Gas station without pumps

2020 April 15

Should admitted freshmen start college in Fall 2020?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:03
Tags: , ,

In A twenty-year professor on starting college this fall: Don’t, Diane Klein argues against students starting college in Fall 2020:

1. No school will be “back to normal” in fall 2020.

2. This is no time to be making one of the largest financial commitments of your life.

3. Let go of FOMO.

As an admitted freshman, it is not your responsibility to spend a fortune or go into debt to help a cash-strapped financially-mismanaged institution stay afloat. If they won’t be around a year from now without your tuition dollars, you’re better off finding that out without enrolling and accepting the substandard education that will be the best they can do under these circumstances.

The responses by commenters on her article range a gamut from completely agreeing with her to vehement disagreement, with good points made even at the extremes. If someone you know is trying to decide what to do about starting college this fall, then reading all the comments is worthwhile.

The comments I found most persuasive were the ones that suggested going to community college for a year or two—the community colleges are likely to provide better online courses (because they have more practice at it), and first-year courses are rarely special enough to justify the high prices of four-year colleges. Those first-year experiences that are better at four-year colleges than community colleges are likely to be disrupted by COVID-19 this fall anyway.  In the very likely event of a second wave of the pandemic shutting down schools, being at home is going to be better than having to move mid-semester for most students.

Of course, the advice to go to community college assumes that there is a nearby community college that provides a good transfer preparation.  For most of the California population there are good transfer programs, but the community colleges with high transfer rates are all in urban/suburban locations—the students in rural areas often have access only to community colleges that primarily provide vocational training, with little transfer activity (I’ve found the interactive map of transfer to UC by campus very informative).  I’m not sure that going to a community college with a poor track record of preparing students for 4-year colleges is a good use of time for someone who plans to finish at least a 4-year degree.

I’m less worried about students starting college next year than I am about those students in their final year of college.  Hands-on research and lab experience is much, much harder to deliver remotely than first-year courses are.  Spring 2020 lab classes were cancelled or reduced to book learning—if that continues in the Fall, a lot of important experience for upper-division students will be lost.

If I were about to start senior year in college as an engineering student, I would seriously look into taking a leave of absence for up to a year—meaningful senior capstones are going be very hard to do next year.  Not all fields are affected the same way—computer science capstones were already being mass-produced and are probably no worse for being done remotely.  Wet-lab research and instruction (especially that require BSL-2 facilities, as much research on SARS-CoV-2 does) cannot be moved remotely, while some electronics and computer engineering can done at home, with not-very-expensive equipment.

2018 December 17

Changes in student populations

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:14
Tags: , ,

There has been a lot of discussion at Inside Higher Education (and other higher-education media sites) lately about colleges failing because of enrollment difficulties due to the declining number of high-school graduates.

I think that this discussion has been colored largely by strongly regional phenomena.  A report by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the Northeast and Midwest are dropping in K–12 students, but the West and South are increasing.  Overall, the K–12 population is growing, though very slowly: projected growth is 0.18% a year, while past growth has been about 0.22% a year. So the story should not be of shrinking numbers of students for college, but a shift in where the students are coming from.  We may indeed have an oversupply of colleges in New England, with a shortage in the South and West.

Even more strongly, the report shows a shift in racial/ethnic demographics of the K–12 population, with a strong growth in Hispanic students (1.3% a year) and a shrinkage in white students (-0.5%/year).  The Asian/Pacific Islander category is expected to grow strongly also (1.4%/year), but black student population should remain fairly flat.  I wonder how much of the panic about colleges not being able to get students is due to the colleges marketing only to white students, who formed their traditional core, and not to the growing numbers of Hispanic students.

For projected number of high-school graduates, the racial shift is even stronger: White -0.7%/year, Black +1.2%/year, Hispanic  +1.9%/year, Asian/Pacific Islander +1.2%/year.

UCSC, where I teach, is bursting at the seams with far more students than we have the facilities for, with no signs that demand is shrinking.  UCSC qualifies as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, with about 26% of students being Hispanic, and UCSC also has a fairly large Asian enrollment (again, about 26%). Source:

I wonder how much of the discussion of the problem of shrinking enrollment in colleges is due to regional blinders and how much is due to racial blinders.

2017 September 23

My son returned to college yesterday

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:31
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been wandering around the house today, cleaning things up and generally being a bit adrift, in part because my son has returned to UCSB (where he will be a senior in computer science this year) on Friday.

His trip back was a little different from what was planned.  It started out as planned, with him catching the 7:55 a.m. Highway 17  Express bus to Diridon station in San Jose, where he planned to wait for the Coast Starlight down to Santa Barbara.  We noted before he left that the Coast Starlight was running about 3.5 hours behind schedule (a common occurrence—hence the nickname the Coast Starlate).  When he tried to check his luggage at Diridon station they recommended that he change to the 4790 Thruway bus to San Luis Obispo and take the 790 Pacific Surfliner the rest of the way, because the Coast Starlight was running so late.   He did that, though he much prefers the comfort of trains to buses, and it turned out to be a good move.  He could get out at Goleta, rather than Santa Barbara, cutting out about 10 miles of ground transport at that end.  He ended up getting to his new apartment in Isla Vista about the same time that the Coast Starlight left Salinas, so he saved over 6 hours (the Coast Starlight never made up the delay—by the time it got to Santa Barbara it was 4.5 hours late).  I don’t know whether he’ll take the Pacific Surfliner in future, or even try the Greyhound (which is even faster, as there is a direct bus between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara)—it depends on his willingness to trade off comfort for speed, as the Coast Starlight is a very comfortable way to travel, even if it is ridiculously slow.

One thing I did today was to box up 52 pounds of stuff (mostly clothing, but also bedding, some electronics, and dishes) to ship to him in Isla Vista (via UPS ground, about $40).  He only took about 75 pounds of luggage with him, because of the Amtrak 50-pound limit on single items for checked luggage (though the Thruway bus+Pacific Surfliner switch meant that all his luggage ended up being carry-on).  Because he is living in an unfurnished apartment this year, he had already ordered furniture (a bed and mattress, anyway) from Amazon, and his roommate had been there to receive it, so he knew he had a bed waiting for him (though he probably had to assemble it).

You’d think that by the 4th year, I’d be used to having him go away to college, but the transition each fall is still a little unsettling—I’ll miss our technical conversations.  Oh well, within a couple of weeks I’ll have his bedroom set up as a workshop again, with the drill press and scroll saw back on the table, and the stuff he left scattered on the table packed away in boxes.

I’ll need the workshop this fall, as I need to make more lab setups for my course (I’ll have lab sections of 50 students, so we’ll need 25 lab stations, instead of just 12).  I’ll also be sitting in on the Mechatronics course at UCSC, which has always sounded like a lot of fun, but which will probably be close to a full-time job for a person to do alone instead of in a 3-person team. My sabbatical this fall will be spent on the Mechatronics course, continuing revisions to my book, and building the lab setups for winter and spring.

2016 October 29

iGEM age rules

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 05:12
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m currently attending the iGEM synthetic biology competition’s “Jamboree”, where all the teams present their results.  It is a big conference (about 3000 attendees this year, representing about 300 teams), so a bit overwhelming.

One thing that surprised me was that the UCSC team of 17 undergraduates was listed as an “overgrad” team, rather than an “undergrad” one.    It turns out that the classification has nothing to do with student status or education:

There are 3 sections in iGEM 2016:

  1. Undergraduate: all student team members are age 23 or younger on March 31, 2016
  2. Overgraduate: one or more student team members are older than 23 on March 31, 2016
  3. High School: all student team members are high school students on March 31, 2016; includes students who graduate from high school spring 2016

The age constraint seems like a very strange way to divide undergraduates from graduate students.  It does not work well in countries where there is mandatory military or civil service before college, and it does not work well for minorities and the poor in the USA.  I think that the problem is that the people defining the sections have a very narrow view of what it means to be an undergraduate—one that is colored by their teaching at elite private universities in the US.

The Common Data Set that each college in the US has to publish provides information about the percent of undergrad students age 25 and older at different institutions (question F1 on the form).  For example, UCSC reports  4% of undergrads are 25 and older, UCLA reports 5.1%, UC Berkeley and University of Illinois report 6%, Cal Poly reports 3%, San Jose State reports 20%, while Stanford and  MIT report only 1%.  I have not looked at many colleges, but there seems to be a clear trend that elite private schools are much less likely to be familiar with older undergraduates than public schools, and that higher status public schools have (like UC) have fewer older students than good, but slightly lesser status schools like San Jose State.  (I’ve not found a site that allows rapid summaries of the Common Data Set across many institutions—colleges are required to report the information, but no one seems to be making it accessible other that by one-college-at-a-time lookup—if someone knows of a good site for exploring the data, please let me know.)

Looking at the schools most attended by minorities and poor students in the US—the average age of a community college student is 29 [].

By using age as a cutoff, iGEM is being quite elitist—their definition of “undergraduate” only matches the demographics at elite private schools.

I asked about the reasons for the age cutoff, and it seems like some teams were complaining about having to compete against teams that had 35-year-old students on them, and that this was somehow unfair.  I find this mystifying.  How is it that a student who worked in a warehouse or tending bar for 15 years before finally being able to afford college has an unfair advantage over a student whose parents had the money to send them to college immediately?

I’m a bit more sensitive about re-entry students than many college professors, perhaps because of my mother.  Her college education was interrupted by World War II, and she did not get an opportunity to go back to college until her 50s. I am very grateful to the US system of community colleges that allowed her to return to college at that age and earn an AA degree. Being told that she would not have qualified as a “real undergrad” is personally offensive.

Coming up with a simple rule that can be applied uniformly around the world to distinguish undergraduate from graduate students is not easy, but I think that a simple age cutoff is one of the poorer choices that could have been made.  Years of education since age 5 (to avoid cultural differences in when schooling starts) might be a better choice.  Certainly the reasons given for the age criterion (to make the competition fair to undergrads) reveals a real misunderstanding of who undergraduates are outside the elite US colleges.

2016 September 19

Coast Starlight, college train

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:49
Tags: , , , ,

The Coast Starlight train, which my son just took to return to UCSB, could reasonably be called the “college train” because of the number of large universities along its route. I’m really surprised that Amtrak does not do more marketing of the train to college students and their parents. They do have a 15% discount for students aged 13–25, no longer needing a special “student advantage” card, but marketing the Coast Starlight route still seems to be aimed mainly at summer tourists.

Here is a list of the stops on the Coast Starlight, and some of the nearby colleges and universities (found using Google Maps), with times by public transit from the Amtrak stop to the college. The listing of colleges is not intended to be complete, nor to be recommendations for the colleges—I just tried to pick a few of the colleges that I thought might attract students from far enough away to generate Amtrak customers.

I relied on Google Maps for transit timings, but did not attempt to synchronize to the Coast Starlight schedule—some of the connections may be awful.  You don’t want to rely on a tight connection to Amtrak, though, as the Coast Starlight is often an hour or more late. Many of these universities are close enough to the Amtrak stations that a taxi ride or Uber from the stations to campus would be a reasonable cost—still cheaper than flying in most cases.  My son took public transportation from Santa Cruz to the Amtrak station in San Jose, but got an Uber ride from the Santa Barbara station to UCSB, to save hauling his luggage to the bus station there.

(Note: Greyhound is often cheaper and faster than Amtrak, but it is a lot less comfortable. BoltBus and other private bus services might also be worth checking.)

Seattle, WA

University of Washington is 35–55 minutes from SEA; Seattle University is 25–35 minutes; Antioch University Seattle, 19–22 minutes;

Tacoma, WA

University of Washington, Tacoma is 10 minutes from TAC; University of Puget Sound, 47 minutes

Olympia-Lacey, WA

The Evergreen State College is 1:24–1:40 from OLW.

Centralia, WA

Kelso-Longview, WA

Vancouver, WA

Washington State University Vancouver is 1:06–1:27 from VAN.

Portland, OR

Reed College, 15 minutes from PDX; Concordia University, 28 minutes; Multnomah University, 34–38 minutes; University of Portland, 13 minutes; University of Western States, 1:04–1:07; Lewis and Clarke College, 1:04–1:08; Pacific University, Forest Grove, 1:37–1:50.

Salem, OR

Willamette University, 6 minutes from SLM (10 minutes on foot);Western Oregon University, 0:58–1:40; Corban University, 57 minutes; Northwest University Salem, 0:49–1:30; George Fox University: Salem 0:44–1:26.

Albany, OR

Oregon State University, 0:33–1:38 from ALY.

Eugene-Springfield, OR

University of Oregon, 23 minutes from EUG, 31 minutes walking.

Chemult, OR

Klamath Falls, OR

Oregon Institute of Technology, 21–25 minutes from KFS; Southern Oregon University (Ashland) 2:44.

Dunsmuir, CA (Mt. Shasta)

Redding, CA

Chico, CA

CSU Chico, 13 minutes from CIC.

Sacramento, CA

CSU Sacramento, 37–41 minutes from SAC.

Davis, CA

UC Davis 27–33 minutes from DAV.

Martinez, CA

Cal Maritime, 1:27–2:30 from MTZ

Emeryville, CA

(Although Emeryville is closer to UCB than Oakland is, transit is better from Oakland.)

Oakland, CA–Jack London Square

UCB 37–59 minutes from OKJ; Mills College, 47–55 minutes; SFSU 0:56–1:03; CSU East Bay (Concord) 1:30

San Jose, CA (Caltrain)

San Jose State 11–14 minutes from SJC; Santa Clara University, 7–26 minutes; Stanford, 0:46–1:27; UCSC, 1:34–1:55

Salinas, CA

CSU Monterey Bay, 23 minutes from SNS.

Paso Robles, CA

San Luis Obispo, CA (Morro Bay)

Cal Poly, 17–24 minutes from SLO.

Santa Barbara, CA

UCSB, 41–55 minutes from SBA.

Oxnard, CA

CSU Channel Islands is nearby (11 miles), but Google Maps can’t find any public transit—the Vista bus is 25 minutes (perhaps Google Maps is missing the VCTC transit information).

Simi Valley, CA

CSU Northridge, 44–56 minutes from SIM.

Van Nuys, CA–Amtrak Station

CSU Northridge, 42–44 minutes from VNC; American Jewish University 0:55–1:09; Pepperdine 2:00–3:00

Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, CA

Woodbury University, 22–35 minutes from BUR;

Los Angeles, CA

Cal State LA, 19–31 minutes from LAX; Caltech 48–60 minutes; CSU Dominguez Hills 1:03–1:09; CSU Fullerton 1:06–1:15; UCLA 1:14–1:45; Claremont Colleges (Harvey Mudd, Pomona, Scripps, Pitzer, …) 1:20–2:00; CSU Long Beach 1:41–2:07; Cal Poly Pomona 1:47–2:06

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: