Find the top college — for you

Stanford is America’s top college, followed by Pomona, Princeton, Yale and Columbia, according to Forbes‘ new rankings.

The magazine also lets college aspirants input a grade point average, SAT/ACT score and annual cost to find a “college you can get into and afford.”  Using the total cost — not the average net cost after financial aid — is liable to scare away all but the wealthy — and those planning to attend a military academy.  (West Point ranks #7.)

How the elite college students eat

Steve the hasher was serving our table in the college dorm dining hall.”Hey, Steve,” said one of my table mates. “You’ve got your thumb in the mashed potatoes.”

Steve said, loudly, “I’m the only guy here who will admit he masturbates.” Then he plopped the bowl on the table.

I skipped the mashed potatoes that evening.

Dining at Stanford has gone upscale, according to How Students Eat Now in Stanford Magazine.

During the past decade, Stanford has built one dining commons and renovated older ones, replacing “cook and park” steam tables with stations where items are made to order. They’ve recruited chefs with a flair for vegetarian and ethnic cuisines, as well as experts in food safety, nutrition and allergen-free cooking.

At one dining area, students can watch their meals being prepared through a glass wall, then go upstairs to browse “an expansive salad bar topped with white ceramic bowls of organic oranges.”

On the back wall, a pizza oven blazes. Whole chickens, rubbed with pungent fresh oregano, twirl slowly on the rotisserie.

The executive chef, David Iott, worked at Ritz-Carlton hotels before coming to Stanford.

There are no plastic cafeteria trays, except upon request. Instead, diners stroll around holding china plates, as they would at a hotel buffet. Hormone-free skim milk, fair-trade Starbucks coffee and Crysalli Artisan Water are on tap. A Pepsi machine is tucked away in a corner. “We have to have that,” Iott says, a bit sadly. Then he brightens as he points out roasted organic carrots and an array of miniature decorated cheesecakes.

An elite university needs high-quality food service, says Eric Montell, executive director of Stanford Dining. The magazine adds, “From New Haven to Berkeley, American universities are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into environmentally sustainable residences and dining facilities.”

I thought universities were trying to control costs so college will be financially sustainable for students and their parents. All that overpriced organic food and Artisan Water will turn into student debt.

Stanford undergrads pay $1,700 to $2,000 per quarter — up to $6,000 a year — for their miniature cheesecakes and Starbucks coffee. That doesn’t cover the full cost. Of course, most students receive financial aid to defray the cost of tuition, room and board, but fancy eats means the aid won’t go quite as far.

The greatest food in human history is the McDouble cheeseburger, writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post, quoting a Freakonomics commenter. McDonald’s McDouble is nutritious (390 calories, half a daily serving of protein) and usually sells for $1.

Study: Disadvantaged students in U.S. are gaining

U.S.15-year-olds fare better on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam when the data is adjusted to compare similar students concludes a study by Stanford Graduate School of Education and Economic Policy Institute researchers. Low-income students in  the U.S. are gaining on disadvantaged students elsewhere, the study found.

Overall, the U.S.  ranked 14th in reading and 25th in math out of the 33 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), notes the Hechinger Report.

The United States has a larger proportion of economically disadvantaged students than do higher-performing countries. Finland, for example, reports that 4 percent of its students live in low-income families. In the United States, nearly a quarter of children live in poverty.

(Stanford Professor Martin) Carnoy and his coauthor Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute also contend that low-income students were oversampled in the U.S. results on the 2009 PISA test. About 40 percent of American PISA-takers attended a school where half or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, although nationwide only 23 percent of students attend such schools.

The most educationally disadvantaged U.S. students, as measured by the number of books in children’s homes, have been improving in reading and math since PISA was first given in 2000, the new analysis concludes. Test scores among similar students in Canada, Finland and South Korea have been dropping.

“We’re making progress with the kids at the bottom,” said Carnoy.  However, the most economically advantaged U.S. students in America are slipping compared to similar students in the countries analyzed.

To “go after the academic issues in the U.S. schools,” it’s necessary to tackle Poverty, Carnoy argues. “If you do policy that significantly reduces poverty in the U.S., I guarantee you, you will reduce the distance between top and bottom in our own country … and you’ll certainly raise those kids relative to kids in Finland, [South] Korea and Canada.”

Perhaps we can’t be Korea or Finland, but it would be nice to up there with Canada.

Kids make cool stuff, learn ‘grit’

Teaching kids to make things teaches problem-solving, perseverance and “grit,” reports Wired.

When Eugene Korsunskiy and seven of his fellow students from Stanford University’s d.school set out to tour the nation in a brightly painted truck full of laser cutters and rapid prototyping machines, they thought they were bringing a chance to play with high-tech maker tools to school kids who hadn’t had one yet.

And they were: SparkTruck, the educational make-mobile, made 73 stops this summer, treating 2,679 elementary and middle school students to hands-on workshops covering the basics of electrical engineering and digital fabrication, and giving a chance to make cool stuff in the process, like small robotic creatures and laser-cut rubber stamps.

The SparkTruck team learned to let children struggle with design problems, get frustrated, beg for help — and then figure it out. “Once you make it clear that you’re not there to provide the answer, they completely rise to the challenge,” said Korsunskiy.

American kids are said to be low on “grit,” the ability to learn from setbacks instead of giving up, Wired writes. Design teaches problem-solving, Korsunskiy said. Students learn to brainstorm, test ideas and go back to the drawing board.

Minnesota: Free online courses are illegal

It’s illegal to offer free, online courses in Minnesota, state education officials have told Coursera, which partners with universities to provide massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. Under state law, a degree-granting institution must pay get state authorization and pay a registration fee to offer instruction.

It’s a matter of  ”consumer protection for students,” Tricia Grimes, a policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Stanford, Columbia, Michigan, et al don’t charge students for Coursera courses and don’t offer degrees to MOOC students. That doesn’t matter, another official tells Slate.  Students can’t waste their money, but they might waste their time in a non-authorized course, says George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Coursera added a terms of service notice telling Minnesotans not to do any learning, unless they go out of state. I predict ridicule will lead to a MOOC exception very quickly.

Update:  Ridicule works! Minnesota education officials have issued a statement saying free higher ed doesn’t require state approval.

The best bang-for-the-buck colleges

The University of California at San Diego tops Washington Monthly‘s list of the top colleges for social mobility (enrolling and graduating low-income students at an affordable price), research and service. Next in line are Texas A&M, Stanford, University of North Carolina and Berkeley.

Only one of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthy’s top ten. Yale fails even to crack the top 40. New York University, which has floated to national prominence on a sea of student debt, is 77th. NYU does particularly poorly on the new “bang for the buck” measure.
Thirteen of the top 20 Washington Monthly universities are public, while all the top-ranked U.S. News colleges are “private institutions that spend more, charge more, and cater almost exclusively to the rich and upper-upper middle class.”
Also in the Washington Monthly, Stephen Burd calls for Getting Rid of the College Loan Repo Man who fails to distinguish between deadbeats and people who just can’t pay.

Stanford: Too worldly? Too useful?

Is Stanford Too Close to Silicon Valley? asks Ken Auletta in the New Yorker.

The campus has its jocks, stoners, and poets, but what it is famous for are budding entrepreneurs, engineers, and computer aces hoping to make their fortune in one crevasse or another of Silicon Valley.

Innovation comes from myriad sources, including the bastions of East Coast learning, but Stanford has established itself as the intellectual nexus of the information economy.

A former engineering professor, Stanford President John Hennessy also was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and serves on many corporate boards.

Stanford’s entrepreneurial culture has created a “gold-rush mentality,” writes Auletta. Both faculty and students seek “invention and fortune.”  A quarter of undergrads and a majority of graduate students are engineering majors, roughly six times the percentage at Harvard and Yale.

Some ask whether Stanford has struck the right balance between commerce and learning, between the acquisition of skills to make it and intellectual discovery for its own sake.

David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has taught at Stanford for more than forty years, credits the university with helping needy students and spawning talent in engineering and business, but he worries that many students uncritically incorporate the excesses of Silicon Valley, and that there are not nearly enough students devoted to the liberal arts and to the idea of pure learning. “The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success,” he says. “It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

Gerhard Casper, the former president and now a senior fellow, thinks top research universities have become too focused on solving real-world problems rather than “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” He fears “ever greater emphasis on direct usefulness,” which might mean “even less funding of and attention to the arts and humanities.”

I don’t spend much time worrying about a university’s enthusiasm for innovation, creativity and solving real-world problems. Perhaps my husband — a former engineering prof, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a friend of Hennessy — has influenced me. On the other hand, I once took a class from David Kennedy and my daughter spent a summer as his research assistant. And I was a liberal arts major. I learned that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” according to Shelley, but I never believed it.

 

 

Udacious

Sebastian Thrun, who drew 160,000 students to his free, online artificial intelligence course, is quitting Stanford University to create a free online university called Udacity.

There were more students in his course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether, said Thrun in a talk at the DLD Conference in Munich, reports Felix Salmon of Reuters. Of 248 students who earned a perfect score, all were online students.

Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running “weeder” classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed — by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.

And I loved as well his story of the physical class at Stanford, which dwindled from 200 students to 30 students because the online course was more intimate and better at teaching than the real-world course on which it was based.

“I can’t teach at Stanford again,” Thrun said. He hopes to enroll 500,000 students for his first Udacity course on how to build a search engine.

It’s too bad Thrun has to leave Stanford to create Udacity, Salmon writes.

Stanford refused to issue a certificate to the 20,000 online students who finished Thrun’s course and a second open computer course, notes NPR. Instead, online students received a letter from the professor indicating their class rank.

“We are still having conversations about that,” says James Plummer, dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering. “I think it will actually be a long time — maybe never — when actual Stanford degrees would be given for fully online work by anyone who wishes to register for the courses.”

By contrast, MIT will offer a credential, for a small fee, to online students who succeed in courses offered by MITx.  ”A world-famous university with an unimpeachable reputation” is putting “its brand and credibility behind open-education resources,” writes Kevin Carey.

It’s the great unbundling of the university, writes Alan Jacobs in The Atlantic. Universities used to offer a bundled package of knowledge and credentialing.

People attended university in order to learn stuff that they couldn’t learn elsewhere — because the experts weren’t elsewhere — and to be certified by those experts as having actually learned said stuff. The bundle has been a culturally powerful one.

But now: unbundling. Clearly, many universities have come, or are coming, to the conclusion that their primary product is the credentialing, and that they can give knowledge away either as a public service or as brand consolidation (choose your interpretation according to your level of cynicism).

Can universities continue to control credentialing?

I wrote about digital badges, an attempt to challenge universities’ credentialing monopoly, on the U.S. News site.

Stanford ‘brands’ online high school

Stanford University is attaching its name and prestige to an online high school that will graduate 30 students in June, reports the New York Times. What’s been known as the Education Program for Gifted Youth will become Stanford  Online High School

Yes, that Stanford — the elite research university known for producing graduates who win Nobels and found Googles, not for teaching basic algebra to teenagers. Five years after the opening of the experimental program, some education experts consider Stanford’s decision to attach its name to the effort a milestone for online education

While other universities have sponsored virtual schools, Stanford’s cachet make this significant. Graduates will have no edge in admissions to the university, but graduation from a Stanford-sponsored program can’t hurt. The Times interviews a student with near-perfect SAT scores.

The program isn’t a roll-your-own affair.

In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.

. . . Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.

Stanford should go beyond a “small, selective program for gifted students,” writes Bill Tucker of Education Sector. Stanford should expand to reach more students and study how it works, he writes on Education  Next.

Perhaps Stanford’s move will push other institutions to consider the real game-changer – offering elite quality education, at an affordable cost, on a more massive scale. When will the University of Michigan, UVA, UNC, Berkeley, or any of our other great public universities do this for an entire state?

My daughter did Education Program for Gifted Youth algebra in seventh grade to escape from a horrible pre-algebra class taught in “new new math” style. Ray Ravaglia, who still runs the program, told my ex-husband that students didn’t need to be gifted to handle the classes. He put “gifted” in the title so that schools wouldn’t be scared of losing too many students. I thought it worked for Allison because she was highly motivated, self-disciplined and could get math questions answered immediately by her father.  Without a parent’s help, it would have been very frustrating. Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago when the technology was practically at the smoke signals level.  But I think motivation and self-discipline are still important to make online learning work.

Larry Cuban graphs the hype cycle for online schools.

Virtual Stanford course draws 58,000

So far, 58,000 people in 175 countries have signed up for a free-, no-credit, online course in artificial intelligence, one of three pilot classes by Stanford computer science professors.

The online students will be ranked in comparison to the work of other online students and will receive a “statement of accomplishment,” reports the New York Times.

Introductory courses in database software and machine learning also will be offered.

The three online courses, which will employ both streaming Internet video and interactive technologies for quizzes and grading, have in the past been taught to smaller groups of Stanford students in campus lecture halls.

. . . How will the artificial intelligence instructors grade 58,000 students? The scientists said they would make extensive use of technology.

In place of office hours, they will use the Google moderator service, software that will allow students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format. They are considering ways to personalize the exams to minimize cheating.

“I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web,” Dr. (Andrew) Ng said.

Dr. (Jennifer) Widom envisions allowing smaller colleges to supplement locally taught classes with online Stanford classes.

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