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2016 July 19

Americans for the Arts poll

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Americans for the Arts  Public Opinion Poll Overview has recently published a summary of their opinion poll about the arts. It does not come as a surprise to me that people are broadly in favor of the arts and participate at a moderately high rate—the questions are “motherhood-and-apple-pie” questions that would be difficult to disagree with. Some numbers are a bit lower than I would hope to see—only  68% of adults attended an arts event in the past year, and some are higher than I would expect—27% donated to an arts organization.

What Americans Believe About the Arts

The American public is more broadly engaged in the arts than previously understood—believing that the arts not only play a vital role in personal well-being and healthier communities, but that the arts are also core to a well-rounded education.

1. “The arts provide meaning to our lives.” 63 percent of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences,” 64 percent feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” and 73 percent say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.”

2. “Most of us seek out arts experiences.” Seven in 10 American adults (68 percent) attended an arts event in the past year, like going to the theater, museum, zoo, or a musical performance.

3. “We often experience the arts in unexpected places.” An even greater proportion of Americans (77 percent) say they experienced the arts in a “non-arts” venue such as a park, hospital, shopping mall, or airport.

4. “Across demographic groups, the arts are part of our lives.” People of color were more likely to attend an arts event than their white counterparts (71 percent vs. 66 percent). Higher rates of attendance for people of color were noted for multiple art forms, including dance, museums, and theater.

5. “Arts institutions add value to our communities.” Regardless of whether people engage with the arts or not, 87 percent believe they are important to quality of life, and 82 percent believe they are important to local businesses and the economy.

6. “We donate to the arts.” 27 percent of the population (more than 1 in 4 Americans) made a donation to an arts, culture, or public broadcasting organization within the past year. Donors were typically younger and had higher incomes and education.

7. “We will support candidates who want to increase arts funding.” Americans are more than twice as likely to vote in favor of a candidate who increases arts spending from 45 cents to \$1 per person than to vote against them (37 percent in favor, 16 percent against).

8. “We believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education.” Nine in ten American adults (88 percent) agree that the arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education.

9. “We believe the arts should be taught in grades K–12.” 90 percent believe students should receive an education in the arts in elementary school, middle school, and high school. 82 percent say the arts should also be taught outside of the classroom in the community.

10. “We are making art in our personal time.” Half of all Americans are personally involved in artistic activities (49 percent) such as painting, singing in a choir, making crafts, writing poetry, or playing music.

11. “We engage in the arts because it makes us feel creative.” Among those who are personally involved in making art or displaying art in their home, 60 percent say that “arts and music outside of the home” makes them feel more creative—a rate that jumps to 70 percent for Millennials.

12. “Social media increases our exposure to the arts.” 53 percent of social media users say that they are more exposed to the arts thanks to connecting online. 59 percent agree that art created on social media is a legitimate form of art.

13. “Yes! Tattoos are art.” 27 percent of Americans boast a tattoo (12 percent have more than one). Three-quarters believe that tattoos are a form of art (73 percent).

14. “The arts unify our communities.” The personal benefits of the arts extend beyond the individual and to the community. 67 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity” and 62 percent agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better.”

15. “Despite the benefits the arts provide, not everyone in our communities has equal access to the arts.” Despite the individual and community benefits, just 45 percent believe that “everyone in their community has equal access to the arts.”

www.AmericansForTheArts.org

Source: Americans Speak Out About The Arts, Americans for the Arts. 2016.

*The 3,020 respondents self-identified by race and Hispanic ethnicity. For the report, the “white” category is non-Hispanic whites. Included in the “people of color” category are blacks, Asians, all Hispanics, and others.

I’ll have to dive into the full report or even the supplementary data tables to see exactly what questions were asked and what biases there were in the survey. One that they note is that the survey was done online, and that the non-white subset of the sample skewed somewhat higher on education and wealth than the non-white population as a whole.

The higher attendance by non-whites coupled with the perception of unequal access is a little disturbing—particularly given the emphasis on appeals to elderly white people by so many of our major cultural institutions. Of course, there is an obvious reason for the the appeals to old white people—the same reason that people rob banks: because that’s where the money is. But younger generations are more interested in the arts, and so more should be done to incorporate them into the life of our arts institutions.

I am pleased that our local museum, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, makes a point of reaching out to the whole community and attempting to bridge divides. I think that they have done an excellent job of including young folk (high-school and college age) in their events and planning, as well as a moderately good job of including Mexican culture (the main non-white culture in our area). I think that there is more to be done in incorporating Mexican and local Mexican-American art into the museum.  They did recently have a very good display of the Kinsey African-American Art and History Collection, even though the African-American population in Santa Cruz County is quite small—about 1.4% according to the US Census.  The Hispanic population is about 33.3%.

I was a little surprised that the poll found that 27% of the population have tattoos—in Santa Cruz, I would find an even larger number credible, but in the Midwest the numbers are likely much smaller. I wonder whether this number indicates a sampling bias in the survey, which would call all the numbers into question, or if tattoos really have become so mainstream.

I’m also a little surprised that MAH has not done a tattoo art exhibit yet (or did I miss one?), since tattoo art has been a big thing in Santa Cruz for a long time.  For those of you who care, I don’t have any tattoos—not from any philosophical, religious, or æsthetic reason, but because I’ve never been able to think of any artwork that I’d be happy to have on my body permanently (also, I dislike pain).

I was interested in seeing what “arts and culture” events were the most popular (in terms of attendance in the previous year):

• Zoo, aquarium, or botanical garden 36%
• Historic site 30%
• Musical performance (Classical or popular) 29%
• Museum of history or science (including children’s museums) 25%
• Theater performance 24%
• Museum of art 23%
• Visual arts, crafts exhibition, art gallery 22%
• Opera/musical theater 13%
• Dance performance 13%
• Art or film festival 12%
• Literary event 8%
• Other 3%
• None 32%

I’m surprised that they did not include a category for arts and crafts fairs, antiques fairs, maker fairs, Renaissance fairs, and so forth—many people attend such events, but would probably not think of them in the context of this survey.

I also wonder how much of the attendance is “for the children’s sake” rather than personal interest—the heavy emphasis on zoos, aquaria, historic sites, history and science museums suggests that there may be some deliberate educational component for kids, rather than personal enjoyment.  (I go to science museums and aquaria for fun when I travel, but many people do it only with kids.)

I note that theater minus musical theater is still at 11%, almost as big as opera/musical theater alone, which is pleasing but surprising—musical theater seems to get a lot more advertising and get performed in much larger venues than non-musical theater.

2014 June 26

What you do in college may matter more than where you go

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Back in May, I read a blog post (Life in College Matters for Life After College) that pointed to the Gallup-Purdue Index Report 2014. I finally got the time to download the report and look at it.

The report has a rather ridiculous interpretation of copyright on its copyright page: “It is for your guidance only and is not to be copied, quoted, published, or divulged to others.” This is particularly ridiculous for a report that they are distributing for free—I think that they have a piece of boilerplate that they put on all their reports, written by lawyers who want to claim far more that copyright law really provides.  They’ve got deeper pockets than me though, so the threat is effective—I won’t directly quote them in my blog, but just summarize what I see as the main points.  If I mangle their message, they have only their own over-zealous lawyers to blame.

What the report is ostensibly about is whether college prepares students for an “engaging” job and a good life.  They were looking for whether students were engaged in their jobs and at five measures of well-being that Gallup has used in other studies: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. They were also looking at how attached alumni were to their alma maters (which, of course, is primarily what Purdue was interested in, as that determines how much money they can extract from alumni).

Basically, they started with the assumption that the point of college is to get a “great job” and a “great life” (a debatable point, but a widely held belief).  They then tried to determine what produced these outcomes, by interviewing 30,000 graduates.  Note that they did not interview those who quit or were kicked out of college—they were only considered those that college thought had succeeded.  It might be interesting for them to look at the outcomes for those who dropped or failed out also, to see whether the things they think mattered in college also affected the students who left without a degree.  (I suspect that the effects would be even stronger, because of the higher variance in the outcomes, but guessing about sociology is not one of my strengths.)

Their main result was that it didn’t really matter much where people went to college (other than that results were consistently worse at for-profit schools)—what mattered is what they encountered there.  Having an inspiring professor who cared about them, excited them about learning, and encouraged them doubled the odds of their being engaged at work after college. Internships in which they applied their learning, multiple-term projects, and being extremely active in extracurricular activities also doubled the odds of their being engaged at work.

(They use the term “odds” rather than “probability” consistently, so I’m not sure if they mean the probability p or the odds ratio $\frac{p}{1-p}$. If p is small, these are almost the same, but the overall engagement at work for college grads was reported as 39%, so it makes a difference here.  At one point in the report they mention that 40% of students finishing in 4 years or less are engaged in their jobs compared to 34% of those who took five and a half or more years, claiming that completing in 4 years doubles the odds of engagement.  I can’t come up with any definition of “odds” that makes this more than a 30% difference.)

I think that UCSC does manage to provide some engaging faculty—most of the students I talked to in senior exit interviews had at least one faculty member who excited them about learning (but that’s fairly common—63% of graduates reported that in the Gallup-Purdue survey).  I don’t know that we do as well at providing professors who show that they care about the students or providing mentors who encourage students to pursue their dreams—those are hard to provide at scale, as they rely on matching personalities as well as having enough faculty time to spend. Indeed, in the Gallup survey only about 27% of graduates felt that professors cared about them as a person and only 22% felt they had a mentor who encouraged them, so we’re not alone in finding this difficult to supply.  I suspect that students doing senior theses get more mentoring than those doing group projects, but a lot depends on the student and whoever is supervising the work.

One thing that the Jack Baskin School of Engineering at UCSC is doing right—all the students in bioengineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and computer game design are required to do 2-quarter or 3-quarter-long capstone projects.  (That alone should be a 1.8× on the odds of being engaged at work, and only 32% of students in the survey reported having that experience.)  Our students do not do so well on the “extreme extracurricular activity”, though, as few engineering students feel they have time for much in the way of extracurriculars.  Internships are something that UCSC could be much better at—there is a huge industry base only 40 miles away in Silicon Valley, but students are left on their own for finding internships, and not very many do.

The two strongest predictors of engagement were not really what the college did, but what students thought about the college:  if they thought “the college prepared me well for life outside college” or that the college was “passionate about the long-term success of its students”.  These raised the odds of engagement at work by 2.6× and 2.4× respectively. Causality is not clear here, as these attitudes may have resulted from their engagement at work, rather than being causes of it.

The report is very sloppy about confounding variables:  they report that women are more engaged at work than men, and that arts, humanities, and social science majors are more engaged than science or business majors.  But they don’t seem to have done anything to determine which of the two highly correlated variables is the causal one here: gender or major.  Their sample is large enough that they should have been able to get at least a strong hint, despite the correlation.

One unsurprising result: those who took out large loans as students were much less likely to be thriving in all 5 areas of well-being than those who took out small loans or no loans. Since financial well-being is one of the areas, and large loans make it difficult to achieve financial well-being, this is hardly a surprising result.  It would have been more interesting if they had reported differences in just the other four areas—did the large loans have any effects other than the obvious financial one?  They’ve got the data, but they didn’t do the analysis (or they’re not sharing it in the free report, which seems more likely—I’m sure they’ll share it for a hefty consulting fee).

Given that there was almost no difference in well-being based on public vs. private or selective vs. non-selective colleges, the big negative correlation of large loans with well-being sounds like a strong argument to go to a college you can afford, rather than taking out large loans. (Again, the report did not attempt to look at confounding variables for the for-profit schools—how much of their poor performance was due to the large loans they encouraged their students to take out?)

The results for alumni attachment were much stronger than for well-being or job engagement, probably because the background level of alumni attachment was fairly low—only about 18% of college graduates were emotionally attached to their colleges by the criteria used in the poll.  The biggest drivers for emotional attachment were whether they felt the college had prepared them well and whether they felt it was passionate about the long term success of the students.  Again, I question the causality here—it seems likely that those who are emotionally attached are more likely to hold these beliefs, irrespective of what the college actually did.

I’m also confused by their “odds” again, where they report 48% of a group being emotionally attached as 6.1× the odds of another group where 2% are emotionally attached.  I don’t see how they computing their “odds”—it is a very odd computation indeed! Update: perhaps the odds they mean are $\frac{p(x | y)}{p(x | \neg y)}$, in which case they are comparing the 48% to some unprovided number, probably a little lower than the background 18%.  I’m still having a hard time making that 6.1.  Maybe $\frac{p(x | y)(1-p(x|\neg y))}{(1-p(x|y))p(x | \neg y)}$?  I can’t seem to make anything match their numbers.

Although the basic conclusion of the study seem reasonable to me (that what happens to you in college is more important than where you go to college, and that large loans make you miserable), the survey seems rather sloppily done, confusing correlation with causality, not attempting to disentangle confounding variables, and doing some sort of arithmetic that seems completely inconsistent so that the “odds” they report are incomprehensible. Also, they asked few questions and every question they asked seemed to have about the same effect on the odds, so I don’t know whether the survey was actually measuring anything (no negative controls).

I’d hesitate to invest money or make academic planning decisions based on this report.  I think that Purdue wasted a lot of money on a load of crap (unless they got a private report with a lot better data and analysis).