Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is college worth it for everyone?

In yesterday's New York Times, David Leonhardt opined that we ought to send as many young adults to college as possible. His economic arguments ran as follows:

- The income delta between college grads and non-college grads has increased from 40% to over 80% in the last three decades.
- If one calculates a return on investment for a college education, it is 15%, higher than stocks, and certainly higher than current real-estate.

Unfortunately, he completely glosses over the problem of cost. He writes:

"First, many colleges are not very expensive, once financial aid is taken into account. Average net tuition and fees at public four-year colleges this past year were only about $2,000 (though Congress may soon cut federal financial aid)."

As if the eminent cutting of federal financial aid can be reduced to a parenthetical! The reality is that college prices have increased over 130% since 1988 while median family incomes have remained stagnant. This situation makes college possible only through the amassing of large amounts of student debt. Indeed, for the first time in this country, student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt. Taking on this kind of debt in this lackluster economy is problematic. Furthermore unlike mortgages, student loan debt does not go away with bankruptcy, loading some thinkers to forecast education as the next bubble.

Leonhardt also unhelpfully compares the arguments against universal college education to the arguments against universal high school education from over half a century ago. This would be fine if we were in the position to make four years of university education part of public education. However, calling for all families to take on this debt seems irresponsible and elitist.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Soundbites: misplaced adrenaline edition

New vaccine-autism paper expertly dismembered by Neuroskeptic.

Plastic surgery to prevent recidivism?

Colleges are not as meritocratic as they would lead us to believe.

Neurophilosophy on human echolocation in the blind.

During the Singularity, will there be corporate sponsors for your thoughts? Asked by Sue Halpern for the New York Review of Books.

Brain Ethics argues that "neuromarketing", when not used for marketing, might be a good thing.

Review of David Eagleman's new book at Nature.

I highly recommend this New York Times article on the consciousness of conjoined twins.

Scientific American interviews Chris Chabris on how to test the "10,000 hours" idea.

On a light ending, I can't tell whether this is the coolest or weirdest thing ever.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Edison, Gretsky and the gritty side of success

"If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward." Thomas Edison.

Fundamentally different views of achievement can be seen in the well-known debates between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Tesla, the theoretician, conducted experiments only after careful consideration and calculation while Edison's approach was an "empirical dragnet" according to Tesla.

Similarly, hockey great Wayne Gretsky has stated "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take".

Is the key to success to multiply your rate of failure?

Of course, ability matters. But how much does perseverance matter? In other words, how much difference in success will be seen for two people of equal ability but unequal perseverance?

In success psychology, one can measure "grit", defined as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals". Duckworth and colleagues have created a self-report measure for this trait, known as the Grit Scale. In this survey, items such as "I have achieved a goal that took years of work" correlate with high grit, while items such as "New ideas and new projects sometimes distract me from previous ones" are negatively correlated with grit.

Here are some interesting things they found about grit:
* Highly educated people have more grit than people with less education.

* When controlling for age, grit increases with age.

* Grit is related to the Big Five Personality trait of Conscientiousness.

* When examining undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, students with more grit had a higher GPA, but students with lower SAT scores had higher grit. This could suggest that getting to an elite university can be through ability (reflected in SAT scores) or grit.

* Although grit was unrelated to rankings of West Point cadets, grit was the best predictor of whether cadets would complete summer training.

* Students with higher grit were more likely to make it to the final round of the National Spelling Bee, due to putting in more time to studying.

I've been thinking a lot about grit in the last day of trying to win a scholarship (as I wrote about yesterday). The video I made is about grit, but the promotion I'm doing for it is putting me way out of my comfort zone as a shy person. I may fail, but I'll be back. :)