Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren write “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” a story in today’s New York Times.  It is a sobering, yet fascinating read.  The topic is relevant for all Americans, not just families, and employers, of today’s college students=.  It leads me to call for an end the 150 semester hour educational requirement to sit for the CPA exam. 

The educational debt bubble seems positioned for a loud and messy pop.

Accrued student loan debt is over $1 trillion USD.  Large numbers (60-80%) of students graduate with a bachelors degree and holding $20,000-$40,000 of student loan debt.  If a student pursues a graduate degree, debt soars quickly because colleges have cut much of their financial assistance for graduate education.  Total student debt exceeds credit card and other consumer debt.

I see the impact of this debt on a daily basis.  My accounting students during college  struggle with the emotional impact of accumulating so much debt.  It is normal for students to have two or three part time jobs, which adversely impacts their ability to study and learn.  Many opt for getting required education (150 semester hours to qualify for CPA) at the less expensive undergraduate level instead of pursuing a more expensive masters degree that would provide more educational benefit.  At Concordia College, over 90% of graduates leave college with over $30,000 in debt.  For a typical American college student, adding a MAcc or MBA would likely add $30,000-60,000 to the personal debt level.

To a large extent, the problem today exists because society no longer wishes to shoulder the burden of providing collegiate educations to its citizens.  State legislators have cut massive amounts of aid to public colleges.  Colleges and universities have responded with increased prices and decreases in scholarships and aid.  It is unlikely that even outstanding students today will receive adequate financial assistance for graduate school.

Yet, educating one citizen benefits all of society.  Providing the capable with a college education increases the productivity and wealth of us all.

What needs to be done to fix the problem? It would be nice if the USA was wealthier.  It would be nice if the USA was not crippled by an overwhelming and debilitating national debt of its own.  But the USA is not as wealthy as it once was, and it is facing a national debt which it may be forced to default on in the intermediate future.

We need to scale back educational requirements for the CPA.  Historical analyses show the push for the 150 hour requirement came mostly from collegiate accounting programs.  For sure it was self-serving.  Requiring accounting students to enroll and pay for more classes keeps highly paid accounting professors employed.  There is some benefit from a masters education in accounting, but the USA can’t afford it, anymore.  I call on fellow accounting professors to initiate the effort to rescind the 150 hour requirement.

It is customary for accounting firms and corporate employers to skimp with low salaries for entry level positions.  Another potential fix for mitigating the problem would be for employers to help shoulder principal payments debt.  It would be more palatable if these payments were tax deductible.

But other than these two potential solutions, there are no cheap or agreeable fixes.  Any solution will require large amounts of real money, and that money is already allocated for other purposes.

What do you think?  Do you have a solution?  Please leave a comment.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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It is end of semester time across the country.  For a lucky few professors, finals ended early and tests/papers are already graded.  For the rest of us, pain awaits.

At this time of year, there are two types of professors.  The first type uses multiple choice questions on tests.  The grading process is easy:  take a pile of scantron sheets to the data center, leave them, go to coffee shop and read paper, return to data center to pick up summary sheet with each student’s grade.   They laugh at the second type of professor (of which I am a charter member).

The other type of professor wouldn’t be caught dead using multiple choice tests, because they believe multiple choice tests actually work against learning.  These professors have essay tests, problem tests, projects and term papers.  This is where the grading problem starts.

Students are tired by the end of a semester.  Occasionally one turns off his/her brain during week six.  However, by week 15, the din of flicking switches to the off position has reached a deafening crescendo.

In this blog  post, I’m pasting a few cartoons by Jorge Cham, Ph.D.  He has been drawing cartoons depicting the grad school experience for nearly two decades.  His cartoons are copyrighted, but may be used by bloggers if they provide attribution and a link back to his site.  His extensive archive of comics can be found at PhDComics.com.

The first cartoon I’m showing captures one aspect of grading–the assigning of partial credit.  The theory goes that surely a student who has sat in class after class has picked up something, so should be due some sort of partial credit for the partial understanding in his/her brain.  Right.

I don’t assign negative points, but there are times when I’ve been tempted.

The second cartoon shows the instructor’s frustration after grading many tests, all of which required assignment of partial credit.  The joy, the relief, of a good answer truly lifts the soul.  Several times I’ve graded my own answer sheet! After a while they all look the same.

The third and final cartoon shows the instructor’s mental pain when depression sets in.  You doubt this?  Don’t.

Jorge Cham, Ph.D., has a terrific sense of humor.  You can sign up for e-mail alerts that arrive every time he draws another cartoon.  You can also buy products, such as t-shirts, books and the PhD Movie.  http://phdcomics.com

Happy finals!

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Intermediate Accounting students from Concordia College threw an end of the year party earlier tonight. The class social committee (Ian and Rachel) chose Buffalo Wild Wings as the host establishment.

The theme of the party was to say goodbye to ProfAlbrecht, who is leaving Concordia College at the end of the school year.  The adding machine cake was baked by Barb Torgerson of Classic Cakes & Catering.  It tasted as good as it looks.

Good luck, Prof. Albrecht. We’ll miss you.

I’m not sure exactly why my students chose to make the effort, but I’m glad they did.  In this world, there are far too many instances when we have an opportunity to say thanks, but don’t take it.  My Intermediate Accounting students are good people, and with this party reminded me of the positive impact that good people can have.

It has been my privilege to have been a teacher to Concordia College students in general, and to this group of Intermediate Accounting students in particular.  As so often is the case, the teaching has gone in both directions.  I’ll share a few memories of lessons learned from this group of students.

It is easy for a professor to ask questions of the class at large.  The students who “get it” respond with a good answer, and the professor can feel good that someone benefited from the teaching efforts.  This group of students, though, really appreciated it when we would go around the classroom and each (and every) student would have to answer a question when it was his/her turn.  By this, the class reminded me that education isn’t just for the smartest students, but for all the students.  I was impressed with how students weren’t embarrassed by making errors.  The end product, for them, was the lesson eventually learned.

One memorable aspect of the two semester class was when two of the students were unable to continue from fall semester to spring because of schedule conflicts.  I offered to teach the two during the evening, in a class section of two.  They accepted, and by so doing gave me a chance to relearn and recommit to what education is all about.  Both told me that they weren’t looking for a guided independent study, where the focus would be on the material.  They wanted a regular class where the focus would be on process, logic and thinking.  Moreover, I was to do this with no tangible reward, the class was “off the books.”  It was only about them being two students in need of learning, and I could help make that happen.  A few other students eventually joined the two, and we all had a special time.  The informality of the class gave me an opportunity to observe how the students worked together to learn the material.  Learning, for them, was not always a solo experience.  It also reminded me of the value of friendship and camaraderie.

And, I need to say thanks to the two, for each bought me a meal in appreciation.

Dividing the class gave me a chance to tailor the classroom experience to the needs and desires of the individual students in each group.  And that was cool.

As the year progressed, they persuaded me that they could do better on tests if they used their laptops, just like a regular class when they used MS Excel to take notes.  In turn,  I gave the students the flexibility of scheduling their tests at favorable times for them.  Not everyone had to take the test at the same time.

At the party, students could earn extra credit if they took a second piece of cake.

Hey, gang. I will miss you.  I enjoyed the party. We’ll have to do it again, sometime.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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There are a lot of misconceptions about social media usage in higher education.  In a similar fashion, there are lots of misconceptions about controlling costs in higher education, or in controlling healthcare costs in America.

from Mashable Social Media

When President Obama talked about controlling costs of higher education in his recent State of the Union Address, he really was talking about the prices charged by educational institutions.  If the President had been concerned about controlling costs (money spent in instructional or business operations), he would have discussed whether to use more non-tenure track faculty to decrease wage expense, or reining in the administrative bureaucracies that have been created to deal with government imposed reporting mandates, or in revising the priority of resources directed toward not very valuable research and publishing.  I would find these alternate discussions more interesting and useful than controlling prices.

When Senators and Representatives talk about controlling healthcare costs, they really are talking about the prices paid by citizens, their insurance companies, and the government.  If they really were concerned about controlling healthcare costs, they might debate the value of billions spent in reimbursement paperwork, or the tests performed by physicians mindful of potential litigation, or perhaps on limiting or increasing the availability of healthcare to certain segments of our society.  I would find these alternate discussions more valuable than controlling prices.

Likewise, when journalists and bloggers write about social media usage in higher education, they usually are talking about social media marketing.  Oh, they could be talking about using social media in the classroom, but they usually aren’t.  They could be talking about adoption of social media by professors as they pursue their responsibilities in research & publication or service.  But they aren’t. I would find these alternate discussions more interesting and useful.

The media focus seems to be on the use of social media by colleges and universities to recruit students, as shown by the infographic from Mashable Social Media.  The sad reality is that social media usage in higher education tends not be applied for other reasons.   There is increasing interest by professors in using social media in the classroom.  However, my experience is that professors use social media to replace outdated or stale applications.  They don’t use social media in a truly innovative fashion.  And finding a new breed of professor–a social media savvy professor–is next to impossible.  Schools simply wouldn’t know how to use and benefit from such a creature.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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In this article I review and comment on a recently published study about patterns of grades assigned by professors.  the study reports that currently, 43% of the grades assigned in college are As (in private schools, 49% of all grades are As).  The trends reported provide evidence in support of a theory of grade inflation.

Should this issue matter to accountants that read The Summa?  Yes.  College grades and GPA permeate the profession.  A collegiate education, with a degree in accounting, is a fundamental requirement for becoming an accountant.  The largest accounting firms (please note that I did not say the best, or top, accounting firms) require a minimum GPA for the opportunity to interview.  Traditionally, this GPA has been 3.50, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this threshold is rising.  Accounting professors categorize students by GPA and only give scholarships and recommendations to the students with the best grades.  Moreover, memories of academic adversity and its overcoming (or not) die hard.  Decades later, I remember the grades I received in every accounting course.  I also remember the scores received on many tests and papers.


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When I teach Managerial Accounting, I emphasize to students that in many areas of business it is necessary to read numbers and understand the patterns that are present.   I have always wondered why some very smart students who study are unable to do either one.   Perhaps it is due to dyscalculia.

Two fundamental skills underlie almost everything I do in the course:

  1. Starting with the average cost for some amount of units and then calculating the resulting total cost, and vice versa.
  2. Identifying the pattern inherent in a sequence of numbers and calculating what would come next, or what came before.

An example of the first skill would be:

If the average cost for 12 units is $2.50, then the total cost for those 12 units is $30.

Another example would be:

If the total cost for 11 units is $33, then the average cost per unit is $3.

The task seems simple.  But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it.   Students will spend a lot of time in memorization for this type of problem soon to appear on a test, but they never truly get it.

An example of the second skill is found when I lay out the following sequences and ask students to fill in the missing values.  Can you figure out what are the missing values?

The answers are:

The task seems simple.  But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it.

I know that many accounting professors ridicule students who can’t perform either task, claiming that students deserve bad grades because they never put in the study time to learn what is necessary.  Not me.  I’ve always thought that there is a missing piece to the puzzle of easy problems that are unsolvable for some smart college students.

Yesterday on AECM we started talking about dyscalculia.  Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia and dysgraphia.  Dyscalculia is the inability to identify numbers, distinguish number patterns, and perform arithmetic operations.  Dyslexia is the inability to identify letters, distinguish letter patterns (i.e., words), and comprehend what is read.  Dysgraphia is the inability to write.  Some people can read very well, but have not learned to write.

Students with a bad case of dyscalculia will have difficulty in identifying the numbers in the following image.

The current thinking is that these are not physical or intellectual incapacities, but rather they are functional or learning difficulties.  All can be overcome.  Dyslexia, which probably affects 5-10% of the American population has received much attention.  But so has dyscalculia, which is thought to afflict a similar percentage of the population.  To see the range of exercises available to combat this learning problem with numbers, visit dyscalculia.org.

Professors, it might be appropriate to refer some students to your campus disabilities office.

To learn more about dyscalculia, please read this wikipedia article or this MSNBC article.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht.

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I can speak with unquestionable authority on this issue.  Professors hate grading and assigning grades.  After 32 years in the college classroom, I have to admit that students have been accepting of the grades I’ve assigned.  However, every once in a while some student will come a-complaining.

All professors & instructors can relate to the video, “I Am Worried About My Grade.”  Give a student a lower grade than what the student wants, and you risk having the student march into your office demanding a better grade.  Oh, sometimes it is couched in terms of a request, but the tone of request reveals it is a demand.

I’ve taught at public universities and private colleges, and it seems to me that demanding students are worse at private colleges.  And yes, I’ve even heard, “It’s your fault I received this bad grade.”

I found this video on YouTube.  I did not create it.  It does seem to strike a cord, though.

Debit and credit – –  David Albrecht

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