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How to Fix College Coaching?

Rutgers University fired Mike Rice – the head basketball coach – last Wednesday. This firing came about after ESPN released a video that showed Rice abusing his players. Such a video had already been seen by Rice’s boss at Rutgers in November, but until the video was shown to the public, Rutgers did not feel compelled to fire Rice.

Former NBA player Paul Shirley (author of Can I Keep My Jersey?) observed the following about the Rutgers case in a recent interview at HuffPost Live (around 13:30):

The thing that people don’t want to hear, but which is true, is that this is probably closer to the norm than not. 

Shirley goes on to note that he doesn’t think many coaches are actually hitting players. But he does note that coaches do tend to have a certain approach in conveying information to players (an approach Shirley describes in the interview).

Is this general approach to coaching effective?  To date, I am not aware of any study of the effectiveness of college coaching.  A study I co-authored with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello and published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) looked at 62 NBA coaches across thirty years of data. Across this sample, only 14 coaches were found to have a statistically significant and positive impact on player performance. So most NBA coaches do not appear to make their players more productive. Read More »





College as Country Club?

We’ve made periodic attempts to explain the massive spike in college tuition in recent decades. There are many viable explanations: rising labor costs (more non-faculty staff and professors who cannot be cloned), shrinking federal and state funding, increased demand, etc.

On that last point — the demand side — we should especially consider “consumption amenities,” as Brian Jacob, Brian McCall, and Kevin M. Stange label them in a new working paper called “College as Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students’ Preferences for Consumption?” (abstract; pdf). I find the passage that I’ve bolded, below, to be especially fascinating:

This paper investigates whether demand-side market pressure explains colleges’ decisions to provide consumption amenities to their students. We estimate a discrete choice model of college demand using micro data from the high school classes of 1992 and 2004, matched to extensive information on all four-year colleges in the U.S. We find that most students do appear to value college consumption amenities, including spending on student activities, sports, and dormitories. While this taste for amenities is broad-based, the taste for academic quality is confined to high-achieving students. The heterogeneity in student preferences implies that colleges face very different incentives depending on their current student body and the students who the institution hopes to attract. We estimate that the elasticities implied by our demand model can account for 16 percent of the total variation across colleges in the ratio of amenity to academic spending, and including them on top of key observable characteristics (sector, state, size, selectivity) increases the explained variation by twenty percent.

It would be great news if this meant that high-achieving students craving high academic quality will be rewarded with cheaper tuition in the future, but somehow I don’t see that happening. Do you?





How to Get More Out of College

We’ve blogged and podcasted about the value (or lack thereof?) of a college education.  A new paper (summarized here) by sociologist Laura Hamilton suggests one way parents can help their kids get more out of college: help them a little less — with tuition, at least.  Here’s the abstract:

Evidence shows that parental financial investments increase college attendance, but we know little about how these investments shape postsecondary achievement. Two theoretical frameworks suggest diametric conclusions. Some studies operate from amore-is-more perspective in which children use calculated parental allocations to make academic progress. In contrast, a more-is-less perspective, rooted in a different model of rational behavior, suggests that parental investments create a disincentive for student achievement. I adjudicate between these frameworks, using data from nationally representative postsecondary datasets to determine what effect financial parental investments have on student GPA and degree completion. The findings suggest seemingly contradictory processes. Parental aid decreases student GPA, but it increases the odds of graduating—net of explanatory variables and accounting for alternative funding. Rather than strategically using resources in accordance with parental goals, or maximizing on their ability to avoid academic work, students are satisficing: they meet the criteria for adequacy on multiple fronts, rather than optimizing their chances for a particular outcome. As a result, students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school but dial down their academic efforts. I conclude by highlighting the importance of life stage and institutional context for parental investment.

Read More »





How to Get the Best out of College? Your Questions Answered

We recently solicited your questions for Peter D. Feaver, Sue Wasiolek, and Anne Crossman, the authors of Getting the Best Out of College. Your questions ran the gamut and so do their replies. Thanks to all for participating. And feel free to check out our podcast on the value of a college education, “Freakonomics Goes to College” (Part 1 herePart 2 here, and together as an hour-long special). 

Q. Michael Pollan summed up his philosophy of nutrition in seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Do you have similarly pithy advice for students trying to maximize their college experience? Don’t feel limited to seven words – I’m just looking for something aphoristic. -Glen Davis

A. Your choices in college matter more than your choices of college, so choose wisely.  Read More »





How to Get the Best out of College? Bring Your Questions

We recently put out a two-part podcast called “Freakonomics Goes to College” (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and together as an hour-long special). The main question we tried to answer was if, and on what dimensions, a college education is “worth it” — i.e., whether the returns to education are as robust as we’ve been led to think. (Short answer: yes.) Along the way, we talked to economists including David CardBetsey Stevenson, and Justin Wolfers, and  poked into the market for counterfeit degrees.

But let’s say you’re interested in the question from a practical, rather than a theoretical, perspective. That is, let’s say you’re an actual college student, or related to one, already deep in the throes of higher education, and that your primary question is: Okay, now what? Now that I’m here, what do I do to get the very most out of this expensive, time-consuming endeavor?

Glad you asked. Peter D. Feaver, Sue Wasiolek, and Anne Crossman are the authors of Getting the Best Out of College: Insider Advice for Success From a Professor, a Dean, and a Recent Grad, and they have agreed to field questions from Freakonomics readers. Read More »





What Happens When College Cafeterias Go Trayless?

The answer is:

People buy less food and subsequently eat less and throw away less. For the customer, it’s good for the budget and the waistline; for the cafeteria (and the environment), it substantially cuts down on waste. Sounds like a win-win situation, unless you are the party who profits most from selling a high volume of food. Here, from an article in Restaurants and Institutions, are some details: Read More »





Our 100th Episode! A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

We began our podcast in Feb., 2010, in part out of a love for radio and in part out of boredom. SuperFreakonomics had just been published and neither Levitt nor I were sure if we wanted to write more books together. (We have since decided we do, but that’s another post for another day.) If you had offered a wager back then that we’d still be doing the podcast nearly three years later, I’d have gladly bet against you. 

So much for predicting the future, even one’s own future.

Which brings us to the latest Freakonomics Radio installment:  “Our 100th Episode!” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode includes some of our favorite, and least favorite, moments from the previous 99 episodes, including “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?,” “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” “Freakonomics Goes to College” (Part 1 and Part 2) and “Save Me From Myself.”  Here is our podcast archive and here is a list of NPR stations that play our hour-long specials. Read More »





How to Get a Doctorate in Six Weeks

I assume this is only a coincidence but still, it’s a good one.

Shortly after putting out the first half of our “Freakonomics Goes to College” podcast, which included a segment on the market for fake diplomas from counterfeiters and diploma mills, I got the following piece of spam. It appears to be from a Norwegian e-mail domain: Read More »