Category Archives: Education

End of an Era

I read in the paper this morning that my alma mater, the Cooper Union, will start charging tuition starting with the class entering in 2014.   The full-scholarship policy, under which I paid $300/year when I was a student, had lasted for more than a century, but not anymore.

The official tuition is $38,500/year, but students will still receive a half scholarship, and have to pay about $20,000/year.  (Books and dorm space, of course, are extra.)  It’s half of what NYU charges, but it’s still a lot, and if you have to borrow to finance your education, you could end up with a debt well in excess of what you might expect to earn in your first year after graduation… in a normal economy.  You could buy a modest house for that, in many parts of the country.

I used to think that Cooper Union was special, and that I was lucky to be able to go there.  But now, they’ve become just another college.

Not that different from NYU up the street.

OK, maybe cheaper, and with a different curriculum.

But just another college.

Having a Business Isn’t the Same as Getting Paid

Dude and New Wave Princess want to sell luxury items.  I use the word “luxury” to describe artwork and training because they are items that are not immediately necessary, and in the majority of cases, can be deferred indefinitely.  Running a business has problems similar to getting a job, except you are selling your artwork or classes one at time rather than getting a salary for an indefinite period of time. This will make your income stream “lumpy”, rather than a check every two weeks.  You might argue with me that something is better than nothing, and I’d agree, up to a point. For instance, starting a business doesn’t immediately solve the issue of not getting benefits.  The cost of providing health insurance and other benefits just shifts to you.

There are also costs to running your business that are not borne by employees, such as the need to pay 15.3% of your net to Social Security taxes up to the maximum, and you can deduct the cost of things that I cannot, such as art supplies or room rental for the classes. You might decide to organize yourself as a limited liability corporation, though this is more important for NWP than for Dude.

If anything, people are going to be more particular about artwork than they are about hiring employees.  Taste is arbitrary. Upwards of 90% of people will have no interest in what you do, and those who are interested will probably want you to drop your price.  Anchoring, which deals with what we think something should cost, will kick in, and because you are unknown, you will attract only the “Starving Artists” rate, not the several hundreds of dollars per cartoon that you want. 

In the training world, what sets New Wave Princess Enterprises apart from the “Dummies” books or things that one can get online for free?  Much of the value added of an instructor is guidance and forcing a person to acquire certain skills within a certain amount of time. Where I work, we have “training week”, where we take all of the mandatory annual training at one time.  This is fun stuff like drug abuse awareness and sexual harassment awareness.  A local rehab hospital presents the drug abuse training, probably in the hope that if any of us need drying out, we will think of them. I managed to miss “Heat and Cold Stress”, so I talked the training coordinator into giving me credit for it by taking a more comprehensive course industrial hygiene course that I could get on line.  I did the same for a waste management course that is required.  I had taken the course, but the sign-in sheet got lost, and no sign-in sheet, no credit.

If you’re pricing a training offering, you need to charge something above what you think that your hourly rate sould be to cover the preparation time.  The question that I’d be asking is what value you offer that isn’t easily met within a given company.  Above a certain size, a company may decide to have their own training department, so your market may well be the same small companies that are rejecting you as an employee.    If anything, selling your training offerings may well be an endeavor that requires more of an “in” with managers who can decide to hire you than getting a job.

Another thing to consider with training is the cost of the pay of the people who will be taking your course. This usually is a greater cost than what you will be paid.  Even at $10 an hour, 20 people in a one-day training course is a loss of $1600 to the company. Have you considered private tutoring? This might work better in a college town or an area where a lot of children go to college.

The larger question that I am trying to ask is how do you generate demand for things that are more or less optional and where demand is very elastic?  The guy who ran the birthday parties has the advantage of having children have a birthday every year, and in a lot of cases, the child wanting to have a party.  Neither of you have the options of passively selling via a website. It’s necessary to go out to the art and craft shows or cold call companies about their training needs.


Don’t Blame the Prussians

From time to time I’ve heard the line that the American pubic school system was based on the Prussian school system of the 19th Century, which was ‘intended to turn out obedient drones to work in factories.’  I’ve usually heard it from politically liberal education professionals, who use it to argue that schools should more creatively engage their students. Recently, though, I heard a conservative commentator use the same line to bash unionized public schoolteachers.

I can certainly believe the first part: the American public school system as we know it today came to be a little over a century ago, and could reasonably have followed the Prussian model.  The Prussians saw themselves as becoming a world power, something they could not do burdened by uneducated hordes.  We did, too. 

And we followed that model through the first half of the 20th Century, and built the most powerful and prosperous nation known to Man.

Then, apparently after World War II, the wheels came off.

I went to a thoroughly modern elementary school and had no end of trouble because it was more important for the school that I fit into the group than that I actually learn anything.

The middle school was less modern; I did much better there.  The reports from the school had very little to say about my fitting in with the group, and were mostly about my academic progress.

High school, in the mid- to late-1970s, was a throwback to the 1940s.  (Certainly some of the textbooks seemed to be from that time.)  I learned math and physics and my world lit up.

So my experience is that the farther we went from the traditional ‘Prussian’ model, the worse things got in terms of actually learning anything.

And now, we have professional educators spouting pointless political correctness, and a student body that gets worse and worse, year after year.  Worse, after a couple of decades with the modern school graduates in the professional world, we seem to be facing ever more and difficult problems that we don’t know how to solve.

I don’t believe we can blame the Prussians for that. 

Worse Than a Student Loan?

I went to college at Cooper Union in New York City.  One of the long-standing policies of the school is that everyone who is admitted for a bachelor’s or master’s degree has a full-tuition scholarship.  I paid $300/year as a ‘student fee,’ bought my books, and that was it.  As an alumnus, I’m encouraged to (and do) contribute to the school, but there is no requirement to do so.

But in recent years, expenses have gone up while revenues (Cooper owns the land the Chrysler Building sits on, as well as other properties and investments) have not, and they’re having problems.  That’s understandable: times are tough for everyone.

But one of the solutions they’re contemplating leaves me cold:

The social responsibility of students, alumni, and parents who have benefited from the full-tuition scholarship policy needs to be addressed.

  • For current students, a modified version of the plan being explored by the University of California, Riverside, should be considered.  For example, graduates would agree to a lifetime pledge of 2% of after tax adjusted gross income.
  • For alumni, a reciprocal pledge should be requested, as well as a catch-up and bequest program to include Cooper in their estate planning.
  • For parents of current students and of alumni, the same reciprocal pledge should be requested, as well as a catch-up and bequest program to include Cooper in their estate planning.

Until now, the theory was that, in contributing to Cooper, one was not paying for one’s own education, but for making that education available for future students.  There was never a sense of having to donate as much as one’s tuition might have been.  It was not a ‘social responsibility,’ it was a free decision to ‘pay it forward’ for future generations.

If I had had to pay tuition, I’m sure I would have paid it off by now.  At that point, any ‘social responsibility’ I might have had would be over.

For my part, now, I resent having a social responsibility dropped on me, 29 years after graduation.  And if I were going to school now, I would resent the idea of the school holding a mortgage on my achievements for the rest of my life.  It’s worse than a student loan: the loan is finite, and when it’s paid off, that’s the end.

At least my parents are dead, so the school can’t hit them up for money.