Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On tutoring Macro 3

Today, sadly, is my last day (possibly ever) of tutoring Macro 3.

Over the last two years, I have taught (and tried to remember the names of) about 500 students at pre-university foundation level, first year, second year, and third year levels. Three things constantly surprise me.

1) While naturally bright students can do relatively well during first year without much work, during second and third years, sweat is the best determinant of success. I have probably two douzen very gifted third year students, and most this semester have been outperformed by sheer persistence of a few students,.

2) Filtering the whey from the curds works. La Trobe is in a bit of a tough spot when it comes to finding great first year students. The four main demographics of the student population are

(a) the chaff--students who've made it through school and whose parents have told them to do a degree,

(b) smart students from sloppy state schools--they tend to do well, though were probably either too lazy or too il-taught at school to get into Melbourne,

(c) rogues from private schools--these students did poorly in good schools, and are from fairly prosperous backgrounds; they tend to improve over their degrees, and

(d) mature age students from the Northern Suburbs--these students generally have a hard time getting started, but once adjusted, tend to go very well.

The problem with La Trobe's new expansion strategy is that it targets school leavers in order to improve numbers. This strategy will uncover a few good students. One of my best students from last semester would have probably fit in category (a) before he came to uni. He is from a Lebanese Australian background, born in the Northern Suburbs, and speaks with a broad Northern Suburbs accent. At first glance, the crass judgement would be that he probably studies accounting and drives a fully sick VL. Now at uni, he seems to have discovered that a whole deal of hierarchy depends on the amount of knowledge one has---a beautiful thing! Yesterday, he educated me about the finer points of the Malaysian monarchs.

Unfortunately, the majority of school leavers we get are not as inquisitive as the Wikipedia addict above. Many drop out, which is good for the other students, though it would be great if they were good students to start with.

A more sensible number-increasing strategy, I think, would be to target an increase in the number of the students from the most successful demographic. In economics, our mature aged students---most of whom have made too many lattés, or dealt too many hands of cards, and know the value of eduction---get great grad positions in most of the good government departments.

The problem is targeting these potential students. Should the university send out scouts to cafés and hand pamphlets to baristas who enjoy talking politics?

3) Despite the fact we have so many great third and fourth year economics students--certainly of the same standard to those from any other uni--so many continue to actually want to go into finance or accounting. For some reason, Economics has not successfully been made sexy the same way accounting and finance has. Could it be that economics is simply not sexy? Or have accreditations like CA, CPA, and CFA been marketed as being superior? Do we even want those who've been able to be attracted by the prospect of becoming an accountant barging in our territory?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Blatantly honest, yet true, I've seen the same thing from my own experience with regard to demographics(isn't that depressing?)

However, I like to believe there are always exceptions! We law students tend to be a very serious bunch most of the time :P

I can't really come up with an answer to your economics conundrum, I have to say however that accounting is infuriatingly boring! (I'm thankful I switched). Maybe people who are unsure about what to do in the future prefer to take the 'safe' option with regard to job security?

Now I better go off, before I'm surpassed in exams for not spending enough time applying myself! :P

Best of luck for the future Jim! Congratulations on finishing! :)

I do enjoy reading your blog!