Thursday, June 29, 2006


While in California, I represented the younger, newer, more hip generation to Jason and Jeanine, who quizzed me about my use of blogs. In particular, I had cause to reflect on the status of blogs run by graduate students and their probable effects on the reputation of those kids. If I were better at finding old things, I'd like to a post where many people who interact with job search committees concluded that it would probably hurt these kids. Instead, I'll just assure you that they said this.

I'm happy with most of what I write about non-philosophical topics on here. It's usually not too stupid, even though my writing style still fails to exist. But if this is to be my public face as a philosopher, I need to write better philosophy or less of it. So I think I'm taking the easy option. I'll try to take up the slack with personal posts, but unincriminating ones. So here's what you can expect from me in the future:

“Moved to Pittsburgh three months ago. It is very cold. I am eating Ramen.”
The summer is not going so well. I haven't even started studying logic in preparation for the exam I'll be taking at the beginning of next semester, nor have I done any work on the Brutal Composition paper, or my stab at Simples. I try to reason that it's the summer before I enter grad school, and that I can afford to postpone serious work until I arrive there, but it still makes me hate summer.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Cost of Higher Education

A federal education committee has released a report of rather mixed content. To its credit, it notices that the public universities are not being given sufficient support by the state—a fact obvious to everyone paying attention as well as a minority of any given legislative body. It also makes the criticism that increases in financial aid have been tilted towards merit aid, so that unmet demonstrated financial need has grown rapidly.

Now for the bad news—the report claims that the increase in the cost of higher education is a result of inefficiencies within the university. This seems largely incorrect. First, the substantial decrease in state funding is accountable for a portion of the increase in tuition costs, rather than an underlying change in the cost of educating a student. If you take money away from one source, the university has to get more from the source it has control of. Second, what real changes in the cost of educating a student have happened (and there have been substantial ones) can largely be attributed to a simple economic reality. Two of the sectors of the economy which have seen prices increases which substantially outpace inflation are health care and education. The reason is simple: both are labor-intensive fields which have limited room for increases in productivity. The general formula for increasing productivity is to have each person spend less time on any given task—dealing with a patient or teaching one class to one student. But in education and healthcare, this formula is rightly perceived not as an increase in productivity, but a tradeoff between increased quantity at some loss of quality. Just like not seeing the doctor for any length of time, teaching classes of 200 students is seen as a bad thing.

As overall productivity increases, the amount of compensation it takes to get skilled labor increases. Most industries can easily compensate for that by creating more of the product in the same amount of time. That's not possible in healthcare and education, so prices increase. Salaries also decrease to some extent, as attested to by the decline in salaries for educators relative to other professions. Blaming inefficiency is really missing the point: there's an important and largely unavoidable economic process involved which leads to rising prices for higher education.

There's also a lot of objectionable things in there about accountability standards similar to those that have been implemented in K–12. Did I mention that one of the leaders of the report came from the accountability movement in Texas? But that bit of the report is just a bad idea, and one I have nothing new to say about.