Jun 17

Another Side to Student Loans

Student loans are a big problem, and suddenly the media has noticed it.

But let’s look at them from another angle.

Multi-ethnic students (not my description mind you) discussing how to pay off their student loans

Multi-ethnic students (not my description mind you) discussing how to pay off their student loans

Who is profiting from these loans?  The government, yes, they are making money on them.  Businesses, yes, they are also.   Most people know this. (Though it is not as simple as you think.)

However, think a little deeper.  Why are the colleges so expensive?

Competition–College Alpha has to be better than College Beta, or it cannot attract good students.  It needs a new gym.  It needs an ivy covered dorm.  It needs the most famous professors.

And, College Alpha may still lose, unless it has better students.

So . . . it needs scholarships.  Which will pump up the price even more, so in effect, mediocre students or average students are financing college for those who are smarter than they.  Yes, it is true.

Competition is driving the prices higher–among colleges and among students, and of course, average students suffer while the more studious students gain.

Is this right? I am not sure.  There is some value in having the more studious students be rewarded for their hard work, but education is often unfair and unequal, so handing out scholarships is a poor way to determine “smarts”.

Is it right for the government and businesses to make money from college students?  To put them in debt to pay for their education?  No.  Of course not.  This system needs serious changes.

However, we also have to look at another angle.  What makes college students so special?  What about the family that bought a house only to see Dad get laid off by a company trying to increase profits by .001%?

What about the people working at minimum wage jobs that are scraping to get by?  Are the college students worse off?  Is it any more unfair?

I don’t think so.  Loan and debt problems go far beyond student debt.  Student debt is, in itself, a result of hyper competition among colleges.  That, along with business, government, and colleges deciding to take advantage of the average students.

Apr 18

Double the number of US college students studying abroad? Generation Study Abroad

free_8466352Generation Study Abroad

That’s the new campaign from the IIE, the Institute of International Education.  The aim is to double the number of US college students going overseas. In ten years.

Why?  The number of US students who went overseas in 2011-12 was 295,000. It’s pitiful. By comparison, China has 235,000 in the US, and that is only China and only in the US. In percentages, less than 10% of American college students study overseas. This pales in comparison to students from China and Korea where studying overseas is almost a given.

If the US wants to remain a world leader, it must send more students overseas. The advantages are obvious.

However, just saying so is easy. Doing so is not. The IIE estimates that a 12% growth rate, year on year, for ten years is required to achieve their aim. That is difficult.

A few colleges have joined the Generation Study Abroad campaign. They are called “Commitment Partners“, but not not so many colleges are involved yet.

For example, I live in the Albany, NY, area, and from this area, only two colleges–the esteemed SUNY Albany and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute–have committed to Generation Study Abroad. No doubt this is the same across the country, so one wonders how many colleges will actually join this initiative.

It is a disappointing start to a great project, but with time, I am sure the momentum will pick up.

I wish them luck.









Mar 02

Japanese Students in US Colleges Will Triple in the next Ten Years

I teach in Japan.

Looking at the trends here, what is certain to happen, I have no doubt that the number of Japanese studying in international colleges will increase, by 300%, over the next ten years.

The growth will come mainly in universities in English-speaking countries, in particular the United States.


Japan’s current educational system sorely lacks a global perspective.

The Abe administration has recognized this, and several strategies are under discussion to improve Japan’s global education. These have ranged from making college entrance exams TOEFL-like to teaching English at an earlier age. All are long range, very much so, and will not begin for at least five years with effects even further down the road.

However, the wind has changed, so to speak–a national shift in perception is taking place.

Going overseas for university has become a good thing. This will increase in speed and 

scope over the next decade.

Japan has no choice.

To get a job, English is necessary. “English is now the global language of business,” according to Harvard Business Review, and as one famous Japanese executive put it, “Non-English speakers cannot do business in 10 years.

Yet, with only a handful of exceptions, universities in Japan cannot teach students to actually speak English (and the universities that are exceptions require students to spend a year studying overseas as part of their curriculum, so they are not exceptions in truth). Conversation and English schools are expensive and mostly unsuccessful.  Japan cannot provide a decent education in English.


From this factors, I can make an obvious prediction.

The number of Japanese students going overseas for a college education, now woefully small, will increase. It must. Economically, Japanese companies have to compete in a global market, and with the economy slowly improving, will need workers who can do so. Most companies even now, face problems getting workers who can work globally.

Culturally, the age-old Japanese idea that going to a “highly ranked college” will lead to life-long success is dying, with the once respected institutions that sit atop Japan’s university rankings, such as Tokyo University, Waseda, and so on, not ranking poorly in the world rankings. Ambitious young people who wish to succeed will study overseas.

Some argue Japan’s universities might step up to fill this gap.

Is it possible for Japanese universities to offer more international programs to keep Japanese students here? Perhaps recruit more foreign students to create an international environment?

I think not.

Japanese is an extremely difficult language, and to reach the level required for college instruction takes years. English-language programs are scarce in Japanese colleges, and Japanese universities are often reluctant to treat foreign professors well (a well-known phenomena among foreigners in Japan called “academic apartheid” where foreign professors are released after two years at the same university). The likelihood for such a Japan-based solution is very low.

To summarize, Japan’s need for global thinkers, workers with competent English, and a lack of a way to educate these necessary workers means that the number of Japanese studying in English-speaking countries will swell in the next ten years.

I predict that the numbers will triple, and probably exceed this. Why? South Korea sends around 70,000 students to the U.S. yearly, according to the recent Open Doors Report. In contrast, Japan sends a mere 20,000.

Korea’s population is about 50 million, less than half of Japan’s 120 million.

Korea’s economy is very competitive now. Japan’s, while considerably larger (third or fourth in the world still), is rising again, driving the need for Japanese students to study overseas.

Why compare Japan to Korea? I do not claim to be an economist, but Korea’s economic growth has come through globalization, by way of its internationalized labor pool (which is why we see so many Koreans studying in the US for its small population). Japan’s growth can come in the same way, and it has a larger population and bigger economic potential. Therefore, the number of Japanese international students will, at the very least, surpass that of Korea.

As I said, the main growth will come in the United States. Why? Simply because Japanese are the most comfortable with the US. The ties between the countries are the closest, they do lots of business with the US, and most Japanese consider American English as “standard” English.

That is my prediction—that the number of Japanese studying in the United States will triple to 60,000 (at least) over the next ten years.

My reasons for this are clear. Japan’s economy requires workers with skills that Japan simply cannot provide, so Japanese college students must go elsewhere to learn, and most of them will go to the United States.

If you disagree, or would like to add your opinion, contact me or leave a comment here. 


Feb 25

The Dangers of Teachers Having BIG Egos

You have seen the teachers with the giant egos. You  know who they are.

You might even be one.

If you are a student, you’ve had one or two. We all have.

An ego can be a good thing–you are proud of your work.  Your confidence in what you are teaching, your passion, will incite interest in your class and fill them with confidence in themselves.

This is more pride than ego, really.ego-fear from lightforcenetwork.com

That’s the good side.

And the bad side? It’s very bad.

An ego can take hold of a teacher easily. You are up in front of a class of students, a captive audience, you have power over them. They must listen to what you say. You control the message and the evaluation of that message (grades). It is bad, yes.

They are the ones that talk all class, the boring teachers.

But the danger is not only there. The largest danger of a huge ego for a teacher is that it prevents them from learning.

A good teacher must be a good learner, a person who seeks new challenges, seeks to improve his art of teaching, looks for more interesting ways to engage students, and above all, knows what his students need him to teach (not what he or she wants to teach or what is easy to teach, but what the students need).

Do not be a teacher whose ego interferes with their learning. You can learn from your students, your peers (even those you may think “beneath” you).

Egos also prevent teachers from working together. I see it often. A good team of teachers can accomplish much more than a handful alone, even if they work 20 hours a day.

And a team of teachers, learning from each other, and their colleagues, whose aim is to help their students succeed? They can build something that will last for decades.



Feb 14

Why learn writing?

Why teach writing? Why make kids learn it?

Writing is humankind’s most difficult form of communication. Simply by interpreting lines on a page, we learn

Why learn writing?

Why learn writing?

facts, imagine experiences, and transmit messages. We can learn the thoughts of people thousands of years gone, from other cultures, and express thoughts that millions of people can read.

But writing is hard.

And writing well is very hard.

First, content. Students need to have something to say. Many do not, or cannot put it into words, so they may need help researching and sorting their thoughts.

Second, organization. This is probably the hardest. From the phrase level, we must organize our thoughts so others can comprehend them.  We have connect and relate them.

Third, style. The way you write something is almost as important as how you organize it, sometimes more so.

So it is hard, but why?

These days, kids need to write well to communicate their thoughts in college, in the workplace, and with their peers. This is a given.

But teaching writing is also teaching logic.  We cannot have a discussion of any length without organizing our thoughts.  Look at a newspaper message board on the internet. Most of the best comments on stories are organized and brief. (Brevity requires excellent organization and good style.)  Putting thoughts into building blocks (paragraphs) and stacking them up to a peak (essay thesis) requires superb analytical thinking.

It is important to learn. With the illogical arguments spouting from media, the ability to make a logical argument is essential our kids. If they can write logically, they can recognize logic (or the lack of it) in others, which is also a vital skill.

Internationally, with English being the worldwide standard, the ability to write well, and logically, in English is essential. A well-written web page or message is the difference between making a sale or losing one. It is the difference between a smooth negotiation or a discussion riddled with misunderstanding and anger.

So how do we teach writing?

I have seen many teachers using many different ways to “teach” writing, but writing, like most useful skills, is one that can only be learned by doing. Students should write, get feedback, rewrite, get more feedback, and rewrite.

Feedback is absolutely vital.  It should be immediate, constructive, positive, and comprehensive. It should happen as soon as possible after the writing is finished, so the student does not forget their thoughts at the time. It should be positive and motivate the student to improve (though some criticism is of course necessary in a positive way). It has to talk about the content (logically), the organization, and the style (for students learning English, the grammar and usage).

Finally, the most important and enjoyable aspect of writing is that students express themselves and learn to think independently. By writing their opinion on the death penalty, for example, students have to research, consider, and learn.

In this way, they learn to think independently and logically, which is one of the most important skills that we teachers can show them.

Jan 05

Have High Expectations!

I was talking to a teacher from America last week, and was disappointed and shocked by what I heard about her

Your students will not climb the mountain if you praise them for sleeping at the bottom.

Challenge your students to succeed. 

school’s expectations for students.  Unfortunately, low expectations or no expectations are common.

Teachers do not give bad grades, such as Fs or anything below 60.  Mediocre effort is awarded a good score and even the worst submissions are a “good effort”.  Difficult subjects, like math, are considered hard and students are not expected to do well because, you know, it’s hard for them so we should not expect too much.

There are so many things wrong with this style of guiding students that I could write a book about it, but I will only say that, by doing this, teachers are telling students not to try, learning is too hard so don’t bother, and that any effort is good.  For students learning under this system (if you can call it that), they will have problems coping with the harsh demands of the real world later on, thanks to bad teaching.

The worst thing about low expectations is that it does not respect the students.  It assumes the students are so daft that they do not understand what the teachers are doing.

No way.  Students know how much effort they put into the assignment.  They know the quality of work they did. They also know that they could have done better.

As I often tell my students, they are not competing with each other.  They are competing with themselves.  They should work hard–not to do better than Jane or Jim, but to do better than themselves.  They should do better today than they did yesterday.  Improving yourself is the only important measure here.

Students will have high expectations if you, the teacher, also do.  We cannot reward poor efforts with praise, but instead we should be honest.  “You can do better than this,” is a good phrase for a student whose work is below potential.  For the slow student, “You’re improving, so keep at it,” or something like that is ideal.

But, telling a student that they did a “good effort” for poor work is not only lazy for the teacher, but it is a lie, and will lose you respect from the students, and your respect for yourself.


Dec 12

Coursera and Four Reasons to Love it

Four reasons to love Coursera

Do you love learning new things?

Elearning is Fun!

It think that most teachers love to learn.

If so, you should try Coursera.

1.  Coursera is great because you can take college courses that interest you in many subjects. They have cooking courses, psychology courses, literature courses, computer language courses, and many more. Most are aimed at those with little to no background in the subject.

2.  The courses are offered by professors from colleges around the world.  Some of the BEST schools!

3.  The Coursera courses range from well-planned courses that take advantage of the internet medium to videotaped lectures, with the majority being of the former type.

I have taken several ranging from social media to cooking. My two favorites so far are Child Nutrition and Cooking taught by Dr. Maya Adam of Stanford University and Social Psychology taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan.

Both courses used the internet medium well. Lectures were short and focused on one or a few points, with lots of references to outside sources. Optional readings were also offered, which were usually fascinating. The courses were well-organized and easy to follow, yet challenging.

4.  Assignments were usually short, and most were graded and assessed by at least three of your co-students, a system that worked much better than I had expected. Each course also had an active community of students that had vigorous discussions on the course discussion boards.

All in all, both were very enjoyable and better than some real courses I’ve taken in college.

Both of my favorite courses were so popular that they are going to be offered again. Child Nutrition and Cooking will be offered again on January 14, 2014, and Social Psychology starts on July 14, 2014.

They are a lot of fun, so check them out.

For details, see the Coursera web page.

Nov 13

Passion is everything.

Passion, enthusiasm, motivation, is everything. Passion is essential in any job, any part of life, and it is vital in education.

Think. We’ve all had boring teachers, and I hope we’ve had some that are exciting.

What is the difference? Passion of course, but where do we get it?

You need to get excited about your work, and excitement comes from enjoyment, and fun.

Make it fun.

Whether we’re talking about teaching, driving a taxi, or flipping burgers, your attitude towards it is your choice.  You can choose to be negative–these kids aren’t learning and they’ll never pass the test ….. or be positive and inspire them to do so!

The secret?  Enjoy yourself.  Find fun parts of your job. Are they telling stories to the students to show them how history repeats itself? Are they entertaining the passengers in your cab with silly stories? Are they dancing as you flip those beef patties?

Find the fun!

Remember that your attitude is your choice.fire

As Victor Frankl once said, “The last of our human freedoms is to choose our attitude in any circumstances.”

And even better:

The average person wants to wait for someone else to motivate him. He perceives that his circumstances are responsible for the way he thinks. But what comes first–the attitude of the circumstances? That’s really the chicken-or-the-egg kind of question. The truth is it doesn’t matter which came first.  No matter what happened to you yesterday, your attitude is your choice today.  

John C. Maxwell, Qualities of a Leader


Find your passion. Motivate yourself.



Nov 11

International Students in the US at a Record High, US Students Overseas Increase

More students from overseas are coming to the US to study, according to a new study that was released today by the Institute of International Education. The report also says that more US students are going overseas to study.

The International student data is from 2012/13 while the US student data is 2011/12.

The top two countries that send students to the US are not surprising: China and India. In third place is South Korea which sends 70,000 students, surprising for its size and population, but knowing Korean people’s admirable respect for education, perhaps not a surprise. Unexpected was the fourth place country, Saudi Arabia, up 30% from the year before.World

The number of US students going overseas has also increased. 2011/12 saw 283,000 students study abroad, which is an increase of 3% over the previous year. As I would expect, the top destinations were in Europe: the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and “rising power”, China. My personal favorite countries to study in–Australia, India, and Japan were ranked seventh, twelfth, and tenth respectively.

What does this mean?

Well, newspapers will slice and dice the data, but I notice one clear trend: US students are choosing safe destinations–those with little emotional or mental challenges–Europe mostly, with some of the more adventurous journeying to China.

On the other hand, countries that are developing at a rapid pace, supposed economic leaders of the future, such as China and India, send many students to the US.

Look at China. It sends 235,000 students to the US (83% of what the US sends overseas in TOTAL). The US sends only 15,000 students to China. Even if we take into account the population–China’s is about 4 times that of the US–15,000 times 4 is only 60,000, about 25% of what is sent to the US.

Yes, certainly, other factors exist–the language is a problem for US students, the culture, and the development level is quite different, but nevertheless, it is clear that US students might want to challenge themselves more.

Nov 04

The Good Points of World University Rankings

University rankings have good points.

Some believe that colleges spend too much time and money on the ranking game.

However, this often has a good effect.

From the Chronicle

From the Chronicle


Competition to improve rankings drives universities to better themselves. They must improve education.  They have to make their student to faculty ratio better.  They have to increase research, and get more foreign professors and students.


While this drive not always work to the benefit of students, it usually does.  For example, a higher-ranked university generally draws in more talented students, which creates a rich intellectual environment.

In the same way, as universities all over the world work to improve, we see the internationalization of education.  Students from America are taking classes with students from Africa, Asia, Europe.  American universities are advancing overseas, and competition at home an abroad is benefiting them and their students.



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