Tuesday, September 25, 2007

All Colleges ...

After our recent trip visiting liberal arts colleges, I now know that at every liberal arts college in America:

It is very safe--even if students make a point of locking the doors of their rooms when they are not in them.

Students are not competitive and don't worry about or compare grades--unlike every other college.

Students are helpful and friendly to each other--unlike other colleges.

The nearby big city is a center for cultural activities, but students practically never go there because there is so much happening on campus.

All professors are unusually accessible.

All teaching is done by professors, not graduate students--even if there are (undergraduate) teaching assistants who do some teaching (language labs) solo and assist with science labs.

The president of the school is friendly, accessible, lovable, and not a stuffed shirt.


jimbino said...

You are so right about the advantages of small liberal arts colleges. I graduated from one in a class of 450 and taught there as well. Classes often had only 5 students, and the profs who personally taught all the classes were great. The big disadvantage, which is the same one you find at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, is that, while the profs are par excellence, many, if not most, of your fellow students are education majors and others drawn from the bottom of the academic barrel, something you don't find at Chicago and other selective colleges.

Unknown said...

At St. John's, we were discouraged from looking at our grades. All classes were facilitated by professors, but they used the title Tutor, not Professor.

Oh, the joys of the Great Books program. Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles...

Unknown said...

Maybe I don't know enough about American liberal arts colleges, but this article sounds very sarcastic to me. Am I missing the point?

Unknown said...

I remember when my mother and I were touring colleges we developed a simple rule: whatever people deny most is always true. at swarthmore they said "people aren't overworked here". at brown it was "no, it doesn't always rain". at harvard they said "professors really do care about undergraduates". I ended up at brown.

Arthur B. said...

I guess they are all over the median as well.

Random balloon guy said...

Jimbino & odette, David was being sarcastic. That was the point of the post.

Taylor Conant said...

This article sounded extremely sarcastic to me as well. Maybe I read it that way because that's how I feel, now nearing the end of my 4-year over-priced tour through hell.

Colleges will sell and sell and sell themselves to potential students and parents, and will continue to try to hype themselves to parents even after the student has applied and been accepted, probably to ensure the parent continues to send in multi-thousand dollar tuition checks in a timely fashion, even when their son or daughter oddly starts complaining about the quality of their education and the personal attention they (do not) receive.

I especially liked the bit about the college presidents. Seems like all John Sexton of NYU does is write "Oops, we've had another suicide" letters to students, parents and faculty.

Most four-year universities are a SCAM. Either find a small, non-research-bent college where you are 99.9% sure your kid will get personalized attention and instruction, or else encourage your student to get to being an adult and finding a job. Nobody "needs" college, you can easily teach yourself what you might be "taught" in a four year school, minus the exorbitant tuition costs.

I have wondered lately if, with hardwork, perseverance and personal talent, a person who entered the workforce immeadiately out of high school might find themselves in a position of AT LEAST as much importance/pay, if not more, at Company X vs. that same person taking their first job after graduating from a four-year institution.

jimbino said...


Sarcastic may be what he intended, but he stated the reality at some small liberal arts colleges. I wonder: what were the colleges he visited?

If he'd like some pointers for his daughter's future school, all he needs to do is ask.

Mike Huben said...

I'm wondering why the free market in colleges hasn't solved those problems for David.

Perhaps David will find better truthiness if he looks at private business. :-) After all, all corporations place their customers first in their hearts. They all produce quality products. They're all conscientious about the environment. Their workers are all well paid, if not overpaid and driving the business into failure. Etc.

But still, it is good to share our discernment of hype.

Unknown said...


I was never inclined to call you a troll. Most of the time I disagree with you, but so far you provided at least some arguments. And I appreciate dissents more than yet another "yeah David you rule" remark.

But this is ridiculous. Do you really think you're doing yourself a favor by (knowingly, I presume) putting wrong arguments into a libertarian's mouth?

Taylor Conant said...


US colleges and universities are some of the largest recipients of government welfare in the form of grants and tuition reimbursement in the country.

Not exactly a free market!

Mike Huben said...


I see. It's OK for David to write something snarky, but not me? And just how am I putting any words in David's mouth? Read closely, please.

When libertarians talk about public schools, they often propose markets like those for colleges.

David's post is about the pattern of truthiness that he received from colleges. I'm pointing out that it is a part of all marketing, not just college marketing. And I approve of pointing out the disservice of truthiness.

That said, I do appreciate that you discern that I attempt to have a real argument, even if you disagree.

Taylor, if you're going to demand purity to have a free market, you'll never be able to call anything a free market. In which case there are no free markets in the world, because somehow governments interact with all markets.

John Fast said...

Jan: Why should Mike Huben behave any differently now than he has usually done in the past?

Anonymous said...


Mike Huben was on this blog visciously insulting David's father Milton Friedman's memory within a day or two of his passing.

Whatever in the world gave you the impression he is anything other than a thoughtless, heartless troll?

Michael Roberts said...

euwow,do we really have to bash people in order to converse?

What ever happened to a good old-fashioned argument?

Anonymous said...

"The nearby big city is a center for cultural activities, but students practically never go there because there is so much happening on campus."

Hell yeah.

Anonymous said...

OK, Dr.F. is clearly reiterating some of the sales pitches that were presented to him. Did anyone happen to mention that they would sell textbooks at a fair market price - that would be a good closer.

Mike Hammock said...

I think Mr. Huben is actually making a worthwhile point: Some advertising is the result of a sort of prisoner's dilemma, and is therefore a deadweight loss.

If no school engages in hyperbole, then it pays for a school to deviate and exaggerate the school's quality. But every school faces this same choice, and chooses to exaggerate. As a result, consumers such as Professor Friedman ignore this information because they realize it is useless noise. The efforts spent promoting these exaggerations are therefore wasteful; they exist only because a school that does not engage in them suffers a competitive disadvantage. The same thing might happen with many kinds of advertising.

On the other hand, not all such advertising information is devoid of value. Hard numbers on campus size, student/teacher ratios, and similar figures are valuable. Similarly, it has been shown that efforts to restrict advertising can badly backfire (as in the famous case of bans on eyeglass advertising, which resulted in significantly higher prices for eyeglasses due to reduced price competition).

The point to make, I think, is not that markets are always perfect. I don't think I need to explain market failure here, and Friedman is not a denier of the existence of market failure. Rather, I think the conclusion to reach in the case of advertising is that much of it may be waste, but prohibiting anything other than outright false advertising (i.e., fraud) is dangerous, both in its immediate consequences, and in the risks of handing over to government additional control over commercial speech.

Regarding Huben's other points, I don't have any problem with a company producing a lower quality product, so long as they charge a lower price and don't commit fraud when describing the product (I am annoyed when American car companies are criticized for producing lower quality cars; so long as they can make them for a profit, there is nothing wrong with lower quality cars). Environmental problems are well-known market failures discussed in every Econ 101 class. In competitive labor markets, workers tend to be paid a wage rate that approximates their marginal product. It is possible for workers to be consistently underpaid and underhired in the case of monopsony, but that is thought to be a rare market structure.

Anonymous said...

All teaching is done by professors, not graduate students

Unless things have changed since I went to college (admittedly some 40 years ago), this is a bug, not a feature. At the college I attended (a technical school of some repute, just up the river from Harvard) the profs might have been brilliant men, but learning from them was nearly impossible. Half of them spoke English with an impenetrable accent, and the other half explained things in ways that made sense only if you'd already finished their course and the next two more advanced ones besides.

The grad students, on the other hand, had struggled with the same material not long before, and knew exactly what was likely to be confusing and how to clear it up. I actually switched majors from math to electrical engineering because the EE department made much greater use of TAs than did Math.

Anonymous said...

Just to state the obvious, because maybe it's not so obvious, every single one of the items is internally contradictory. If it is safe, not everybody locks doors. If there are (good) cultural activities in the city, students would actually go. If there are undergraduates teaching, then it is not correct that all teaching is done by professors. Etc.

In theory, a liberal arts education teaches one to be a critical thinker....


Anonymous said...

Google Atlantis Venezuela

Anonymous said...

Visiting colleges is a bad idea. Send your kid to the most prestigious college he or she can get into.

Unknown said...

Psst...the joke is that these are the talking points that every single liberal arts college in America uses to sell itself. They are all small, safe, exciting, etc. Oh, and don't forget about the diverse student body!

If I had realize this when I was applying to colleges, I would've put a lot less stock in innovative curricula and a lot more into acceptance rates and average SAT scores. So it goes.

Anonymous said...

I have read so many different bits here. Here are some distilled replies to many different "threads" (if I understand the use of the word).
If you want your children to learn languages, go somewhere. Our daughter is a native speaker (from near birth) of Catalan, Castilian, French; and of course English and American.
She is now 21, and last year went on an Erasmus "scolarship" (it's a small supplementary grant that barely covers travel to and from the foreign university) to Milan. There she picked up a certificate in Italian, and of course, actually learnt it as well.
Her "at home" - "unschooling" - she was required to attend the local schools, but we never expected much from them. Sadly, most teachers here struggle to get their contracts, and then relax and collect their salaries forever. So - as David says - we threw books at her. In four languages. Finally, when the university moment arrived, she asked if she could apply to the design school at which we both had taught since before her birth.
Such a school. Expensive, but there is a discount for the students of the faculty. (I haven't taught there since she was born - but her father has been a mainstay.) The course she wanted was full, but she was allowed to enter in Industrial Design. Her class intake was 19 people [curiously, so was her graduating class from the local high school equivalent here].
The year away in Milan was shocking. Her course/year was about 450 undergraduates. Very different from being the coddled child all the secretaries could remember from birth.
So: small liberal arts colleges...so far it seems a good idea. But maybe I'd say "not in America"? Break loose! Go!
Music is certainly a subject that can be pursued in other countries with much more interest and perceived prestige than in the US.
And I apologize for being boring. But I've read so much here, I felt it was worth saying.
PS - I myself went as a student on a course with a prestigious German professor in about 1991 (when the daughter in question was five years old) and in idle conversation he learned that she spoke 4 languages and he was outraged. He couldn't seem to understand that the only way to have PREVENTED her learning them would have been to forbid her to play with the surrounding little children in Catalonia and France. Who knows?