More ROI Hooey – College or Work?

In case you missed it, I recently published a rant about measuring ROI in higher ed, titled: ROI on Tuition Paid – Another Bunch of Hooey. Lo and behold, another of the innumerable infographics crossed my email path and got me going again. It’s titled “How Higher Education Helps the Economy.” The infographic was prepared using data from Bloomberg/ Business Week and an organization called PayScale. The data can be examined along the lines of the question “Does it pay off to go to college?”

Which Way? College or Work?

This image was paid for. You do not have the right to reuse it.

The Payscale data used here is suspect (no sampling, unequal numbers and %’s of students from each school, self-reported income figures, etc.), but their methods of using that data seem to be pretty sound up to a point. The problem is that they stop short of making the important calculations – so I’ll make them here. They calculate a 30-year return on investment  for bachelors degree students (one number for grads, different one for all students who attend regardless of graduation) based on the extra earnings that the average student/graduate has earned after attending each college after factoring in the total out-of-pocket costs of attendance (both before and after grants) and the average number of years to graduate from each school. They are looking at a 30-year time period, starting after the 4 to 6 years that they spent in college. They look at students from various colleges and factor in that school’s average years to graduation (but don’t share what those numbers are). The base income is the amount that the “average” high school graduate would earn over a 34-36 year period and comparing that to what the average bachelor degree graduate earns over the 30 year period, after spending 4-6 years in school prior to graduation.

So let’s see what Payscale came up with. They rank the schools based on “ROI.” Yep, here comes some more ROI Hooey!! But what the heck, let’s just go with it and see where it leads.

Here are their top 5 schools.

  1. Cal. Tech – ROI: $2,033,000  –  Cost (after grant aid): $91,250
  2. Harvey Mudd College – ROI: $1,868,000  –  Cost: $117,500
  3. MIT – ROI: $1,797,000   –  Cost: $72,560
  4. Dartmouth – ROI: $1,701,000  –  Cost: $72,850
  5. Stanford – ROI: $1,691,000  –  Cost: $75,710

Many people will look at this data and say “what a great deal!!” Spending $75,710 to go to Stanford provides a return of $1,691,000 over 30 years. “That’s fantastic!”

Ummmm, no, it’s really not all that special. Here’s the deal. If you took the money spent to attend Stanford over a four year period and invested it in the stock market, and then let it ride for 30 more years after that (same 30-yr time frame used in the study for the college grad to earn more than a high school grad), you would come up with an expected value of $1,655,755 – which is only $35,245 less than the benefit of going to Stanford. And don’t forget that you would have a pot of money sitting there equal to $1,655,755, which is very unlikely to happen for the Stanford grad who made (and probably spent much of) the extra income.

Those numbers apply only if we are talking about getting out of Stanford in 4 years. What if Stanford is a five year proposition? That changes things substantially. Now the high school grad has the advantage over the college grad by $53,471. Yikes. Giving the lowly high school grad that extra year of stock market gains makes about an $89K difference.

Crazy talk, right? I’m not so sure. What’s so crazy about it?

Let’s recap.

  • A student who graduates from Stanford pays a total of 75,710 out-of-pocket, including loans that have to be paid back. Grants received are free money and are not considered to be an out-of-pocket cost.
  • Let’s assume that they make eight equal payments over the four years (one payment every six months). In financial circles, making a payment at the beginning of each time period is known as an annuity due. For Stanford, those 8 equal payments would be $9,464 ($75,710 / 8) per payment. Sure, they’re not really going to be equal payments, but close enough.
  • The long-term rate of return for the stock market is approximately 10%, although it’s somewhere within the 9-11% range depending which 30 year time period you choose. We’ll use 10%.
  • The future value of an annuity due for 8 periods at a 5% interest rate (10% annual / 2 payments per year) equals $94,889 at the end of the four years.
  • The high school grad has been working for those four years instead of going to college. At this point the high school grad leaves his investment nest egg (the $94,889) alone for the next 30 years while the Stanford grad goes to work for the next 30 years.
  • The Stanford grad earns a salary over those 30 years that exceeds the salary of the high school grad by $1,691,000.
  • During those 30 years, the Stanford grad presumably saves for retirement and invests her riches along the way. How much she will accumulate after 30 years is anybody’s guess (go ahead, take a guess).
  • The high school grad has an investment portfolio of $1,655,755 – and that’s assuming that he hasn’t added a penny to it (nor taken one out) over the past 30 years.

I can hear some of the objections you’re raising, such as “sure, but these are averages, and my kid (or whoever) is way above average and will do much better than that.” Maybe so, but the same can be said for those above-average high school grads who will do real well for themselves without the college degree.

Another objection: “but going to college is much more than just maximizing your earning potential. It’s about the people you meet and the connections you make.” I always love that one. It makes it sound like a person who doesn’t go to college is doomed to a life in solitary confinement and cannot possibly live a fulfilling life or expand their mind or any of the other things that people tend to think can only be achieved through a college experience.

Another objection: “you have no way of knowing that the stock market is going to return 10% again over the next 30 years.” Yep, that’s right. We also have no way of knowing whether college grads will continue to earn this much more than high school grads over the next 30 years, nor do we know whether the jobs that your degree qualifies you for will even exist over the next 30 years. It’s definitely a series of dice rolls and we could crap out at any time on any one of them.

Another objection: “it’s completely unrealistic to think that non-college-goers could get their hands on that kind of money, and even if they did, they’d spend it rather than invest it.” That might be true, and it might not be true. It would probably be tougher for people coming from low-income families. But the math still works for those coming from high-income families. It still begs the question of whether they are better off investing their money rather than spending it on a college degree.

Another objection: “maybe that’s what the numbers say right now, but ‘past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.’ All the experts say that a college education will be more important in the future than in the past. They also say that high school grads without college will find fewer and fewer job openings in the future.” How sure are you that those “experts” are right? Other experts are taking a different approach, such as the Thiel Foundation project that encourages entrepreneurship over college attendance.

It’s certainly not an exact science – which is exactly one of my major objections with the whole “ROI” malarkey in the first place. For the most part, they’re just making it up (and so am I).

Some of the things that Payscale doesn’t take into account, but probably should include:

  1. the average amount of debt incurred by grads at the different schools
  2. the amount of interest paid on that debt over the years
  3. the number of defaults on the debt at the different schools

Which leads me to the following adjustments:

  • Graduates who have a substantial amount of debt to repay will likely end up on the lower end of the cost/benefit calculation due to their increased costs and inability to save during the years when they are paying back loans.
  • Graduates who actually default on their loans are probably in a world of hurt and will have credit problems for much of their lives, and might have been much better off taking the low road of the high school grad.

Just a couple of other tidbits. I looked at a few schools of special interest to me.

  • I know someone who recently graduated from Western Michigan. He was an out-of-state student. The average cost of attending Western (after grant aid) is $113,000 for out-of-state students. His extra earnings over 30 years are projected to be $546,700. If he had just invested his college money he would have been better off by $1,931,136 (for 4-yr grad) or by $2,064,305 (5-yd grads). Ouch!!
  • How about Wisconsin-Green Bay? Low costs (relatively low) of only $39,050 (in state). But also low salary differential of only $285,600 over 30 years. Investing that money rather than spending it on college pays off to the tune of $568,412 (4-yr) or $614,309 (5-yr).
  • How about a school that stands out in a positive way? Take the Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech. Cost of $39,390 (in state) with a whopping salary differential of $1,467,000. The GT bachelor degree is a much better use of the money by about $605,553 (4-yr.) or $559,255 (5-yr.). Very few of them look like this.

In closing, let me make it clear that I am not an anti-college guy. I’m a pro-college guy. However, I think we need a dose of sanity when looking at the financial value of a college degree. High-achieving students need to go to college to be our professionals of the future. That includes the future doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, nurses, college professors, etc. etc.

However, I think this really begs the question of whether the lower-achieving students or less-prepared students who go to college would be better off going to work and investing their college funds. Looks like that’s a definite possibility, IMO.


Screencast-O-Matic – Fave Screencasting Tool

Here is a very short demo of some of the features of Screencast-O-Matic.

I’ve used at least 8 or 9 different screencasting tools. Some of the very expensive services are quite good, but if you’re looking for free – start with Screencast-O-Matic (SOM).

Some of the features of the free service:

  1. Unlimited hosting at SOM
  2. 15 minute max recording time
  3. Can record web cam
  4. Publish directly to YouTube
  5. Save locally as MP4, AVI, FLV
  6. SOM watermark on video

For Pro users, I think you get much more than your money’s worth. Besides what’s shown in the video above, other features for a Pro account ($12/yr) include:

  1. Unlimited max recording time
  2. Publish directly to Google Docs (YouTube, SOM, & download)
  3. Publish screen shots (stills)
  4. No SOM watermark
  5. Can password protect videos
  6. Use offline
  7. Add scripts easily
  8. Capture computer audio (if desired)
  9. Adjust maximum frame rate
  10. Insert more video into saved recording
  11. Resize the video
  12. Cut out parts of recordings
  13. Trim around parts of recordings
  14. Add transitions
  15. Change speed up or down

It’s incredibly simple to use. Lots of educators like Jing, but I’d choose SOM over Jing based on functionality.

It’s a web-based tool, but it does give you the option to download an applet that will allow you to make screencasts even when offline (both PC and Mac).

They have been rather prolific at introducing new features to the service. At this rate, they are well positioned to continue to be the leader in web-based screencasting.

NOTE: I’m a big fan of web-based tools in general, where there is no software download or install. This is a major benefit when working with students and having them capture screencasts of what they’re doing. I’m not saying it’s better than the expensive programs that are out there – but I am saying that it is a great, inexpensive, and easy-to-use screencasting tool.

Me and My Transformer – NBD

I bought an ASUS Transformer back in August, 2011. My post at that time was titled “Lovin the Eee Pad. So far” and covered my initial thoughts about the Android-based tablet.
Goofy pic of me and my ASUS transformer
The more I use the Transformer, the more frustrated I get with the things that I cannot do. This was much the same as the frustrations that I felt as an iPad owner (although none of the current frustrations relate to iTunes running my life – I’m iTunes free!!). I keep trying to love the tablet form factor, but it still seems like a high-priced toy more than a productive technology tool. I just went away on a 2-day trip and decided to make do with only the Transformer, leaving my laptop at home. I had several frustrations along the way, but mostly I could get things done that I wanted to. However, it really helped knowing that I would be home soon where I could be much more productive. I really don’t think I would rely on a tablet if I was going away for a week or more, unless my intention was to be totally disconnected and not working during that time away.
Oh sure, there are some good things, such as:
  1. Several ports – including two USB and one SD card reader.
  2. VGA connector is now available for about $30-40. I bought one and it works.
  3. Keyboard is generally good to have. It doubles as a protective case and greatly extends battery life (see below).
  4. Asus is fairly aggressive about pushing out Android updates – which is usually a good thing (or not, see below).
  5. Great for playing some games (Kill eight pigs with one bird?).
  6. Works great for simple tasks – such as checking email or catching up on Twitter via Tweetdeck or Tweetcaster.
  7. The screen resolution seems very good. Great picture when streaming Netflix or Hulu, watching YouTube HD videos, and playing games with high-quality graphics.
  8. My kids think it’s very cool (they’re kids, nuff said).
  9. Connections to known wifi networks are quick and successful.
  10. It must have a magnetic field, because everybody is attracted to it and wants to ask me about it. (This could easily go on the bottom list.)

But there’s also some not-so-good things (okay, a lot of them):

  1. Very tinny external speakers – you must use headphones or auxiliary speakers for music or any other audio.
  2. The cameras are pretty crappy. The front-facing camera is 1.2 MP and I rarely use it. The 5MP auto-focus rear-facing camera is completely under-whelming. Especially indoors, the photos are grainy and of extremely low quality. In very well-lit (outdoors) settings you’ll get somewhat better photos, but they have little detail, little contrast, and just an overall muddy feel to them.  Most pics are downright ugly.
  3. The keyboard is kind of wonky – especially the touch pad – while typing, the cursor is constantly jumping to other parts of the page – I guess that’s because my wrist or palm brushes against the touch pad (even when I don’t feel it).
  4. The metal covering of both the ePad and the dock is very slippery and hard to hold on to. It “looks” like it would be a great “grippy” surface – but those looks are deceiving.
  5. Not all Android updates are great – including the much-awaited 4.0 ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich), which seems very buggy, causing the Transformer to reboot a few times a day for no apparent reason. BTW, almost all Transformer user are ticked about this – see the Forum posts here.
  6. I very much dislike how the open application closes when the tablet is undocked from the keyboard. Seems to happen with all the apps. Kicks you out of the app and takes you back to the home screen. (Update: this seems to have stopped – maybe that is one improvement with ICS.)
  7. The boot time is less than impressive; about 40-50 seconds from a cold start.
  8. You need to boot from a cold start unless you are a very frequent user as well as a frequent charger. Even though it touts 12-15 hours of battery life (with the keyboard dock), that seems to include “sleep time” (push the power button to darken the screen and close the top), when you think that it should be conserving battery power. If you leave it in this sleep state for a while (presumably 12 hours or more), you can expect a totally dead device when you are ready to use it again. This seems like a bug, not a feature. Some people are reporting that this battery drain only started for them after they installed Android ICS (late Feb. 2012) – but it has always been that way for me.
  9. The browsers are crippled. Firefox on the tablet is a very poor tool. Even the native browser, which is similar to Google Chrome on a PC, is not very full featured. As if the weak browsers aren’t bad enough, many sites are apparently coded to kick you into their mobile version even though the  screen is large enough for full versions. Most of the time I hate this.
  10. For the life of me, I can’t get the flash player to install properly – and I’ve tried about 20 times. Flash is one of the main reasons I chose an Android tablet over the iSpaz. I need to research this because there is probably a work-around – but I’m expecting it to “just work!” NOTE: YouTube videos do play with the free YouTube app, but most sites that use flash simply do not work in any of my four browsers.
  11. Incredibly short power cord. Heck, the cord for my cell phone is twice as long.
  12. Some combination of wonky browsers and possibly the flash player recently caused me a great deal of angst. Trying to access a particular app on Facebook proved to be impossible, even though I tried with four different browsers (2 of which just constantly crashed – Opera Mini  and Dolphin browser), and at least 15 times. On my laptop, this was a seven second operation. Not sure who to blame it on, but overall I was not a happy user.

This post tells me that I can expect ASUS to have a fix in place for all the Ice Cream Sandwich issues next week. (Update: I believe this was installed yesterday, and will report back if things are significantly different.)

Overall, I do prefer the Transformer to the iPud – for various reasons. But, as you can probably tell, I’m not very enamored with either of them. My HP TouchSmart convertible tablet (a full powered PC, with touch screen, stylus, Win7, and superior ease-of-use) is about ten times better, albeit considerably more expensive as well. YMMV.

What Would Groucho Say?

Groucho Marx disguiseMaybe it’s  a myth or maybe the truth, but Groucho Marx supposedly once said “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

But what about those that WON’T accept you as a member?

This has been stuck in my craw since January, 2011 when I received an email reply from Terry Eberhart. Maybe he’s a great guy. I really don’t know. All I know if that he is (or at least was) the moderator of a LinkedIn group that I was trying to join.

The LinkedIn group is named the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning (HETL) Association. It currently has 13,475 members; including several friends of mine such as John Sener, Chris Duke, Alice Voorhees-Bedard, and John St. Clair to name a few.

Here are the vision, mission, and values statements from that group (copied form their info page):

  • Vision: the long-term vision of HETL is to improve educational outcomes in higher education by creating new knowledge and advancing the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning.
  • Mission: to bring that vision to reality, the current mission of HETL is to develop a global community of higher education professionals who come together to share their knowledge and expertise in teaching and learning.
  • Values: to effectively fulfill that mission, HETL adheres to the values of academic integrity, collegiality, and diversity.

I experienced a mixture of surprise and disgust when I received the email shown below.

Email received rejecting my request to join LinkedIn group

I’ve let it sit this long, but now I’m wondering if Mr. Eberhart would care to elaborate on where my values fall short in meeting his standard.  If anyone else would like to take a shot at that, I’d like to hear from you as well. Here is a link to my profile at LinkedIn – which is apparently what he reviewed to come to his conclusion that my values don’t measure up.

(NOTE: I did email Mr. Eberhart about three weeks ago, but he didn’t respond.)

CC-BY photo By Mykl Roventine

Invite a Monkey to your Picnik

Many faithful Picnik users were sad to learn that Google will be shutting down the photo editing site in April, 2012. I use Picnik all the time and it was one of the few Web 2.0 sites that I was willing to pay for over the past few years. I gladly paid the $25 annual fee for a Premium membership so that I could access all the tools and also do my part to help them be sustainable. Then it was purchased by Google, and things to started to change. My Picnik account was created five years ago, on March 10, 2007. This screenshot below of the Picnik website was edited using Picnik to add the mirror frame, the text on top of two geometric shapes, and the highlighting of their closure date.

New post 5/2/712: Collage feature added by Picmonkey

Picnik website before closing in April 2012

Google keeps saying that the Picnik tools will be rolled into Google Plus and that we shouldn’t be worried about the future of our photo editing. Maybe they’ll end up with something really great, but so far it is extremely disappointing. Some (not many) of the Picnik editing features have been rolled out in the G+ Creative Kit. This is a seriously crippled version of Picnik, and not even close to what Picnik users are used to having at their disposal. Maybe they’re not done with the Creative Kit, but they don’t seem to be offering much information about what the future of Creative Kit will look like.

Additionally – I really don’t want all my photos accessible from G+, which I assume would mean they’ll be viewable by people in my circles – unless I tightly lock them down – or whatever my privacy options (that’s not intended to be funny) might be for photos on G+.

On Friday, March 9, I received an email from a photo service that I had previously signed up for. Their email said that they were ready for us to start using PicMonkey. It turns out that PicMonkey was developed by some former Picnik employees and they claim it to be “faster, more powerful, and easier to use” (plus “78% more monkey” which I assume is sort of like more cowbell). I don’t think that I would agree with the “more powerful” statement just yet, because not all of the Picnik tools are available, but many of them are. Although the UI is different, many of the tools appear to be direct clones of the similar Picnik tools. Anyone can use PicMonkey and you don’t even need to create an account to get full access to the service. Just upload a photo, edit it, then save it back to your computer. The screenshot below was edited in Picmonkey by adding the matte frame and the text along the top of the frame.

Screenshot of Picmoney from March 2012

Probably because it’s new, PicMonkey doesn’t yet have all the tools that were available at Picnik. These are some of the Picnik features that I liked and used, and that I’m hoping become available at PicMonkey:

  • Integration with my Flickr account (edit Flickr photos then save them back to Flickr)
  • The “History” allows you to open any photo you’ve previously used in Picnik
  • The “Photo Basket” makes it simple to combine photos via drag-and-drop
  • Build a collage of photos (PicMonkey says this is coming soon)
  • “Make a Show” will help you create embeddable slide shows and widgets
  • Getting a photo from a website. Just enter the site URL and choose the photo (keep it legal)
  • Currently, you can’t make an account at all at PicMonkey, which would be necessary for many of the things to work such as integration with other sites, photo basket, and history.

Some of the areas where PicMonkey is a match for Picnik include:

  • All the basic edits (crop, rotate/straighten, colors, resize, etc) are there.
  • Many “Effects” are there: B&W, Sepia, Boost, Tint, Soft Focal, 25 in all (Picnik has 37).
  • Almost all “Touch Up” effects (15 out of 17), including: teeth whiten, blemish fix, red-eye removal, eye tint, cloning.
  • Text tools include 27 different fonts, compared to the Picnik array of 16 basic fonts and 15 premium ($) fonts, and dozens of mostly useless goofy fonts.
  • Overlays include things that I use such as speech bubbles, geometric shapes, arrows, and symbols; but don’t include the multitude of seasonal stickers and other clip artsy sorts of stuff at Picnik (NBD).
  • The selection of digital picture frames is not nearly as extensive at PicMonkey, but all the basic ones are there.

Overall, I’m impressed with the roll out of PicMonkey. I’m guessing that they’ll be busy working to add new features and to make it an even better replacement for Picnik. This is photo editing for the 99% (where the 1% are those Photoshop users who need it and actually know how to use all the powerful tools in it). Now, please give me more monkey.

Public Speaking as an Online Class

For the past twelve years or so, I’ve heard the same argument time and time again. I wish I had a nickel (or preferably a beer) for every time someone has said something like:

“You can’t possibly offer an online public speaking course!”Barry Dahl speaking at tech conference

Of course they don’t mean that you can’t offer it, they mean that you can’t possibly have a high-quality public speaking class if it’s offered online.

I say bull. Emphatically.

First. This class has been taught and taught well for at least ten years at various schools. The naysayers (and there’s lots of them) do not want to hear about people who have developed effective techniques for teaching this class – they (the naysayers) just aren’t willing to believe or accept any evidence that differs with their world view.

Second. Just because we use the word “online,” doesn’t mean that the entire class occurs only in front of a computer screen. Many online classes require students to engage in active learning or various other techniques that do not involve the computer – except maybe to document the work they’ve done or for other class communications. The idea that an online course eliminates face-to-face interactions is just plain wrong – unless you design it to avoid all interaction. You can absolutely require the F2F interaction, as you’ll see below (see fourth).

Third. This one is my favorite. The naysayers seem to think that there is something special about the traditional way of teaching the Public Speaking class on college and university campuses. Please explain this to me: How can you possibly call it “PUBLIC SPEAKING” when a student is standing at the front of the closed classroom with a dozen fellow students (mostly friends) and one instructor? What exactly is public about that? In what ways does that possibly resemble standing up in front of an audience in a normal public speaking venue? How did this ever become the gold standard for college public speaking courses?

Fourth. Although it is possible that some instructors primarily have their students record their speeches and post them online (more on that later), many that I am aware of require their students to speak in front of live audiences such as Kiwanis Clubs (Lions, Rotary, etc.), church groups, senior centers, Toastmasters groups, or many other similar groups. Compare this experience with the “classroom speech” described in number three above. It begs the following question: why don’t all public speaking classes (regardless of delivery method) have this same requirement?

Fifth. Last time I looked, the calendar says 2012. YouTube and other sites that allow anyone to communicate with the public are the norm, not the exception. Being able to communicate and effectively present yourself through electronic media is an extremely important skill for future success. Doesn’t matter whether you like that situation or not – it is what it is. A whole new audience opens up for those students when they record their speeches and post them online. That’s an interactive audience that can leave comments and suggestions, but not be restricted to being in the same room at the same time as the speaker. Does a student have extra incentive to do well knowing that both Grandma and a future employer might see this speech – or are they more motivated by their 12 classmates in the classroom?

Sixth. Even better than just recording a speech and posting it online, use live broadcasts via tools like,, or – or several other similar tools. All these free tools allow for the live broadcast to be recorded for future viewing and critique, but they also have the pulse-racing feature of going live to an unknown audience. A while back I asked someone if she would be willing to tune in to the LiveStream Internet channel to watch college students give their speeches for the online public speaking class. She replied that as long as she was not already booked, that she would “absolutely tune in to watch and comment.” The person that I was talking to was the college president. Hmmh, both grandma and the president (and many others) can watch your students perform in your public speaking class. Game changer?

Want to build an audience for student speeches? Embed your Livestream channel on the college Facebook page.

There’s also a Facebook app for Ustream.

All of these work on mobile devices (Ustream page).

Through face-to-face live events and both live and recorded Internet broadcasts, an instructor with a little imagination can build a high-quality, 21st century, online version of the college Public Speaking course.

But of course, all of this stuff is just nonsense, right?