Federal University

College costs – real costs, in constant dollars – are about 2.5 times higher than they were were in 1965. And a higher fraction of those costs are dumped on the students, which means that it’s easy to graduate with a buttload of debt, which is particularly serious if your degree is not economically valuable, which is all too common. Since a high fraction of even those degrees that do get you hired are still useless, in terms of increasing factor productivity, this is a big burden on society as a whole.

If, as a pilot program, an example, the government set up a new university, mindlessly copying a decent state school from that golden era, like Berkeley or Wisconsin (or maybe from a bit earlier, since we probably want to avoid riots too), I doubt if it would cost a lot more. All those extra administrative personnel? Just don’t hire them. We could manage this by making the project top secret (actually, special access) – that lets you violate a lot of the useless bureaucratic rules, rather like being Uber.

Some things might cost more. If you want a medical school, you have to pay the professors competitive salaries (and MDs make much more than they did back in those days). But then, we could used taped lectures, online courses, etc.

It probably wouldn’t work for long, since politicians would be irresistibly temped to add on useless crap, like preferential admission for Skoptys, or whatever they’re called nowadays.

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31 Responses to Federal University

  1. Pyrrhus says:

    It would be illegal to give a NAM major in STEM subjects less than an A….

  2. jark says:

    You mentioned this last year too: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/clever-sillies/#comment-73214

    Do you have a breakdown of the jobs that could be cut with how much that would save?

    • gcochran9 says:

      “Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students. “

  3. Anonymous says:

    Where would you put it? It has to be somewhere students can live, and we can’t have any valuable housing stock in this country without Chinese “investors” driving up the price.

  4. Justin says:

    When I was in college, in the last half of the aughts, I remember trying to explain to my aunt that you had to borrow tens of thousands to go to the state college. She had put herself through college in the 70s by waiting tables and was dubious that it should be so expensive. I guess they didn’t have an exercise facility, luxury dorms or legions of meddlesome nonteaching staff in those days.

  5. AppSocRes says:

    The US militaries actually have their own medical schools. A brilliant friend of mine had a very odd academic career with no degree trail — early admission to MIT from HS; early admission to Princeton from MIT; left Princeton grad school for Harvard grad school — that precluded admission to med school. He enlisted as an Army corpsman to get into the Army med school and sued when the Army reneged on a verbal contract the recruiting officer had made. He would up getting an honorable discharge but no med school. The Army lost a great doctor.

    A stripped down set of prestigious universities with free tuition would be a great idea. One could admit everyone and use extremely rigorous courses and grading to get rid of the deadwood.

  6. Ursiform says:

    “It probably wouldn’t work for long, since politicians would be irresistibly temped [sic] to add on useless crap …”

    Some of that is happening in the special access world.

  7. Bob says:

    Some things might cost more. If you want a medical school, you have to pay the professors competitive salaries (and MDs make much more than they did back in those days). But then, we could used taped lectures, online courses, etc.

    I think law, business school, and economics professors have the highest salaries, so you could cut costs by just not having them, since you don’t need them in a real university.

  8. engleberg says:

    ‘ . . a high fraction of even those degrees that do get you hired are useless. . .’

    Easy-A’s are not useless- how else can people too dumb for college get a degree? and by Gresham’s Law, Easy-A courses are always going to have more clout than the other classes. Lowest common denominator- every student can pass, so every student has an interest in keeping them going. Easy-A’s will always involve protracted loyalty oaths and rituals to whoever clouts- for now, the D Party. Rightly, those most loyal are those with no other options- Plato’s Ideal Good Citizen being a bastard raised by a bureau has been refined by de Toqueville’s tyranny of mediocrity. The Ideal D Party Citizen is born a bastard, raised by a bureau, physically weak, morally imbecilic, mentally sluggish, unmarriageaeble if female, cowardly if male: in any case You Don’t Dare Hire This Compulsive Litigant.

    Really an impressive achievement in human engineering.
    
  9. RCB says:

    “And a higher fraction of those costs are dumped on the students, which means that it’s easy to graduate with a buttload of debt, which is particularly serious if your degree is not economically valuable, which is all too common. Since a high fraction of even those degrees that do get you hired are still useless, in terms of increasing factor productivity, this is a big burden on society as a whole.”

    I’m curious how folks here would divide majors into the following three categories:
    (1) You actually learn something of professional value
    (2) You don’t learn much of professional value, but the major sounds respectable, or acts as an IQ test, so it can get you a job
    (3) You don’t learn much and you can’t get a job

    I’m thinking examples are
    (1) engineering majors
    (2) economics, probably math?
    (3) most social sciences and humanities.

    • benespen says:

      (1) the conveniently named professional programs, such as Hotel and Restaurant Management, Physical Therapy, Nursing, Accounting
      Taking (2) in the sense of preparing you for a profession, many of the hard science undergrad programs would fall here, unless you count graduate school as a “profession”.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I would put the kind of knowledge that you acquire in college into four categories. Obviously majors differ in their mix of these four humours. I’m thinking of economic/GDP/health type impacts.

      1. Things that don’t matter. Like neutral genetic variation.
      2. Things that make you better at doing something useful. Ideally, significantly better – at least better at the task than if you’d just spend an hour or two reading the manual.

      3. Things that make you better at inventing techniques in category 2. What Edison, George Green, or Ramanujan learned in college. Overlaps with #2.

      4. Things that ain’t so. Falsehoods. Ones with practical implications. There are obviously some majors that mostly inculcate falsehoods.

      Now some of these can be used for signalling, but the content of education matters (in the broad sense – college but also reading Popular Mechanics). If it didn’t we’d all be living in caves and licking mammoth fat off our fingers.

  10. panjoomby says:

    sadly, social sciences are pretty employable, especially with “advanced” degrees – they are employable b/c the country is at peak “belief” in social sciences. that belief should slowly wane over the coming decades though:)

    • RCB says:

      I’m not convinced that most employers actually believe in social sciences. It’s true that people with soft social science backgrounds can and do get jobs, but that probably has more to do with simply having a degree, and being smart, than to the content of the degree itself.

  11. peppermint says:

    Yeah. what happened was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 means it’s illegal to test people for intelligence (Griggs) or competence (NYFD), but it’s okay to check educational level, which means if you want someone who’s capable of following simple instructions, you either need a college graduate, or an H1B.

    And since people needed college degrees, colleges could make them as expensive as they wanted.

    There is ~1T$ in outstanding student loan debt, there are 5000 schools, and a new building costs ~100M$. A lot of the money went and is going into building new buildings. You probably know this, since you work at a college.

    But yeah, a 50k$ administrator for 10 years is probably 1M$, and there are lots of them.

    Anyway, universities are going to need new enabling legislation when the student loan bubble gets untenable. I hope Congress and the President are smart enough not to do a damned thing and LET IT BURN.

    • Anonymous says:

      Griggs can be circumvented if the test is for something specific to the job being applied for. My company had difficulty finding qualified techs/engineers with the appropriate analytical skills. Many had excellent grades in polytechnic schools but were lacking in real world problem solving. Our legal dept approved a test that was job specific. It was designed to sort out those with appropriate training and reasoning ability.

  12. n/a says:

    “Nationalizing industries for the public good? What are you literally Hitler or something?”

  13. Andrew says:

    I recall Dr. Cochran mentioning an observation that one might forget a topic that one does not think about often such as combinatorics. I know of a student not being able to do a calculus problem he learned 3 years before. But after several years, he could do a quick review of the pertinent topic and probably did okay. Soren Kierkegaard referred to education as a kind of “knowledgeability” rather than a gain in knowledge. I know a person who is perhaps a 1 sigma in ability who took 2 years of Spanish in college along with other subjects. She still can’t speak Spanish fluently. College is better at instilling knowledgeability rather than knowledge. The best way to learn a foreign language is total language immersion. Live in the country that speaks the language and learn to think in that language.

    This should apply to other thick sciences like chemistry and biology. Why not employ total subject immersion with a goal of more knowledge gained in the target subject and less knowledgeability in other subjects?

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