Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

August 7, 2014

Career Advice?

I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.

Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, in an article at the site Quartz that questions whether “statistical literacy” needs to be added to the increasing attention paid to mathematical competence in basic education.

June 27, 2014

The High Price of Admission

Nearly 45% of 25-year-olds have outstanding student loans with an average balance of more than $20,000. Worse yet, more than one-half of recent college graduates are unemployed, or under-employed working for substandard pay at jobs that do not require a degree. One in five has moved back in with their parents, and more than half receive financial support from them. These alarming data points are from the recent NY Times article The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave.

How much of this is simply the prolonged fall-out of the Great Recession and how much is structural change is unknown. But the Times article, and many others, suggest that the increasingly high costs of a college education may require a rethink of the automatic decision to attend university at any cost. Where college once was the best, and affordable, guarantee of a well-paid career, today it is increasingly just a very expensive admission cost with an increasingly uncertain payoff.

May 31, 2014

Yes, HS Grades DO Matter

The Washington Post cites a U. of Miami study showing the relationship between HS GPA and annual adult earnings. Each added point of GPA by itself translates into a 12-14% greater annual salary, regardless of higher education. Of course, a higher GPA also means a far greater likelihood of graduating college with even further earnings potential. (Lastly, the large disparity in this study between men and women’s earnings is unmistakeable)

Average earnings in adulthood vs. high school GPA

May 21, 2014

Public Universities More Cost Effective than Private

It just seems absurd, to pay 60 grand a year so that you can read Rousseau. I mean I can read Rousseau right here. Hell, I can hire sometime to read it to me, teach me French, and then read it to me in French for that kind of money. It’s absolutely nuts!

So notes Thomas Frank, political analysts and former WSJ columnist, in this web radio interview discussing the results of Payscale’s annual report College Returns on Investment. The bottom line seems to be that unless your student expects significant college aid, attending a public college has an equal or higher lifetime earnings payoff to attending a comparable private university, at a far lower total cost.  There are a very few private school outliers with (surprise) Harvey Mudd topping a list of schools that also includes MIT, CalTech, NYU-Poly, and Stanford in the top ten for lifetime earnings.

January 8, 2014

“An absolute wake-up call” for US education

According to the recent PISA study of educational accomplishment, 10th grade students in China are 2 1/2 years ahead of their American counterparts. Two and a half years, for chrissakes! This and other shortcomings of our K-12 system are explored on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS segment entitled “An absolute wake-up call for America.”

Fareed’s panel included the Superintendent of the NY City schools system, the founder of Teach for America, and Sal Khan of the Khan Academy.  A few of the major differences they noted between school systems that are at the top of the list (Germany and Finland along with China) and ours. The top-performers:

  • Place high societal respect and provide competitive compensation for the teaching profession
  • Furnish ample resources for teacher training
  • Are open to adopting the best practices from other countries
  • Foster active parental involvement
  • Have no school-based sports programming, spending the time instead on academics.

These “best practices” would be great enhancements to the US system, difficult but not impossible to achieve over a generation (though the elimination of school sports would most likely be dead on arrival as a suggestion).

But to me the most telling and readily actionable difference the panel discussed was that students in China attend school an average 50 days a year longer than their American counterparts. Over ten years, that is 500 days, or curiously enough about 2 1/2 years. Our kids just don’t spend enough time in class and a simple fix thus might be to start gradually extending the K-12 school year.

We continue to work off an educational calendar based on the needs of our agricultural economy during the 19th century. Overhaul is way past overdue and our failure to invest in and to modernize K-12 educational delivery to meet the needs of the 21st century is jeopardizing our children’s economic futures.


October 28, 2013

A New Way To Rank Colleges

With college education costs now a major financial planning challenge for all but the wealthiest households, students and their families can no longer assume automatically that a college education will be the “no-brainer” investment it has long been considered. Many students leave college these days with crippling debt levels they can ill afford to support.

In response, there is a new movement to rank colleges on more than just the basic quality of their education. Where the elite schools – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford etc. – once dominated all the “top college” lists, the new rankings feature some unexpected winners. Payscale ranks colleges based on ROI, the expected lifetime return on investment for the cost of an education. Harvey Mudd College tops their list with usual suspects Stanford at #10 and Harvard #14. Washington Monthly features their “Best Bang for the Buck” rankings that use student loan default rates as a key metric. Amherst tops the WM all schools rankings.

Students, and parents, are also advised to note the sizable gap in average starting salaries for college grads – 2013 Engineering grads received an average $62,000 out of school while Humanities majors earned $37,000. The costs for the two degrees are the same, but the earnings discrepancies only increase over the life of a career.

May 13, 2013

Sticking with the Careers Theme

For those entering college and thinking about a major, and for those about to depart and considering a career path, I am a big fan of local Bay-Area career coach Marty Nemko.  Nemko has an on-air career advice call-in show on KALW radio and is the author of Cool Careers for Dummies. See also my earlier post on the highest paying starting salaries.  No longer finance.  Think engineering.

May 12, 2013

How To Get Well Paid Right Out of College, 2013 Edition

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

top paying.png.CROP.article568-large

And what a relief to see that finance (the art of moving a dollar from one pocket to another) is no longer the star attraction that it once was.

May 8, 2013

Need a job? Think Texas.


  • A donut house in Blaine TX is hiring at $18.50 per hour and having trouble.
  • If you have a commercial driver’s license, you will be hired at $105,000 to drive an oil rig, no experience necessary and high school diploma optional. An experienced driver starts at $125,000. (I hear the same holds in the shale oil regions of N Dakota and Montana)
  • Unemployment rate in Midland is 3% and anybody who wants to work will find a job – all energy related.

From 361 Capital Research Weekly

The 361 folks also suggest that those who are college-bound think of focusing on math skills, noting this list of starting salaries (from the WSJ) for college grads in various better-paid professions today:

  • Petroleum Engineering: $93,500
  • Computer Engineering: $71,700
  • Chemical Engineering: $67,600
  • Computer Science: $64,800
  • Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,400
  • Mechanical Engineering: $64,000
  • Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering: $63,400
  • Management Information Systems/Business: $63,100
  • Engineering Technology: $62,200
  • Finance: $57,400

January 25, 2012

The Future of Education?

Is it only a matter of time before the Internet changes absolutely everything? This post by Felix Salmon tells the tale of Sebastian Thrun who has resigned his post as a tenured Stanford professor to start Udacity, an online University. Thrun was emboldened by the 160,000 students worldwide who enrolled in his online AI class, taught by himself and Google’s Peter Norvig. Udacity follows in the footsteps of the Khan Academy, which I wrote about last year.


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