Baumol, Walker, and Xerxes

In the introduction to Athanasius: On the Incarnation De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, C.S. Lewis discusses the predilection that some people have to spend a considerable amount of time reading about an idea instead of simply reading the idea itself. An optimist, Lewis attributes this to humility on the part of readers who are hesitant to believe that they can directly confront and understand big ideas. It’s better and even necessary for us to have those ideas filtered and explained for us by learned experts.

This is part of the reason why I avoided directly confronting William J. Baumol’s “cost disease” idea, at least in his own words and writings. The idea is mentioned often enough in discussions about the cost of higher education that I thought I was familiar with it in very broad terms. As I understood it, the idea goes something like this:

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New Research from EDUCAUSE & Statistics Canada

2011 ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology infographic

Results from three research studies were released late last week. Two of them come from EDUCAUSE; I’m going to their annual conference this week and I’m really looking forward to attending presentations related to these studies.

  • EDUCAUSE – or more accurately their research arm ECAR – released results from the 2011 ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. As always, the researchers at ECAR have done a great job summarizing the results and making actionable recommendations for colleges and universities. The survey is undergoing changes and two different versions were administered this year. Although the methodological details in the report are not as detailed as I would like, it seems that moving to a third party administration has addressed some of my consistent concerns about non-response bias in this survey and generalizability of its results. EDUCAUSE also commissioned an infographic to summarize some of the results.
  • EDUCAUSE also released some data from the Core Data Service (CDS), their annual survey of member institutions. They have not yet released the summary report but they have released other reports including new “almanacs” that summarize data for large aggregations of Carnegie Classifications. The CDS has also been redesigned and several of these reports are also new. However, I am puzzled that they continue to use the outdated 2000 Carnegie Classifications. Not only the actual categories outdated and no longer used, the data on which they are based are well over a decade old.
  • Statistics Canada, a government agency roughly analogous to the U.S. Census Bureau, released results from the 2010 Canadian Internet Use Survey. Comparative data are often useful and interesting to me, especially data from Canada and other countries culturally and economically similar to the United States. Unfortunately, only a few summary tables are available; you have to pay for other data. Hopefully Canadians can access these data for free and I am only being quoted a price because I am connecting to the Statistics Canada website from a U.S. IP address.