National News

New report shows few finish free online courses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 08:15

College courses with a 95 percent dropout rate would trigger alarm bells at most universities, but researchers at Harvard University and MIT says that’s potentially fine, at least in the case of some massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

In a new report from Harvard and MIT faculty involved with the online learning programs there, researchers find that only about 5 percent of the more than 800,000 people signed up for the free courses through the online platform edX actually finished enough coursework to obtain a completion certificate. Of those who didn’t finish, some lost interest shortly after signing. Others just sampled bits and pieces of classes and activities. But the faculty members say that’s not necessarily discouraging.

“The instructors welcome these kinds of curious browsers,” says Andrew Ho, a Harvard education professor who co-authored the paper on online learning.

The findings won’t please online learning’s skeptics, though, as a core criticism of distance learning is that it doesn’t adequately engage students.

There’s also the question of how to monetize online courses.

“It brings a completely new approach to teaching,” says MIT professor Isaac Chuang, another co-author of the paper. “It’s a different economy.”

That creates challenges both for non-profits like edX, but also for-profit universities. Big public companies and private equity firms back many of the for-profit colleges. They see online courses as a way to bring in more students and more money.

Online learning is growing. As more people get comfortable with the technology, we’ll see more digital courses, from universities in the non-profit and for-profit world.

Mark Garrison: The research shows more than 800-thousand people signed up for these free courses through the online platform edX. But only about 5 percent actually finished the classes. The Harvard and MIT faculty involved say that may not be a problem online. Harvard education professor Andrew Ho says their findings show many just sampled the classes.

Andrew Ho: The instructors welcome these kinds of curious browsers.

That won’t please online learning skeptics, who worry online classes don’t engage students enough. There’s also the question of how to pay for the cost of offering these classes. MIT researcher Isaac Chuang.

Isaac Chuang: It brings a completely new approach to teaching. It’s a different economy.

And that creates challenges both for non-profits like edX, as well as for-profit universities. Big public companies and private equity firms back many for-profit colleges. And they seeonline courses as a way to bring in more students and more money. As more people get comfortable with the technology, we’ll see more digital courses, from universities in the non-profit and for-profit world. I’m Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

The Netflix 'State of the Union'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 07:43

Video streaming company Netflix announces earnings today. The expectations are high among investors. But the company has challenges, like growing the brand abroad. Molly Wood, the new deputy technology editor for The New York Times, and Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson assess the Netflix "State of the Union."

When your bad credit keeps you from getting a job

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 06:59

In the science fiction movie "Gattaca," society turns on everyone's genetics test. But here in the real world in 2014, it seems the fulcrum of all things may be your credit score. You expect the bank to look before lending you money, but what about credit checks when you go up for a new job? 

A recent study shows one in 10 job applicants have been rejected because something turned up in their credit history. And last month Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would, among other things, bar the use of credit reports in hiring. 

“What they are they trying to do is filter, so they are using a credit score to determine if you’re someone who is a risky hire,”Carmen Wong Ulrich, a personal finance expert and host of Marketplace Money, says of the hiring practice. “But it doesn’t necessarily go together that if you have a bad credit score, that you are going to be a bad employee.”

But today, people’s credit reports are a mess for a few reasons, Carmen says.

“Long-term unemployment, foreclosures on a home, or medical debt -- which is the number one reason people declare bankruptcy -- are not going to make you a bad employee,” she says.

To hear more about how people’s credit scores can keep them unemployed, click on the audio above.


Who says liberal arts majors can't make a good living?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 06:48

A new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities says liberal arts majors eventually close the earnings gap with workers who chose a “professional” major like accounting. Who knew? Given all the focus and support for STEM education, do the liberal arts need a campaign to fill prospective students and parents in on the facts? 

"You are destined to a life of waiting tables." That’s the kind of stereotype the Council of Independent Colleges is trying to fight about the liberal arts -- with its Twitter username Libby and Art. (Get it?) 

Georgia Nugent, president emeritus of Kenyon College and senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, says the Twitter account was created as a part of a public information campaign.

“We really felt that we needed to speak out. Because so much, what I call 'dis-information' is being circulated to the public,” she said. "Like philosophy and poetry majors you will never earn as much as someone who studies accounting, or nursing." 

Michael Zimmerman, provost at Evergreen State College and chair of the Washington Consortium for Liberal Arts, says the relationship between the liberal arts and STEM is often misunderstood. 

“STEM disciplines are in fact a part of the liberal arts -- they are not apart from the liberal arts. The liberal arts are not liberal, and liberal meaning broad and covering the breadth of human knowledge, if we exclude STEM from them,” he says. 

Debra Humphries, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and a co-author of the study, notes that at their peak earnings ages, liberal arts majors bring home larger paychecks than professional majors.

So you can major in engineering, but if you also have the breadth and of knowledge and skill that a liberal arts degree provides you, going to be an even more valuable engineer.”

Is our culture too obsessed with the tastes of the mega rich?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 05:27

"The jewelry in this show would make Liberace think it's a little tacky," says art critic Blake Gopnik. "We're talking butterflies covered in gems, roses covered in gems -- anything you can think of covered in gems."

The show Gopnik is describing so disdainfully is Jewels by JAR, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York's exhibition of 400 pieces by the Paris based jeweler Joel A. Rosenthal. But Gopnik's issue with the JAR show is much bigger than the fact the jewels aren't to his personal taste.

"What really gets me about this, I guess, is I think it reflects a profound change in our culture," Gopnik says. "And that is the dominance of an entire society, economy, and culture by the 0.1 percent."

Gopnik, who describes himself as "one of the few critics in this country -- maybe the world -- who cares deeply about contemporary jewelry," insists JAR has never been taken seriously by the art establishment. So why is one of the most renowned art museums in the world suddenly giving him his due? Gopnik says it comes down to the fact that wealthy people buy JAR's jewelry, and at this moment in American society, the wealthy are casting their tastes across the rest of culture.

"What worries me is we have sort of all bought into the notion that money itself is what matters in the culture," Gopnik says. "And for the Met to have bought into that too worries me a whole lot."

Of course, the exhibition halls of museums around the world are filled with works that were initially commissions by wealthy patrons. But Gopnik says the difference now is that the rich are trying to make the walls of the museum reflect their 0.1 percent taste.

"It used to be that lucre was a little bit filthy, so the reason rich people got involved with museums was kind of money laundering. They could clean up their reputation by caring about things that were above money, things like great art. And in this case, what we have happening is that rich people are taking the things they already care about and installing them in museums. There's no laundering going on here because lucre ain't filthy anymore."

A bright new day at the World Economic Forum

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 05:15

The World Economic Forum, the winter gathering of the powerful, kicks off today in the Alpine town of Davos, Switzerland. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will give the keynote address later today. Japan has been in the midst of what appears to be a dramatic economic turnaround since Abe took office. And Japan isn't the only economy on the mend, says BBC business reporter Anthony Reuben from Davos.

"It's a very sunny morning here in Davos, and a lot of people are seeing that as a reflection of the way the economy is going," Reuben says. "It was a much gloomier economic forum this time last year. A lot of people are coming in and saying, 'Actually, we're seeing a bit of a recovery now.'"

To find out more about this year's World Economic Forum, click the audio player above to listen to the interview.


Buying A Detroit House For $500, And Then Explaining Why

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 17:23

Drew Philip made waves this month by explaining to the Internet why he bought a house in struggling Detroit for $500. In his much-discussed story for Buzzfeed, Philip said that he is part of "another Detroit," one where people are working to help each other and save their city.

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Big Bike-Sharing Supplier's Bankruptcy Doesn't Doom U.S. Programs

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 15:50

The Public Bike System Company is the main supplier for bike-sharing systems around the country, from San Francisco to New York City, and it declared bankruptcy Monday. But experts say this isn't a big bump in the road — and in fact, bike-sharing is here to stay.

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Big Bike-Sharing Supplier's Bankruptcy Doesn't Doom U.S. Programs

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 15:50

The Public Bike System Company is the main supplier for bike-sharing systems around the country, from San Francisco to New York City, and it declared bankruptcy Monday. But experts say this isn't a big bump in the road — and in fact, bike-sharing is here to stay.

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The elements: Carbon's all around

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 15:33

In the latest of their ongoing talks about the elements, Kai and the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt discuss carbon – what it is, what it bonds with, and how it’s commoditized.  Justin mulls on the limited success of carbon dioxide emission pricing in Europe.

He and Kai also discuss carbon dioxide, which some say is to blame for global warming. They say its ability to absorb infrared radiation adversely affects the earth’s ozone layer, even though it's present in relatively small quantities. 

Justin ponders the effect of the discovery of carbon’s energy-storing properties on global growth which, since the Industrial Revolution have been dramatic. 

Critics Seize On Blurry Details In Wendy Davis Story

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 14:48

Inconsistencies in the Texas Democrat's teenage mother-to-Harvard Law School graduate narrative have put Davis and her high-profile campaign for governor on the defensive.

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Aerial Skiing Is A Game Of Skill — And Strategy

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 14:35

The Olympic sport is like gymnastics in the air, but in the final few rounds, aerialists can't use the same trick twice. Come go time, they have to figure out which trick to do, based on what their competitors have just done.

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Finding Common Interests, Obama And The Pope Set A Date

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 14:27

The meeting in March will be the two men's first face-to-face encounter. The president and the pontiff have a shared interest in fighting income inequality, but the Roman Catholic Church still has serious differences with the president on issues such as abortion.

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One Killed, Suspect In Custody In Purdue University Shooting

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 14:10

The shooting suspect and his alleged victim were reportedly teaching assistants in electrical and computer engineering, under the same professor. The shooting sparked a partial evacuation order Tuesday afternoon.

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Why I'm saying goodbye to the NFL

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:58

I fell in love on a Monday night.

Now, many might say that a teenage girl can't know about such things. But that night, as I watched the Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett roll downfield 99 yards for a touchdown, I fell head-over-heels in love with the NFL.

It was January 3, 1983. Dallas vs. Minnesota. Tony Dorsett was so free, so graceful, and so powerful to me. And watching him break free of his competitors, those who wanted to bring him down and stop him from reaching his goal, I was in awe. And I knew then that his run capsulized all that I wanted to accomplish in my life.

That football game is one of my most cherished childhood memories. I have been a passionate NFL fan since that moment -- though I switch my loyalties to the Philadelphia Eagles, my hometown team. I ended up spending much of my career in sports journalism, a dream job if ever there was one.

But after 30 years, my love and respect for the game is fading. And I'm seriously considering giving up football completely.

I've come to this pass because of the NFL's concussion crisis.

The NFL has consistently has denied any connection. But many of the men who play the game feel differently.

When I watch the games today, the awe is gone. And I thank God that my son never wanted to play football, that it was basketball that stole his heart.

Today, instead of telling kids how football inspired me to go after what I want in life, I advise them and their parents to avoid the game at all costs. It's not safe at any level.

I've worked with former NFLers who suffer blackouts in midsentence, after being diagnosed with numerous concussions over their careers. And many of us knew Junior Seau and other football players who have taken their own lives. And too many of us in the sports industry stood by and watched yesterday's heroes implode, or fall into depression in retirement.

If my beloved NFL continues to lie and deny while men and boys are suffering and dying, well, then it's time for this fan to say good-bye.

Ex-Virginia Gov. McDonnell, Wife Charged With Corruption

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:18

At issue are gifts Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, received from a political donor. The 14-count indictment includes conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges.

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Obama's Marijuana Remarks Light Up Legalization Debate

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:14

Even those who support decriminalizing marijuana were careful not to claim that Obama's remarks had altered the overall political dynamics of the debate.

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High Court Considers Legality Of 'Fair Share' Union Fees

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

The justices heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could decimate public employee unions. At issue is whether nonunion workers can be forced to pay fees that help cover the cost of negotiating a union contract from which they benefit.

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Storm And Stress Visit The East Coast

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

An arctic air mass is blanketing the eastern half of the nation today, bringing with it high winds and heavy snow accumulations in some areas. Thousands of flights have been cancelled, schools are closed and federal government offices are closed. Those who don't have to drive or be somewhere also have an opinion on the weather.

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Documents Reveal Decades Of Child Abuse Among Some Chicago Priests

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:00

Papers documenting allegation of sexual abuse by priests in the Chicago Archdiocese were released to the public today by victims' attorneys. The documents cover only 30 of at least 65 priests for whom the Chicago church says it has substantiated claims of child abuse. The papers, put online, were made available through settlements between Church and victims' lawyers. Church officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988, none after 1996, and that all were ultimately reported to authorities.

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