed all principals and school communities in schools that are part of systems of the funding they would receive from the Australian Government, while simultaneously insisting that system authorities – not the Government – would determine the funding that these actually received.

·     Claimed to be implementing the ‘full vision’ of the Gonski Review panel, even though some of the changes he announced contradicted aspects of the Gonski Review final report.

‘It is entirely predictable that this appalling process has delivered a flawed funding model. Ignorance and arrogance have never led to good policy.

‘One can only hope that Senator Birmingham learns from this experience as he now scrambles to fix his school funding shambles.’

 Media release. Further information: Christian Kerr, 0402 977 352

Australian schools have 'failed' a generation of students

It’s taxpayers’ money and real solutions that are Gonski

IF the new Gonski report on education is a “blueprint” for building student achievement, as described by the Prime Minister yesterday, we should all grab our kids and pets and evacuate.

The report is so lacking in substance and rigour that the roof is very likely to cave in.

Worse, it is a clear example of taxpayers’ money being soaked up by another review that not only did not deliver on its brief, but actually suggested spending more money to establish yet another review.

The committee’s task was to “examine evidence and make recommendations on the most effective teaching and learning strategies and initiatives to be deployed” in order to improve student achievement in school and maximise their opportunities post-school.

The review was commissioned in the wake of an announcement last year of significantly increased Commonwealth funding for schools. It was supposed to mitigate the risk that this extra funding would fail to improve results over the next 10 years — just as previous funding increases have failed over past years.

What the committee provided instead was a series of proposals that largely have no evidence basis and which would probably take up to a decade just to develop and implement.

The headline proposal is for a ‘continuous assessment tool’ — for which there is no evidence to support the grandiose claims of its impact — but there is also a wideranging set of 22 other recommendations. Some will increase administration burdens and bureaucracy, and some simply endorse things that are already happening, such as the reforms started by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) in 2014.

What should actually be happening classrooms in terms of effective teaching for high standards of learning barely gets a look-in. The report doesn’t investigate the evidence on curriculum design and teaching strategies that lead to the most growth in learning, or advise on how to ensure that teachers use them.

Instead, there is a strange preoccupation with the idea of ‘growth mindset’ as being a key factor in student performance. According to this concept, students who believe they can do well are more likely to, so schools and parents should facilitate this attitude.

‘Growth mindset’ has the ring of a Pentecostal preacher about it — the idea that a dyslexic child who cannot read or write can be helped by simply being told to have a positive mental attitude is like a faith healer telling a blind person he can see if he believes he can. It follows that according to recent meta-analyses of mindset research, the relationship between mindset and achievement is weak at best.

And what about the idea to “deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year”? Again, it sounds obvious that this should be a goal for every student but there is a lot of missing detail in the report, and the complexities of Professor John Hattie’s research have been lost in translation.

How do we determine what is a year’s growth in learning in every single subject? Will it change as children move through school? Is it the same for typically-developing children and those with learning disabilities? Not so straightforward, after all.

It is easy to see the appeal for federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham of the recommendations about individual student growth and low-stakes assessment tools. They appear to tick both the student-centred progressivist box and the data-driven, instrumentalist box. There is enough ambiguity in the recommendations to bring states and territories to the table and hopefully come up with something useful and workable.

Unfortunately, the cupboard is bare. Rather than giving concrete advice, the report glides over the crucial ‘who’ and ‘how’, with recommendations like “ensure all students have the opportunity to be partners in their own learning” and “create the conditions necessary to enable teachers to effectively engage and benefit from professional learning.” What conditions are those, whose responsibility is it to create them, and what should happen if they don’t?

The Gonski 2.0 report got one thing right: Australia’s performance in international assessment has been sliding for a decade and action must be taken. Too many children are leaving school unable to read, let alone be the idealised ‘creative, connected and engaged learner’.

But the solutions posed in this report will take us further in the wrong direction. If implemented, the Gonski 2.0 report will just be another chapter in the story of Australia’s sad educational decline.


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