Saturday, July 23, 2011

PS427: Graduate School ROI

R.O.I. -

Our PS427 class has been discussing state support for higher education as a policy problem for the last few weeks. Higher ed is a major part of Wisconsin's budget, as it is for virtually all states. But costs rise faster than states have been willing to fund, so tuition rises faster than inflation and states contribute proportionately less and less to university budgets (17.5% at Madison now.) And yet "customers" line up for universities, both relatively inexpensive state schools and super expensive private elites. One obvious solution is to get the government out and let the market determine tuition and university finances. Yet the reluctance to see UW-Madison gain even partial independence from the state shows that lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, are very reluctant to give up government run higher education. Apparently both parties still see some public purpose to be served in state-sponsored higher education.

And so our class has spent time looking at alternative higher education models--- recently focusing on 3 year degree programs and online classes as alternatives to the traditional four-year residential model (with summers off). Many policy makers in white papers propose 3 year and online solutions, but interestingly very few students in this class want a three year program. My read (not necessarily their's) is that the economic advantages of a three year program don't match the social and personal advantages of four years in college (plus some summers for travel or internships.)

Last week we spent some time on a New York Times article on the costs of law school and the recent drop in legal jobs. (That article is here.)

This round we look at other graduate degrees. The ROI link above shows that most graduate programs do provide a positive return on investment, though some do not. A wise customer would take that into account in choosing whether or not to attend graduate school.

Political leaders push the role of an educated workforce on business creation and desirable jobs. If so, then states surely have an incentive to promote university graduate programs that provide these workplace advantages. At the same time, potential students should make reasoned calculations about the value of those advanced degrees.

Finally, one might ask why four year bachelor's programs fail to provide the job skills and benefits that currently are only available in graduate programs. Specialization and focus is one answer. General education requirements in most bachelor's programs mean undergraduates take many classes outside their major, indeed the majority of their credits are taken outside their major. At UW, a political science major takes just 30 of 120 total credits in the major, investing only a quarter of their time in the chosen field. Of course one reason for this ratio is that all fields require skills other than their own. Political science students should lean some mathematics, some languages, learn how to write, get a little historical background and perhaps even some science classes to understand politics and society. I'm not arguing those are wasted. Indeed, I argue the contrary-- a bachelor's degree is exactly the place to acquire a range of necessary skills NOT focused only on a single major. But it does mean the depth of education in the major must necessarily be less than in a graduate program devoted solely to a single field. (I'd add that many students have little idea what they want from a college degree and so drift through their four years acquiring credits but not attempting to develop real intellectual capital. That's sad but probably inevitable.)

Graduate programs, in contrast build on the general skills acquired in the undergraduate degree and focus on the specific skills needed in a particular profession. The return on investment data show this is often quite rewarding.

Of course a bright, focused and motivated undergraduate can become super well qualified for the job market in just four years (or less in the case of famous drop-outs such as Bill Gates.) But they do that by taking advantage of the undergraduate years in ways much deeper than most of their classmates. Alas, they remain the exception not the rule.

This second article from the Times today focuses on the MA as the new BA. The opening description of the poorly employed history major makes my point. So many students acquire the degree with no idea why or what it will allow them to do. And then seem surprised when their aimless education has left them with few options. I must say that a similarly aimless masters degree will not help much.

In contrast, it is not uncommon for UW students to start successful businesses while still undergraduates, even in political science. A small percentage, but it happens every year. I celebrate their achievements. We need more. And I am so proud of our grads working on Capitol Hill, the CIA, the military, the Wisconsin legislature, media, businesses and interest groups. Ask any one of them and they will say they had to start at the bottom but that serious devotion to their profession has been key to advancement. Who knew? Hard work matters.

And to close on a lighter note: PhD Comics.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beyond a default: Catastrophic calculations

Beyond a default: Catastrophic calculations - The Washington Post

Ezra Klein does a good job in the story above showing how the Federal debt and Treasury Bills are linked to many other things in the economy.

And the story below shows that Gov. Walker and his staff are taking the consequences of default seriously as well. This bit shows that beyond ideology there is understanding of consequences.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

PS427: N.J. Legislature Moves to Cut Benefits for Public Workers

N.J. Legislature Moves to Cut Benefits for Public Workers -

This is very interesting on several levels.

First, Gov. Christie was the originator of GOP efforts to cut public employee benefits and salaries following his election in 2009, a year before the GOP landslide of 2010. He has been a leader in the party and a true policy innovator.

Second, both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the Democrats, not the GOP. So for this to pass Christie had to win the backing of some Dems. (He did the same last year in passing the budget.) Think about what an achievement that is.

Third, NJ is one of the most heavily unionized states, so this isn't for lack of a union organization in the state.

BTW: Gov. Christie will be on Meet the Press Sunday morning. Should be an interesting interview.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

PS427: 3-year college degree programs not catching on

3-year college degree programs not catching on - The Washington Post

This is a common proposal for higher ed reform, but this article is typical of assessments of how well it works. Badly. Not to say it can't be done. Just that very few students choose to do it when it is offered.

Monday, June 20, 2011

PS427: It's all about jobs

That was the theme of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the January legislative special session, and a nice article by Craig Gilbert based on an interview with Governor Walker in today's

So what about jobs and job creation? Let's get the fundamentals right: If this were simple or formulaic, everyone would do it. And to be really serious about this requires a graduate degree in economics or similar expertise.

But let's not let that stop us.  Today we'll launch a series of posts on various aspects of job creation. To be clear this can't possibly cover everything. But I think we can explore a variety of aspects of job creation.

We start with tech and non-tech jobs in medium to smaller cities with a series of short articles.

Small City Job Creation

High tech in the deep south BTW: this is my home region-- beset by poverty but with surprising economic resurgence along I-85 (though not in my hometown, 40 miles from the nearest Interstate.)

Epicenters of high tech (note Milwaukee)

New Growth from Old Industry

Economic rebound

PS427: Taking the “State” Out of State Universities

Can a state university be "privatized"?

Taking the “State” Out of State Universities: June 2011

There are unique obligations that come with state universities: educating in-state students, for example. Holding down tuition for in-state taxpayers. Possibly providing an excellent education, though I hear that mentioned somewhat less often.

This and the previous post raise the possibility (in my mind at least) of two potential directions. One is greater autonomy, much as the New Badger Partnership in Wisconsin proposed. That is short of full privatization but with some gains in administrative and management flexibility, yet with loss of state legislative oversight. A second option goes in the opposite direction: more state mandates over faculty workload and "student credits per faculty member". The driving notion here is that left to themselves, universities overpay and underwork their faculty and strong state oversight should require increased teaching loads (and perhaps say more about curriculum content, such as more applied or job-relevant courses.) Before the Irish economic bust, some elements of this "business responsive curriculum" was credited with drawing major tech firms to Ireland.

What I've not seen acknowledged or considered is the potential for a growing divide between public and private universities. Privates can price themselves completely out of some markets-- such as remedial programs to help students deficient in high school skills nevertheless complete college, one goal that seems special to public schools. Privates, immune to legislative influence, can simply position themselves for whatever the markets for students (on one hand) and faculty (on the other) select and optimize. Arguably for decades Berkeley and Stanford have been peers, one public and one private. But can new models of publics maintain this equality?

PS427: Reconstructing Higher Education

See this article from the NCSL-- National Conference of State Legislatures. They are bipartisan and a great source of state policy information. We'll use their material frequently.

Reconstructing Higher Education: June 2011

Wisconsin is not the only state struggling with how public colleges and universities can have both flexibility and public oversight. This article gives one overview of some of the issues.

And for an eerie parallel to Wisconsin's recent issues, consider this from Oregon:

U. of Oregon’s President, Chided by State Board, Gets One-Year Contract Extension
June 17, 2011, 12:46 pm

Richard W. Lariviere, president of the University of Oregon, was offered just a one-year extension of his current contract by the State Board of Higher Education, on the condition that he become more of a team player and stop trying to win his university more independence from the state, The Oregonian reported. His effort is opposed by the Oregon University System, which is promoting its own plan to give more regulatory freedom to all of its institutions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

PS427: The Budget is Where Reality Happens

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau just released three reports on the budget legislation coming from Joint Finance.

The links are:

Property Tax Memo

General Fund Budget

State Taxes and Fees

All are worth reading.

PS427: Thirty Years of Falling Behind

For 20 years, from 1960 to 1980, Wisconsin and Minnesota were twins in real income. Neither state outpaced the other in real income growth per capita.

But in the summer of 1981 that changed. Since then Minnesota has enjoyed faster income growth, and the gap between the states has widened steadily for 30 years.

Given we were twins for 20 years, what changed in 1981 that made Minnesota the economic power and Wisconsin the slower growth sibling?

Is Minnesota doing something right or Wisconsin doing something wrong? How might state government affect this difference, and why hasn't it been addressed over 30 years? Or if private business is the solution, why have they failed to keep up with our neighbors?