Category Archives: Education

Top 25 Letdown

The Wall Street Journal recently had an interesting item about the win-loss records of the football coaches in all the major conferences against AP top-25 teams. Here’s the current ACC coaches’ records:

School Coach W-L Career W-L Current
Boston College Steve Addazio 1-6 1-4
Clemson Dabo Swinney 9-18 9-18
Duke David Cutcliffe 9-26 3-14
Florida State Jimbo Fisher 12-6 12-6
Georgia Tech Paul Johnson 10-22 10-13
Louisville Bobby Petrino 14-19 4-7
Miami (FL) Al Golden 3-13 3-8
NC State Dave Doeren 1-4 0-3
North Carolina Larry Fedora 3-9 1-5
Pittsburgh Pat Narduzzi 0-0 0-0
Syracuse Scott Shafer 0-7 0-7
Virginia Mike London 4-9 4-9
Virginia Tech Frank Beamer 45-50-1 45-50-1
Wake Forest Dave Clawson 1-9 0-2

Add it all up and these guys have won 39% of their games against Top 25 teams while coaching at their respective schools (the current number above), which is only nominally better than the 36% collective career average. Why’s that important? Because many of these coaches came from head coaching positions at smaller schools and you would expect them to have more losses there since they would have been homecoming/early season fodder for larger football schools. You would think that once they got to the larger schools their records would have improved with access to more resources, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Of course you can also look at it this way: it takes time to build a winning program and in today’s “win now” culture these guys just don’t get the time to lay the groundwork needed to have a strong sustainable program. That’s why Virginia Tech stands out. Beamer might have a sub-.500 record, but he’s had almost 100 games against Top 25 teams which indicates that they don’t run away from a tough schedule and they also give their coach plenty of opportunities to build and rebuild.

Love it or hate it, the reality is that college football is big business on college campuses and the head coaches are among the highest paid people on campus. And to be clear the ACC isn’t the only conference with coaches with numbers like these – the vast majority of coaches have losing records against Top 25 teams – so you have to wonder how so many keep their jobs right? That’s why we have the FCS which is chock full of teams from smaller football programs willing to take a beating in exchange for some cash. Everyone wins – the big schools get two or three almost-guaranteed wins a year, the coaches get to pad their records and the small schools get their biggest paydays of the season before playing their peers. It’s the American way.

This is the American Way¡

I recently heard that the inverted exclamation point is used to denote irony which is why I used it in the title of this post – This is the American Way¡ – and after reading the following you’ll hopefully agree that it’s appropriate. Dateline New York:

PS 120 in Flushing held a carnival for its students Thursday, but kids whose parents did not pay $10 were forced to sit in the auditorium while their classmates had a blast.

Close to 900 kids went to the Queens schoolyard affair, with pre-K to fifth-grade classes taking turns, each spending 45 minutes outside. The kids enjoyed inflatable slides, a bouncing room and a twirly teacup ride. They devoured popcorn and flavored ices. DJs blasted party tunes.

But more than 100 disappointed kids were herded into the darkened auditorium to just sit or watch an old Disney movie while aides supervised — the music, shouts and laughter outside still audible…

Principal Joan Monroe tacked up a list of the number of students per class: “How many attending, Paid,” and “How many not attending, Not paid.”

On Thursday morning, Monroe used the school loudspeaker to remind teachers to send in a list of kids who did not pay.

While teachers were handed a bag of little stuffed animals to give kids who paid for the carnival, one withheld them until she could add her own gifts for the half-dozen or so kids in her class who didn’t go.

She may not have meant it, but I’d say the principal gave her students a real life lesson in how things work in the world beyond the walls of PS 120. Of course if the kids whose parents didn’t pay had been allowed to attend then I know a few people who would say, “Well, they’re getting a good lesson in how our entitlement society works.” Still, I can’t imagine anyone thinking this is the right approach to take with these kids. If it’s an event taking place after school hours at which admission is tied to the money paid then at least the kids whose parents didn’t/couldn’t pay aren’t confronted with the sight of their classmates participating while they can’t, but doing this during the school day when they can’t help but wonder why they’re being “punished”? That’s just stupid.

“Professional” Education

For my day job I work for a local trade association and one of our core services is to provide professional education for our members’ employees. We spend a great deal of time trying to make sure we provide the best training and continuing education possible. We have a staff member who, along with a committee of volunteers from the industry, spends a tremendous amount of time recruiting instructors for the various classes and seminars we provide, staying on top of emerging trends in the industry, organizing instructor training and anything else necessary to make sure we have a top-shelf education program. In other words, it’s something we pay a lot of attention to.

Perhaps that explains why I was irked when a friend shared a link to a calendar item on a chamber of commerce’s website. It’s a free seminar on social media that the chamber and a small business center are hosting, which on the face of it sounds pretty straight forward. The problem comes when you do a search on the instructor, which my friend did, and find out that the instructor’s Facebook page only has a few dozen “likes”, the instructor has fewer than a handful of Twitter followers and has a website that can best be described as looking like the campaign page of a kid running for junior class president in 1998.

As I said to my friend I have nothing against the person trying to build a social media business (I think that’s what’s happening), but I have a huge problem with a chamber or other business association not doing its job well by providing quality professional education opportunities. Normally I’d dismiss it as a one-off mistake, but I’ve suffered through some of this particular chamber’s educational offerings in the past and I can tell you this is not the first time it’s happened.

You might argue that it’s unfair to judge the course, or the instructor, without sitting through the seminar. My reply would be that in the world of social media you can’t simply teach theory out of a book – experience matters – and there are SO many people in this area who do have that experience and could teach this course that there’s no reason to recruit someone who clearly hasn’t walked the walk.

Doing a seminar just to say you did it, or because someone raised their hand and said, “I can do this for free” is a terrible idea. You end up diminishing your value to your members, and before long they start running away. Obviously a chamber is more than just education, and this chamber in particular has long seemed to see their small business members as a necessary evil, but if you’re going to do something you might as well do it right or not do it at all.

10 Things I Want My College Student Kids to Think About

I really like these ten tips a college professor named Christopher Blattman has for college students. He describes them as things he tries to share with his students and that he wishes someone had had shared with him when he was a student. I’m definitely passing them along to my kids. This paragraph from tip #2 – Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university – really hit home with me because if there’s one subject I wish I’d taken in school, but didn’t, it’s statistics:

For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it. I wish I’d had more, both as a management consultant and then as a researcher.

The other tips include:

  1. Try careers on for size
  2. Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university
  3. Learn how to write well
  4. Focus on the teacher, not the topic
  5. When in doubt, choose the path that keeps the most doors open
  6. Do the minimum of foreign language classes
  7. Go to places that are unfamiliar to you
  8. Take some small classes with professors who can write recommendations
  9. Unless you’re required to write a thesis, think twice before committing to one
  10. Blow your mind

Blattman says point #6 is probably the most controversial, but I agree with his thought process here:

Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college. Maybe take an introductory course or two at university to get you started, or an advanced course or two to solidify what you already know, but only that.

Statistics are not more important than languages. But the opportunity cost of skipping a statistics course is high because it’s hard to find ways to learn statistics outside the university. Remember you only get 30 or 40 courses at university. There are a dozen other times and places you can learn a language. Arguably they’re better places to learn it too.

I feel the same way about most business and management skills. They are critical to a lot of professions (even academia), but classrooms are poor places to learn them given the alternatives. Exceptions might be more technical skills like finance and accounting.

A lot of these points mirror the advice that my wife and I have tried to give our three kids, all of whom are at some stage in their college careers. Most importantly the thought process that Blattman applied here is exactly how they should approach their educational careers in order to optimize this brief, but critical, phase of their lives.

That Degree in English Might Finally Get Some Respect

I might need to dust off the old resume, because apparently my English degree makes me a hot commodity:

…the skills you develop as an English major are the skills American business always says it needs more of: critical thinking, analytical ability, and the ability to communicate clearly. That was true 32 years ago and it remains true today. Those skills will prepare you for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I know that’s true because they did for me.

In fact, American business’s global competitors are finding they need the same skills, and that their job-focused college educations aren’t providing the people they need who have those skills. So they’re retooling their higher education along the U.S.’s traditional liberal-arts model.

And if you don’t believe Lex, well then check out this piece from American Express that he linked to. The article outlines some of the skills that employers are looking for that English majors have in spades; communication, writing, researching, critical thinking and empathy. That’s all great and good, but if you really want to be a stud you still might need to add a specific area of expertise to those broad skills:

The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a recent survey of what employers want from new hires. Its survey report, It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success, shows that more than half of business executives want college graduates to have not only field-specific knowledge and skills, but a broad range of skills and knowledge. They place less value on the undergraduate major and more on a capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems. In an interview, Debra Humphreys, vice president at The AACU, said that the economic downturn has “put a premium on college graduates who are really multifaceted … people who have both broad knowledge and skills, as well as field-specific skills.” According to Humphreys, this concern has intensified over the years.

So if I dust of that resume I might want to consider adding a line to the education section. As an English major I’m sure I’d find a second degree, perhaps in nuclear engineering, to be a piece of cake.

Don’t Cry for College Textbook Publishers

Anyone who’s attended college or has kids attending college will not likely shed a tear for the struggling textbook publishers out there. You’re not going to have warm, fuzzy feelings for any industry that causes you to spend the equivalent of a month’s rent, or more, on books that you know you’ll only use for four months and then not be able to re-sell because a new version is already in the works. And you have to do it twice a year for the four years you’re in college!

That’s why reading this story in the Wall Street Journal on the struggles of the textbook publishers brought on a wave of schadenfreude like none I’ve felt in years:

Some opt instead to download textbooks illegally. A report last month by the Book Industry Study Group, an industry trade group, found that 25% of students photocopied or scanned textbooks from other students, up from 17% in 2012. The number of students who acquired textbooks from a pirate website climbed to 19% from 11%.

Those trends come at a time of steadily rising textbook prices. The price of new printed textbooks has jumped an average of 6% a year over the past decade, triple the rate of overall inflation, government figures show, making textbooks among the fastest-growing consumer expenses in the U.S.

Rising prices and changing buying habits have taken a toll.

Sales of new printed textbooks made up 38% of McGraw-Hill Education’s higher-ed revenue in 2013, down from 71% in 2010, said Chief Executive and President David Levin.

This hits close to home because in our house we have three college students right now. Thankfully we’ve been able to control costs by renting books through the school bookstore or through Amazon, or buying used books when possible through Amazon. Every once in a while the book will only be available from the school, and generally those are the most expensive, but still we’re talking $100-150 per book versus the $250-350 list price for many of the books for which we found rental/used alternatives.

The cost is patently ridiculous when you consider what is freely available online. In fact we should find a way to give professors incentives to utilize the information in the public domain whenever possible. It’s surely more work for them, but imagine the savings it would provide their students and how much less debt most of those students will have when they graduate.