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May 2011

Contemporary American higher education completely captured in just 248 words

From Andrew Ferguson's terrific book, Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, pp. 113-14.

. . . Tulane was underperforming for years because it didn't play to its strengths. The only thing the viewbooks talked about was academics: kids in the library, kids in the lab. All the deans and professors insisted on it. They said, We already have a rep as a party school, let's stress our great academics.

Right. Snooze. Surprise, surprise: apps down, SATs down, tuition revenue down.

A new dean brought in a branding agency. They did the focus groups--college students, applicants, high school students. And it jumped right out at them: Excuse me, we're in freakin' New Orleans! They cooked up a viewbook with Mardi Gras colors, lots of New Orleans, rich cultural heritage, diversity, gumbo, streetcars, jazz, the Quarter at night . . . and response went straight up. You could chart it on a graph, like a hockey stick. Same search, same kind of names. But different brand.

Response rate, up. Yield, up, SAT scores, up, GPAs, up. More kids from the top 10 percent of their class than ever before. They're climbing the page at U.S. News. And the number of full-pays, the kids who don't need aid: way, way up.

Why? A lotta rich kids think it'd be neat to live in New Orleans. Mom and dad will pay for it if they think it's about college, even if the kids know different. Being a good school wasn't enough. Being a good school in New Orleans--now you can make a sale.

"Gales Of Creative Instruction"


No bureaucracy as sclerotic as the higher education industrial complex will change on its own. Change comes in the form of what the great Austrian Joseph Schumpeter called “gales of creative destruction.” Schumpeter argued that entrepreneurial capitalism “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. . . . ”

. . . 

I can move to England, pay the non-subsidized foreigner tuition rates, rise early, go to class and take my chances on an Oxford professor. Or I can sit in my pajamas and have an Oxford prof of my choice teach me about critical thinking or the literary legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien. I can avoid the same old green gunk or socialist screeds.

Want to learn more about the Austrian School of Economics from which Dr. Schumpeter derived his doctrine of creative destruction? Here’s a free course. Want to read Adam Smith’s comments about education and virtually every other topic under the sun, here’s a free searchable e-book,  and here’s a free version for your Kindle. Feel you need some help understanding Smith? Here’s a podcast course from George Mason University’s econ talk.

Looking for a Schumpeterian take on current economic events? TryIntelligent Investing With Steve Forbes. If you like your free market economic commentary in daily doses, I find the Cato Institute’s daily podcast quite refreshing. For a little more depth, here’s their weekly video.


"The U.S. fiscal solution: Follow Canada’s lead"

Economist and Globe and Mail columnist David Rosenberg:

Former finance minister Paul Martin was so successful at turning the bloated deficit around and helping reverse Canada’s long-standing reliance on big government that he has since been hired as a consultant to the David Cameron-led coalition in the U.K. Note that Henry Paulson and Lawrence Summers weren’t offered any postings.

Ooooh, snap!

See also David R. Henerson, "Canada's Budget Triumph".

The main policy actions that the Canadian government took to shrink its budget deficit and turn deficits into surpluses were cuts in government spending. Moreover, the Canadian government didn’t just cut the growth rate of spending, a favorite trick of U.S. politicians who want to claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism. It also cut absolute spending on many programs in dollar terms. And because the inflation rate in Canada, though low, was greater than zero over the whole time period, these cuts in dollar terms were even larger in inflation-adjusted dollars.

"After the Greek Default"

Martin Feldstein calmly and concisely explains just how much trouble Greece is in.

So Greece faces a triple challenge: the fiscal challenge of cutting its government debt and future deficits; the price-level challenge of reducing its prices enough to wipe out the current trade gap; and the wage-productivity challenge of keeping future wage growth below the eurozone average or raising its productivity growth rate.

One would hope that Greece will be a cautionary tale for many generations. But if history teaches us anything it is that human folly is very deep. And it repeats.

Ironworks Cafe

Last week I linked to a story about Old Skool Cafe which employs at-risk kids because founder Teresa Goines "saw so many kids with great intentions of turning their lives around, but after getting locked up, they didn't have many options."

Reader Jon R. wrote to inform me that Madison, WI has a similar restaurant, Ironworks Cafe

The Ironworks Cafe is part of a teen employment program at the Goodman Community Center. When you eat at the cafe, you're helping teens learn basic job skills, food and customer service skills, plus they're seeing the ins and outs of managing a business.

I'll say again: these sound like terrific ideas. If you want to save the world, you need to save one person at a time.