In a classic experimental economics paper, Marwell and Ames observed Economists Free Ride, Does Anyone Else?
There are times when a professor wishes to raise or lower his or her students' grades.
Perhaps a directive has come down from on high: "Instructors need to focus on increasing student success rates." "The average grade in this class is above the departmental norm - grades must come down."
Or a professor might wish to maximize teaching evaluations while maintaining a reputation for rigor and standards using the tried-and-true easy midterm/killer final technique.
Ontario’s government is now engaged in public sector restraint and reform tackling its doctors and teachers in an effort to wrestle down its 15 billion dollar deficit. Soon it will be turning its attention to universities. Indeed, work is already underway on an ambitious plan to reform the university sector which according to reports on the activities of colleges, universities and training minister Glen Murray includes having only three year BAs, year round class offerings, standardized first and second year course offerings that are transferrable across institutions, more experiential learning, student centered learning and an online university.
"Read each sentence or poem. Mark an X on the word or words that need to be capitalized. Then write the sentence correctly on another sheet of paper."
"Writing it again is a waste of time."
Being in Toronto for the Rimini Conference in Economics and Finance 2012 and standing in the shadow of Queen’s Park has led me to contemplate why the Ontario government is suddenly being so mean to its teachers. After years of Dalton McGuinty as the education premier with an expansion of education funding and programs, the government does seem to have become rather uncharacteristically harsh-imposing new contracts to prevent wages increases.
Because I would be abusing my authority if I said "yes". So you shouldn't even ask.
[Updated: see below]
This post is about teaching economics, though it could be about teaching anything else. It's also about allocating scarce resources between competing ends, which is the subject matter of economics.
Most of us are familiar with the metric known as the h-Index. Developed by Jorge Hirsch, the h-index is a measure that says that if you have an index of h, you have published h papers each of which has been cited at least h times.
Only something like 35% of Quebec students are on strike*, and in a column in today's La Presse, Yves Boivert notes that those on strike are overwhelmingly from the arts and social sciences faculties; those in natural sciences, engineering, medicine, etc have all stayed in class and their session is ending normally. His argument is that since people in the arts and social sciences cannot expect the sort of salaries that students in other faculties will likely get, the tuition increase hurts them more, so it is to be expected that they will be more likely to object.
My first reaction was: "Okay, that makes sense."
My second reaction was: "Hold it, what about compensating differentials?" Increased salaries are only one form in which the returns to education are realised, and it's one that is a relatively recent addition. For centuries, people had been studying philosophy, history and literature for their own sake. Students would take all forms of returns into account when choosing their fields of study, and those at the margin between electrical engineering and English literature would view the combinations of the two sorts of returns as equally balanced in each discipline. Increasing the cost shouldn't change anything.
A complication is that the high-earning programs usually have limited enrollment, so applying marginal analysis here may be problematic.
What do you think?
*For non-Canadians: The Quebec government decided last year to increase tuition fees in Quebec by 75% over 5 years, to a level just under the Canadian average. A student strike has been in progress for 11 weeks or so.
An average person, asked to explain the impact of cutting taxes, might well reason:
I have represented this argument in flow chart form to give it a spurious air of logical coherence. Yet any flow chart is only as good as the reasoning that underlies it. In this case, that reasoning is seriously incomplete.
I use rubrics sometimes, and I'm curious to know if other people do as well, and how they feel about them, so here is a survey about rubrics:
I've put a couple of demographic questions on towards the end, but please feel free to skip them. Update: preliminary results over the fold.
The media reports should be interpreted with caution. The study is restricted to professors at public universities, hence excludes the highest earning academics in the US and, possibly, other countries. "The world" turns out to be a selection of 28 nations, including countries as diverse as Nigeria, Latvia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. A number of wealthy nations such as Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden are excluded. The quality of the salary data varies from country to country. The Canadian figures, which are based on Statistics Canada's census of Canadian academics, are very accurate. The salary estimates for some other countries are based on lower quality data sources.
My first job after finishing my undergraduate degree in economics involved using Lotus 1-2-3 - the first "killer app" spreadsheet program - to create graphs. I'd never been taught to use a spreadsheet, but I worked it out.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Spreadsheets are ubiquitious in the workplace. When a new research assistant joins the Bank of Canada, their first job - like mine - is crunching data with a spreadsheet. Yet, at some universities, it is possible to graduate with an economics degree and never learn how to use Excel.
Along with the Canada geese returning home and the melting snow revealing buds of green growth, another sign of spring in Ontario is the unveiling of the sunshine list – those individuals in the Ontario public sector and broader public sector earning $100,000 or more. Included as always on the 2012 list are university salaries (for 2011) and given the occupy movement and the preoccupation with the top one percent a glance at university CEO salaries can be entertaining.
It is a truth universally acknowledged: within academia, research has higher status than teaching. The question is, why?
High status work is generally well paid work, and vice versa. Wages are determined by market forces, so supply and demand is the first place to look for an explanation for the high status of research.
One of the Drummond Report's recommendations for the post-secondary sector is to:
Create a comprehensive, enforceable credit recognition system between and among universities and colleges. This is an absolutely essential feature of differentiation [between universities].
Credit recognition could save individual students tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, and give them months or even years of their lives back.
University professors typically divide their time between teaching, research, and administration. In theory, and often in practice, professors' research informs their teaching, and teaching makes people better researchers.
Yet, as time goes by, the research ideas come less frequently, it becomes harder and harder to "keep up with the literature", and a certain percentage of people give up on research. What then?
The Canadian immigration literature seems to regard employers with a hint of disapproval. For example, a recent survey talks about "the failure to recognize foreign credentials" as if employers and others are, for some unaccountable reason, not able to recognize a credential when it's staring them in the face.
I've just spent the last couple of hours trying to recognize foreign educational credentials, and it's hard. Really hard.
The application results for UK universities in the wake of a tripling of tuition fees are in and they show a drop in applications. The limit on tuition fees in September 2012 is projected to rise to up to 9,000 pounds per year up from about 3,350 pounds for an increase of about 169 percent. University applications in the UK have dropped from 506,388 in 2011 to 462,507 - a drop of 8.7 percent.
A firm wanting to invest in a worker, to train her and give her valuable skills, runs a risk: what if she leaves, and takes her valuable human capital elsewhere?
A firm can induce its employees to stay through deferred compensation. It pays new employees less than their productivity merits, and senior employees more. The junior workers work hard and invest in themselves and the company, because they know they will get the big pay-off eventually. The senior workers are happy because they are well-remunerated. The firm is happy because it has a productive and highly trained workforce.