Saturday, April 2, 2011

Koreanization hits American universities?

I've lived in Seoul off and on since I was a teenager, and back then, it would have been hard to imagine Korea setting a trend or becoming noteworthy in much of anything. But times have changed: We have American girls wearing little tiny backpacks to school, Chuck has an oldboy poster up in his room, and now the four-year picnic of prestige.

Yeah, see if you can spot the "oh, that's exactly like South Korea" aspect of this story:
Students are battling to get into the best schools, putting more time into preparing for college entrance exams, sculpting their high school resumes, and even hiring high-priced college admissions consultants. Oddly, they’re not studying as much once they get in. How do we explain this apparent personality transformation from energetic applicant to disengaged matriculant?

It may be that the college you attend has become a more important signal of student ability than it used to be, and your class rank less important. Differences in average student ability between colleges have increased over time, while differences in student ability within colleges have decreased. If students at your college are now more similar to you, employers may learn a lot about you from the name of your alma mater. This may help explain both the brutal competition and the post-admission collapse: the perception is that getting in is what really matters. Once you’re there, the battle is all but over.
Okay, so there may be only a little actual Korean influence here, but the trend toward what is happening in South Korea is striking (although grade inflation in many South Korean universities is on its way out).


  1. I'm not that surprised by the trend. Standards-based learning and NCLB testing have significantly raised the accountability of K-12 public schools. Other than on-time graduation rates, there is little comparative data to assess public colleges and universities, which spend a lot more money educating fewer students. Elementary education lays the foundation for further education and teaches social and academic knowledge, skills, and concepts with lifetime utility. I genuinely wonder how much value is added through 4-6 years of undergraduate education at a cost of $25,000+ and an opportunity cost of not working full-time. Most of my personal and professional growth has been on the job, not in the classroom. I would like to see a return to apprenticeships and authentic work-study, not the unpaid labor disguised as internships as detailed in a NYT story today.

  2. Actually I should revise that cost to reflect that public tuition is subsidized. The real cost is probably $80,000 minimum if one attends a community college for two years before transferring.


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