I walked through Walmart today, noticing old people.

I didn’t want to be there, and I couldn’t imagine that they really did either.

But then I realized they did want to be there. It was their socialization and still feeling part of the world.

But they haven’t had bought into the whole “buying on-line” thing and having it all delivered.

Or social media.

In 20 years, or 30, will I be them?

I hate going to the store when I can have it all delivered.

I can socialize online now and can’t imagine that changing.

I mean, saying crazy things, obscure things, or the web-equivalent of “Get off my lawn!” which is “Learn to use Google, you moron!”

Oh, wait.

I do these things now.


Policy Tomorrow, Research Tonight


Something familiar
Something peculiar
Something for everyone:
It’s research tonight!

Something appealing
Something appalling
Something for everyone:
It’s research tonight!

Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns;
Bring on the data, SQL and clowns!

Old situations
New complications
Nothing portentous or polite;
Policy tomorrow
It’s research tonight!

Something convulsive
Something repulsive
Something for everyone:
Some research tonight!

Pie charts aesthetic
Line charts frenetic
Something for everyone:
Some research tonight!

Nothing with gods, nothing with fate;
Weighty affairs will just have to wait!

Nothing that’s formal
Nothing that’s normal
Just recitations to recite;
Open up the spreadsheets:
Some research tonight!

Something erratic
Something dramatic
Something for everyone:
Some research tonight!

Frenzy and frolic
Strictly symbolic
Something for everyone:
Some research tonight!

Something familiar
Something peculiar
Something for everybody:
Some research tonight!
Something that’s gaudy
Something that’s bawdy–

Something for everybawdy!

Research tonight!

Nothing but grids

Symbols, they’re Greek

She presents later this week

Stunning surprises!
Cunning relations!
Hundreds of factors, kept out of sight!

R-squares and runics!
Antecedents and applets!
Confounding examples!
Elements and axes!
Treatment groups!
Type Is!
Type IIs!

Unbiased means, no Trojan horse
And a happy ending, of course!
Goodness and badness
No fit is madness–
This time it all turns out all right!
Policy tomorrow
Research tonight!

Apologies to Mr Sondheim and Messrs Mostel and Lane.

Micro-Aggressions and Chaos Theory

A set of random thoughts for today….they maybe too random for most people. And perhaps dangerous ground to tread.

A friend sent me this. (Go read it, I’ll wait.)

Ok, ready?

I think this comic is an excellent illustration of how little differences over time affect outcomes. Clearly, not everyone has the same outcomes, when even starting in roughly the same place with the same opportunities. Further “equivalent” opportunities do not result in “equivalent” outcomes.

Chaos theory, in what is to me at least, a very similar manner, describes the sensitivity of outcomes to initial conditions. Even tiny differences in rounding can lead to an inability to accurately predict outcomes.

Have you ever learned to juggle? Once an individual masters the basic understanding that there is never really more than one ball in the air at a time (save for the briefest of an instant), the three-ball cascade is simple to begin and maintain. At some point though, a toss will be slightly ahead of or behind the desired plane. This will affect the next catch, and the next throw, and so on. Eventually the juggler is chasing after the balls that have gotten away from him.

A little change, a little difference, ultimately throws the entire system off.

Microaggressions, “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership,” can also be considered as micro-influences if we make it a more generic concept. Or, if we consider each moment in time as a starting point to the next event, they are part of defining the initial state of individual. In other words, microaggressions influence the path of an individual (or even a group) from one event to the next.

“Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.”

Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Everything I write, believe it or not, recognize it or not, is about understanding higher education. Everything.

 This may not be finished 

The Beatitudes for Bunnies

Blessed are the poor: for they shall bring Pell.

Blessed are those who take morning classes: for they drive our utilization metrics.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall accept our decrees and use of their survey responses.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for self-righteousness: for they will be defended by the Board.

Blessed are they who do not need aid: for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will be unaware of our deceit.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called conspirators.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the Golden Parachute.

Little Bunny FooFoo

Little bunny Foo Foo
Went hopping through the forest
Scooping up the field mice
And bopping them on the head
Down came the Good Fairy, and she said
“Little bunny Foo Foo
I don’t want to see you
Scooping up the field mice
And Glocking them in the head.”
I’ll give you 3 chances,

And if you don’t behave, I will turn you into a goon!”

Who knew that little bunnie FooFoo was simply practicing enrollment management?

Matt Reed (@DeanDad) talks about this in his blog post and gives us this gem:

Mount St. Mary’s is a private, Catholic institution, so it isn’t subject to performance funding in a direct way. (Though it does raise the question: who would Jesus drown?) But that doesn’t make it immune to pressure to show the numbers.

My first thought was no, no, wrong church. This makes more sense in a church that believes if you hold someone underwater long enough, they will come up believing your way. Kind of like the church in which I was raised. But really, “who would Jesus drown” is just the gentler version of “kill ’em all, let God sort them out.” The latter version is really a terrible form of enrollment management as it kills your entire revenue stream.

Reed’s key point is that college president in question is trying to game the first-year retention rate (and later, the graduation rate) by ensuring any obviously iffy students are dismissed prior to them being included in official fall reporting. If you are still feeling like this is reasonable and have not experienced in moral outrage yet, let’s pursue this a bit more.

These are brand new students.

They are in their first three weeks of enrollment.

And the president has already decided they have no future at the institution.

The college had admitted them within the previous six months, with an implicit message of “Hey, we think you can be successful here. Please join us.”

What changed? Was the college that badly wrong in its admission decisions? Did the students change suddenly between application and enrollment?

The college administered a survey.  A. Survey.  (Was the Institution Review Board consulted, did it approve the survey and its intended use? Would this be a violation of federal research guidelines?)

From the Washington Post:

But the paper reported on an email exchange that expressed a desire to eliminate a certain number of students, based on the survey results, by the Sept. 25 cutoff date when the university would be required to report enrollment numbers to the federal government.

Were the students told their future at the college hinged upon their survey responses? Again, from the Post:

The Mountain Echo reporters wrote that Newman’s retention plan included administering a survey to all freshmen, with this introduction: “This year, we are going to start the Veritas Symposium by providing you with a very valuable tool that will help you discover more about yourself. This survey has been developed by a leadership team here at The Mount, and it is based on some of the leading thinking in the area of personal motivation and key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness. We will ask you some questions about yourself that we would like you to answer as honestly as possible. There are no wrong answers.”

Looks to me, based on the limited information I have seen (and I have read the original Mountain Echo story, the editorial statement, and the letter from the board chair) that this entire process is a betrayal of ethics in research, enrollment management, and general human decency.

I think the student journalist and editors did the right thing by reporting this story. I’m glad they did.  This was awful behavior, and perhaps is the type of behavior that should put Title IV eligibility at risk for an institution.



Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

Today, I saw this story about the Obama Administration’s proposal to return to year-round eligibility (which is a great idea!) and adding a $300 bonus for Pell recipients who take at least 15 credits per semester.

I looked at our data in Virginia. At both the public and private four-years, 76% of full-time students take at least 15 hours in their first term. So, the $300 will be mostly a (needed) bonus to those students, while perhaps changing behavior for the other 24%. There are details in what I did that I will discuss at the SCHEV Research blog this weekend about why part of the 24% may not change much, if at all.

At the public two-years, it is only about 40% of students taking 15 credits or more in their first term. So, there is a lot of possibility here – assuming $300 is adequate to either change behavior or overcome cost barriers, such as textbooks, commuting, and daycare.

My first year in Virginia I had a board member that was convinced that all we needed to do to increase timely completion was to offer a significant rebate to students who completed their bachelor’s degree in four years or less. When I explained that we would have to give that rebate to everyone who already completed on time, he kept insisting that “no, we only give it to those who wouldn’t have done so.” “And they are….?”

So, while I am probably all in favor of increasing Pell, I’d rather just do that outright and pro-rate it by each full-time hour since there are differences in cost at many places. I would also like to see the entire EFC model validated and then modified to produce a  realistic estimate of what students and families can be expected to pay.

Yes, I believe it to be broken and that it exists now only as a rationing tool to limit the cost of Pell.

By all means, go tell the Spartans.

In a hall of lost and desperate souls

Stumbling like zombies

with wallets opening

to the mere promise of improvement, of more, or bigger

or shine.

Children squabble, bemused.

Teenage daughters accompany their fathers (I hope)

feigning interest in boats and tackle

while really looking at their phones and teenage boys.

Camouflage everywhere,

as if the the fish care, or can see.

Outside a howling blizzard (for the South).

But you can buy a magic product to make your bassboat shine sparkle in the daylight, the moonlight, and the starlight.

An old man shouts after me,

“My blood pressure went down 50 points….”

Ahh, hematite! The magic mineral!

Ancient health secrets of Native Americans, Romans, Greeks, others

that are no more.

Will heal you arthritis, migraines, blood pressure, blood sugar,

swelling/numbness, sinus problems and allergies

carpal tunnel syndrome

knee replacement and circulation problems.

The list goes on!

Magical healing for desperate souls.

But for the lost? Only the exit sign will serve.

Clearly the boy and I went to the Fishing Expo today.

Lost and Desperate Souls

I encounter a lot of lost and desperate souls, in real life and online. I love how they self-identify – unintentionally, of course. In the movie “Tin Cup” there are two scenes about the use of a variety of crappy, snake oil products promising to fix a golfer’s swing. In the first of these, Rene Russo has shown up for her first lesson with Kevin Costner and is starting to put these various fixes on her body:

KC: What is all this stuff?

RR: I got it from the Golf Channel.

KC: Well, it’s a waste of money.

RR: I’m sure there are some excesses and repetitions here, but I believe in gathering knowledge. There must be some truth to the golf swing illustrated here…I thought you would kind of help me sort through it. I have dozens of golf videotapes.

KC: Take it off.


KC: All of it, right now. All of it. You’re a smart woman, for chrissakes. Don’t you know the work of hustlers when you see it?

RR:Well, no. I mean…
…I can always tell when someone’s lying to himself. But I’m susceptible and frequently wrong when a person lies to me.

RR: This stuff cost me over $200 .

KC: It’s $200 worth of shit.

Later, in the second scene, Costner is at a crossroads and has developed a glitch in his swing. Russo catches him using the crap himself:

RR: Oh, Jesus, Roy. Quoting yourself, “It is a paraphernalia for lost and desperate souls.”

I think of this a lot. It is easy to buy into the allure of buying all the crap that is offered to solve your problems. The hard part is discerning the crap from the not-crap. There are tools that have value, but they also require certain characteristics of the user to be in place. In my less than humble, learning anything well requires a significant amount of self-honesty. One can’t accurately assess one’s own progress without being honest with the self about the observation and the assessment.

When I was in the Army I went through the Marksmanship Training Unit at Ft. Campbell, Ky to become qualified as a sniper. The instructors were very senior NCOs with a mission to teach soldiers who were already expert marksmen, to become much better. Much better. At distances out to 900 meters with a .308 rifle. One of these instructors, a retired command sergeant-major, had a simple philosophy – if you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t shoot.

Each time you shot, he sat behind you with a big-ass spotting scope so he could watch the round go down range and hit the target (or not – although misses were very rare at this level).  When you fired, he said “Call it!” and the shooter was responsible for calling which direction (on the clock) that the front sight of the rifle jumped. If the shooter called the movement of the front sight in a direction that was not indicated by the path of the round, they heard this:

“Is someone lying to themselves? Your goddamn right someone is lying to themselves!”

His voice was strong and carried outside the shack to those who were waiting their turn.

Soldiers who could accept this principle, who could accept their lack of self-honesty and build it, improved their shooting and graduated. The others did neither. For them, it was much like the lesson in the “Phantom Tollbooth” – “some people can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and come out dry.”

This review, and others similar, of a swing speed sensor device on Amazon:

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
August 24, 2015
Absolute piece of junk. Tested the device numerous times using Driver, 6 iron in my garage setup with the Net Return. Multiple adjustments to register proper readings, and no matter the club or speed of my swing, the SS radar registered no more than 79mph. Do not waste your money on this !!! Returning it.

While it is possible the device was defective, it could also have been completely accurate (especially given the overall rating of the product) and this reviewer simply could not accept his slow swing speed. Which may not have been his only slowness.

There is often a reason for someone being lost and desperate…