Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guest Post : Colleges Cannot Afford Their Own Tuition Bills

One of the biggest financial burdens Americans face is college debt. Student loan debt is higher than the national credit card debt (which is kinda ironic because a lot of people try to pay their bills with credit cards). Even more of a rut-roh is the reality that student loan debt cannot be forgiven upon declaring bankruptcy--you are NEVER getting out of this. And this college-debt burden is not restricted to the 99% (or the complement of the 1%). I recently went on a series of (what will probably retrospectively be "good stories") dates with someone who graduated from a highly-ranked, highly-selective college his GRANDFATHER was president of for twenty years; he "only" had $80,000 of debt left five years after earning his four-year degree. And this was a person who literally and figuratively was grandfathered in and provided with what in academia amounts to an "employee discount" on tuition. And let's not even begin to talk about any law or med-school student. Those 3-4 year post-baccalaureate programs NEVER give students scholarships or stipends. You want to know why your doctor charges $150 for a five-minute visit or why your lawyer charges you for every word he utters? It's because they're up to their eyeballs in debt.

Just so we can say we did, let's talk about public colleges and universities. Many--like those in the university system of Georgia--have a history of giving in-state residents essentially free rides; it used to be that if you had a 3.0 GPA and were an in-state student at any public college in Georgia, you were good to go. The HOPE scholarship (running mostly on lottery funds) would cover your bill. Except…the state started going broke. Oops? What did they do to remedy this situation? They raised the minimum GPA requirement. Instead of a 3.0 for a full ride, you needed a 3.2 (or something like that…You get the idea. Less than 10% increase.). Suddenly, there was an uproar. Critics argued that--among other things--this would prevent students from majoring in STEM subjects, which historically are "tougher" than BA classes and subsequently feature lower average GPAs. Others argued that this would "weed out" lower-income students or first-generation college-goers and those who may not have *the* strongest of education backgrounds. Imagine this: you have a 3.55 high school GPA (qualifying you for a full ride), but from a really craptastic public school. I don't care if it's inner city or the setting for Deliverance. Everyone--whether he admits it or not--knows you are going to struggle to keep that up. You lose HOPE, literally and figuratively, you can't stay in college without loans or at all…and you're out.

Now for the private schools. The ones, in particular, that are well-established (interpret at will). First, why do they care about subsidizing student debt--they're going to get paid anyway, right? Well, it actually does comes down to money. And--unlike a lot of public schools--private schools also care a LOT about how they look. They need to--they can't rely on the state governments or taxes for their money. They rely solely on the ability to convince "everyday people" to give them ridiculous amounts of money. So if you advertise zero debt and no loans, the number of applications (and application fees) you receive is going to shoot through the roof. That is a HUGE money maker. Think of the statistics you always hear: 34295 people applied to be in the Harvard class of 2018 with an application fee of $75 (that means you're being paid almost three million dollars just to CONSIDER applications). And the number of applicants increasing drastically means your acceptance rate is going to decrease which makes your school automatically (yet vacuously) "more selective". And that makes you very prestigious. Oh, and then there's the highly politically incorrect (yet highly realistic) truth that private schools spin this as a way they are "diversifying" their student body. No more is this just a school for old money WASPs, Asian kids whose intelligence no one can deny, and the occasional Jew. Now YOU can attend the same schools the presidents did, the schools where the Nobel prize winners work, and you can't afford it WE'LL PAY THE BILL FOR YOU! This is the American dream! This is democracy, fairness, and equality at their best!

But…and there are of course a few exceptions…even the private schools can't afford this.

The first widely-acknowledged school to start a no-loan/no-debt policy is Princeton. They've done this for close to fifteen years. But it's Princeton. Their endowment is almost 20 BILLION DOLLARS. They are not going anywhere anytime soon and they can take the financial hit. Because it started a trend that made them look extra prestigious, of course others felt the need to follow suit. Ivies such as Dartmouth seconded the emotion. Even the top-tier liberal arts colleges (which still have HIGHLY nontrivial endowments) such as Williams ran to join the cool kids' club. Press releases were issued. The deans and presidents were quoted in Forbes and US News and World Report. The schools were praised for their generosity and forward-thinking. But they hit the same road block that the state colleges of Georgia did; namely, they couldn't handle their own tuition bills. THIS is not highly publicized (so, see the references below) but Dartmouth and Williams both had to suspend their no-loan/zero-debt programs--Williams did it after only three years (so, not even seeing the inaugural class to graduation). Their endowments respectively are $3.4 billion and $2.25 billion. And they could not afford this level of generosity.

What about those still playing ball? My date's highly selective college states on their own websites that 40% of their student body receives need-based financial aid packages from the college, with the average aid package valued at $45,000 a year. With 740 kids that's $33.3 million. A YEAR. Over 5% of their endowment and Lord-knows how much of the general operating budget which also pays for tenure-track positions that keep class sizes low and intimate, and fund study abroad opportunities and bring in guest lecturers. This is not looking very sustainable.

But here's the real kicker. The private schools--including the ever-successful Princeton--frequently lack the ONE caveat the public schools insist upon. That is, they do NOT enforce a GPA minimum beyond that which just constitutes "not failing out". That means they offer academic scholarships to highly prestigious institutes of learning that are not merit-based (or, if you want to be really picky, not merit-REwarded). Does that make sense? Yes, you have to work to get in. Yes, it's almost a lottery that decides whether or not you're in the chosen few. But after you get in, you really don't have to do anything to STAY in? In what alternate universe are the academic rules and regulations of the University of Georgia more strict than those of Princeton?

You could argue that problem will fix itself. Not doing well in school and not having connections will eventually kick students in the rear. Doesn't matter where they went. A friend of mine is a highly intelligent, highly lazy Princeton grad. He has no debt, which is good, because he's essentially unemployable; he's got a GPA so low there's no way to spin it positively on his resume (and so when the question comes up in interviews, the answers are always stellar). He almost failed out. He did not get to know any of his professors (and wasn't doing well in their classes), so his letters of rec are vague at best. He was not involved in any clubs or organizations (because he couldn't afford it in the cases of eating houses or because he was too busy going to the parties the eating houses hosted). But, he's got a degree from Princeton.

Why is this such a big deal? There is an unending list of students willing, wanting, and waiting to go to these "elite" schools; is keeping someone who is not earning their intellectual keep worth it? ESPECIALLY when the bill is so high?


Monday, April 13, 2015

Cheap Jeans

Dunwoody is not widely known as a location for thrifty shoppers. Not only is The Mall a pretty expensive place to shop and dine, we made damn sure there would never be a Goodwill store within our borders. So where does one go for reasonably priced knock-about jeans?

Well, this won't be another grumpy rant about how Dunwoody is lacking whatever service or facility is most appealing at the moment, be it biking, balling, skeet or skating. Nope, TOD has found a source for jeans priced below $20 a pair. Not just in daWood but in daVille.

These are not just any jean, these are painter's pants complete with the hammer loops (who paints with a hammer?) and those nifty thigh-holster cellphone pockets. And these are not cheaply made items that fall to pieces after the third wash. No sir. These are work pants. Dickies. Being work pants they are not only durable, they come in "worker sizes" and a "comfort fit," suitable for folks of a certain gravitas. And if you've got the build for it, they are available in shorts. If you don't have such a build, please spare us.

So where da hell in daVille do you get your mitts on these <$20 jewels? Well, they ARE painter's pants. That's right, you can pick these bad boys up at our recently opened Sherwin Williams paint store. Rush on over before they're all gone.

Oh, they sell paint too.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lessons Learned

There has been a lot of handwringing and lipflapping over the APS cheaters, the trial, their conviction and their soon-to-be-announced sentences. Some want to "put this behind us and move forward", educrat code words for "sweep it under the rug." Pre-trial APS and Bev cheerleaders from the political and business communities would like to see tarnished reputations mellow into a soft patina. Some parents are actually happy ignoring the systemic issues and comfort themselves with the notion that "we've caught ALL the cheaters, everything is fine now."

But there is much to be learned from this experience.

Let's start with race and get that out of the way. It appears that well educated, respected black defendants can no longer reliably expect acquittal with an octoroon jury. In this case the jury was otherwise adequately black yet all but one of the defendants was convicted, with those found guilty being convicted on at least the RICO charges, if not additional charges. Nonetheless these defendants, who had turned their noses up to a plea agreement were sincerely stunned when they were found guilty by a "jury of their peers." It was these defendants' judgment that no matter how damning the facts of the case that a "black enough" jury would never convict a black educator. Wrong.

Then there is the "of course they cheated" defense mostly offered by APS and public education apologists attempting to deflect blame towards "high stakes" testing. The implicit "as anyone would" should be noted, because there is perhaps a bit of truth in that.

When one defines "cheating" as "not providing children with the education that taxpayers have purchased" one realizes the system they  built is structured to support such cheating and will likely drive out anyone not aligned with those goals. It is a system that advances students without regard for accomplishment and the educators leverage the transient nature of failing students and mask their activity with grade inflation. This makes the argument that these few convicted APS bad actors stole "opportunity" for access to tutoring or early intervention/remediation by changing test answers ring hollow. From the educators' point of view remediation belongs exclusively in the early years of college and apparently the University System agrees.

That leads us to the another part of these educators' ecosystem that makes cheaters of them all: colleges of education. While universities generally offer remediation to teach "everything you should have learned thru high school" in a few short semesters, colleges of education combine grade inflation (everyone gets an 'A') with watered down content, particularly subject matter content. They aren't pumping out legions of 4.0 wielding graduates because education attracts the best and brightest. Instead it is because that is what sells, and in fact is required, in the education marketplace. Should any college break ranks and award meaningful grades students would flee to colleges that know and play the game. From pre-K to retirement these folks are somehow involved in the little lies we know as grade inflation.

It should come as no surprise that newly minted educators do not join a work place instituted as a meritocracy. They've never encountered one before. In fewer years than it took to get the college degree they will enjoy quasi-tenure and no matter how obvious their incompetence they are immune to dismissal. And teaching is a bit like pornography--you can't define good (or bad) teaching but you sure as hell know it when you see it. And so does everyone in education, including the bad teachers. So it turns out that everything they know they did learn in kindergarten: everybody gets a gold star--which only amplified their shock when the jury did NOT award them the easy A, a gold star or just give them a pass.

So will they, those that remain, cheat? Of course. That's what they've always done, what they are doing and what they will be doing for the foreseeable future. No matter how distant your sight horizon. But would they falsify documents? THEY ALREADY ARE! Every time a grade report is submitted with an inflated grade someone has falsified a state document. Every time they cash a paycheck knowing full well they have not, cannot and will not provide the service for which they are being paid, they commit theft. If a true professional, say a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, did only once what our educators do on a daily basis they would lose their license and very likely go to prison.

Which brings us to the sentencing phase...

Now that they are tried and convicted they await sentencing. Some say jail time is too harsh. That these career educators should not be housed with hardened criminals. That we must temper justice with mercy. There must be a second chance. But are their soon-to-be-colleagues "hardened criminals" or are they simply former students--product of the pre-K to prison pipeline these "educators" have operated for years? Perhaps that is the second chance. The opportunity to educate those students they failed during their careers as unindicted felons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Butterfly Defect

Doctors are often accused of playing God* and should take care when they do, but it is with even greater care that lesser folk should play Doctor.

Flash back about two years...

A teenager, around 15 years old suffers from heart disease, a particular condition that will prove fatal, possibly in short order. These are circumstances that warrant consideration of a transplant. But...Consideration is not the same as "Guaranteed On-Time Delivery." This is not Fedex. This consideration generally considers many factors: overall health of the recipient; psychological and lifestyle evaluations; and assessment of the recipient's likelihood of following the rigorous post-transplant medical regimen. Some considerations are viewed as harsh but they are driven by the reality that need far exceeds supply. These assessments inherently assign value to the lives of individuals and determine who lives and who dies based on relative value. But who would really recommend transplanting a heart, a life, into a 68 year old grandfather while denying life to a 30 year old father of two preschoolers?

But in this case medical considerations did not carry the day as the medical assessment indicated the heart, with its rare gift of life should go to some other recipient than our 15 year old. The medical considerations for denial relied on the psychological and lifestyle evaluations which, since the candidate was black, were met with cries of profiling and racism. The cause was taken up by local media as an attention grabbing cause célèbre -- they spoke of "his journey." Political pressure was added to the pressure of Political Correctness forcing a reversal of the medical decision that resulted in an at-risk black youth being given the second chance he, at the time, so adamantly claimed he would treasure.

And now his journey has ended and ended badly. So badly that had his body rejected the heart, killing him from medical complications it would be far better than the truth he created, the journey he took given his second chance. He is alleged to have done many things, but it is certain that he fled the police in a car that was not his to drive, a chase ending with him hitting a pedestrian before crashing into a an obstacle that ended his own life. And stopped forever the beating of the donor's heart.

He also proved wrong all those who said the Doctors' judgment was in error and did so at great cost and risk of even greater cost. Transplant is a zero sum game and if there is any upside it is that a lost life can provide life for another that might otherwise end as well. The scarcity of transplant organs compounds the inherent tragedy--in cases with multiple recipients a choice must be made and it will be a life and death decision that will inherently value the life of the donor, the life of the recipient and the lives of those who will not receive that transplant. In this case mob rule supplanted domain expertise devaluing a donor's sacrifice that could well have offered a recipient, who may well have died in this recipient's stead, a long productive life.

That was not to be as the wrong decision was made by the wrong people for the wrong reasons and yielded the previously identified expected outcome. And that is the direct damage. The disregard for the consequential, collateral damage is disgusting as an ill advised extended life nearly cost a pedestrian her life and is a alleged to have fired a weapon at another. That as little damage was done (that we know of) is something to be thankful for.  Unless you're the woman he hit with the car or the family of a young mother who died waiting for a heart.

* Old joke. Q: What's the difference between a Doctor and God? A: God knows She's not a Doctor. To bad more people won't say that.

Monday, March 30, 2015


No. Not the dog buried out front of the Tech tower. What we're talking about is a fine piece of Italian machinery, a car, a Maserati, that actually drives sideways. This must be a great feature for parallel parking.

And how do we know this Maser drives sideways? Because the Smyrna Police told us.

See, Smyrna and Cobb PD sent around six officers to get a probation violator who, when he saw the cops a-coming snatched the closest ride, the aforementioned Maser, and "tried to run over the cop(s)." But that story has some holes in it. To start with it would be the six bullet holes in the Maser since not a single one is in the windshield. They are all in the passenger side windows indicating that as the driver was attempting to run over the cop(s) he most certainly was driving sideways. If the cop(s) are to be believed.

And there is a problem with that because numerous witnesses say otherwise.

And by the time media arrived on the scene there were at least three Cobb County cops on site none of whom fired their weapon leaving the Smyrna PD holding the [body] bag. Of course the boys in blue are not talking and even left it to next of kin to publicly id the decedent. No indication why a small multi-jurisdictional platoon was called for to round up a probation violator or why that did not include anyone from the county where the violation occurred. And no one knows the sad owner of that crudely punked Maserati. In any event the story as it is being told so far does not add up.

Clearly something went sideways and you can be pretty sure it was not the Maserati. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shaggin' Wood

Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah
On a blanket with my baby, that's where I'll be

out of the sun
[under the boardwalk]we'll be havin' some fun
[under the boardwalk]people walkin' above
[under the boardwalk]we'll be makin' love
Under the boardwalk, boardwalk!
Looks like we got some real shag lessons goin' on down at City Hall and the Poh-Leece is planning to shag their way on over to Myrtle Beach for an annual City-paid holiday. That's right, the Police Chief wants to build into our budget a junket for select officers to attend Bike Week at Myrtle Beach each and every summer. Now of course he is trying to fly this under the radar as "providing assistance" and promises it will be reciprocal. Yeah, right. Like Myrtle Beach is going to send over help for the Arts Festival or Lemonade Days--who wouldn't want to leave the Carolina coast for that? Or maybe they'll send someone who doesn't sell his badge for cars and trips. Or maybe the psychology is based on the belief that if we GIVE them a vacation they won't feel the need to parlay trust for tickets.

And you have to wonder, is Billy's Brigade going to fire up that APC and see if it is seaworthy or are they going to convoy all those nice new Police SUV's? Or is the host city going to provide our boys with all the recreational toys they'll ever want? Part of a reciprocal agreement where we let them cut donuts in the dog park with our ATV?

If our force is as understaffed as we're told every time Billy wants to expand then maybe we should be keeping these necessary members of our Police, charged with maintaining our OUR safety, close to home instead of sending them off on a junket, no matter how nice the destination. Seems like Billy should be solving cold-case murders, improving employee screening and moderating his hypocritical justifications for budget expansion rather than shaggin' the Citizens Of Dunwoody.

And it appears our new City Manager has another data point indicating an upgrade of Police leadership is past due. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Is In The Air

And Dunwoody's finest linear park is in bloom!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guest Post : Hire Education

A few months ago, there was quite the uproar in the higher education scene about Harvard offering a course on anal sex. Called "What What In the Butt", this was a workshop that was part of a greater "Sex Week" initiative seeking to help college students practice healthy and pleasurable sex.

Most of the comments about this course revolved around the topic. How risque! Many wondered if there were more worthwhile educational programs to which Harvard's resources should be directed.

And this is an interesting point. As part of a greater Sex Week initiative, this course was not worth college credit. Which is a relief! Harvard charges--according to its own website--$58,607 per year in tuition, room and board. What does that come down to? Let's suppose a student is taking 4 courses a semester. That's eight a year. So each course costs about $7,325. The Fall 2015 Harvard academic calendar begins on September 4 with the last day of classes being December 4. Now during this time you also get days off for Columbus Day and Turkey Day…but let's be generous and call it a twelve week semester. Each course then is costing $610 a week, which means--assuming you meet 3 hours a week--each lecture costs a little over $200. 

While between merit and need-based scholarships it's hard to say who, if anyone, actually pays Harvard the $58,607 per annum tuition, room and board it IS interesting to think of things in these terms. Is "What What in the Butt" worth the cost? Now, again, this was not a course for credit. And I don't want to pick on Harvard. As nothing lies or shocks like a statistic, here are some other courses from very well-respected colleges that may not be worth the price tag. 

School: Davidson College
US News and World Report ranking: 11 (National Liberal Arts)

Annual Tuition: $60,119

Course Title: ENG 472: Gossip

Course Description: Drawing on cultural studies and performance studies, this trans-historical and transnational course investigates the role gossip plays in literature, psychoanalysis, journalism, politics, television, film, and new media. The seminar foregrounds the imbrication of gossip and scandal with constructions of gender and sexuality.

School: Georgetown
US News and World Report ranking: 21 (nationally)

Annual Cost (from School's Site): $67,420

Course Title: PHIL 180--Philosophy and Star Trek

Course Description: Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to learn philosophy, than to watch Star Trek, read philosophy, and hash it all out in class? That's the plan. This course is basically an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments. The questions that we will wrestle with include:
  1. Is time travel possible? Could we go back and kill our grandmothers? What is the nature of time?
  2. Could reality be radically different from what "we" (I?) think? Could we be brains in vats?
  3. What is the relation between a person's mind and his functioning brain--are they separate substances or identical? Can persons survive death? Can computers think? Is Data a person?
  4. What is a person? When do we have one person, and when do we have two (think of the episodes where people "split" or are "fused")?
  5. Do people have free will, or are they determined by the laws of nature to do exactly what they wind up doing, while believing they have free will? Or both? What is free will?

School: Princeton
US News and World Report ranking: 1 (National Universities)

Annual Tuition: $66.595

Course Title: Freshman Seminar: "Getting Dressed"

Course Description: Princeton's own writeup on the course which includes: "The seminar is an inquiry into the social significance of clothing and a close examination of the relationship between clothing and identity in 20th-century America. To explore that juncture, students keep a literary sketchbook in which they record their observations about the ways clothing comes into play in the news, in their surroundings and in their own lives. The journal helps the students hone their powers of observation and learn key skills for examining the world."

School: Skidmore College
US News and World Report ranking: 37 (National Liberal Arts)

Annual Tuition: $59,942

Course Title: SOC 251: The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media

Course Description: The class will cover topics such as the rise of the disney princess, gender stratification, the hyper-commodification of childhood, transitioning to adulthood, what happens to Disney stars as they age, and a discussion on bisexuality, queerness, and the female body, according to the course description.

School: University of Pennsylvania
US News and World Report ranking: #8 (National Universities)

Annual Tuition: $66,800

Course Title: RUSS 125: The Adultery Novel In and Out of Russia

Course Description: The object of the course is to analyze a series of 19C and 20C novels (and a few short stories) about adultery. Our reading will teach us about novelistic traditions of the period in question and about the relationship of Russian literature to the European models to which it responded. The course begins with a novel not about families falling apart, but about families coming together-Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. We then will turn to what is arguably the most well-known adultery novel ever written, Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Following this, we investigate a series of Russian revisions of the same thematic territory that range from "great literature" to pulp fiction, including Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and other works by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Leskov, and Nagrodskaia. As something of an epilogue to the course, we will read Milan Kundera's backward glance at this same tradition in nineteenth-century writing, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In our coursework we will apply various critical approaches in order to place adultery into its social and cultural context, including: sociological descriptions of modernity, Marxist examinations of family as a social and economic institution, Freudian/ Psychoanalytic interpretations of family life and transgressive sexuality, Feminist work on the construction of gender.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pavement To The People

Have you heard? The City is planning to put about one and one half interstate lanes worth of sidewalk over by the Kroger shopping center in Georgetown.

And folks are pissed.

They don't seem to have much problem with really wide sidewalks, er, mutli-use trails on the bidness side of the road but on the more residential side, not so much. Rather odd. Seems like you'd want these multi-use runways where the people are and most folks round these parts live in a residence. Do you really want to play frogger on Chamblee-Dunwoody to get to that Live-Work-Play Expressway on the other side?

This Smart City is having a real hard time figuring out where to put all their pavement. Maybe they should do it the way they once did on college campuses across the country. First you plant grass. Everywhere. Then after about a semester, you pave the areas that no longer have grass. Because that's where folks are walking.