Monthly Archives: November 2011

December 2011 Links: College as a Misallocated Resource, Latinos and Politics, Rising Gas Prices, Technology in Schools, Blogging, and More

* College has been oversold; notice especially data on student majors:

In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. This is not bad, but we graduated more students with computer science degrees 25 years ago! [. . .]

In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.

I wrote a post on “College graduate earning and learning: more on student choice” that also covers these issues.

* You Say Latino: “I was talking with some graduate students, people I didn’t know, when the subject turned to minority issues. Every time I said Hispanic, the guy sitting next to me said Latino. This was about a decade ago; I hadn’t realized the terminology had changed.”

* [R]ising gas prices have pretty much wiped out the whole cash value of the stimulus to families. Read the whole thing at the link, along with this paper by James Hamilton. It may turn out that we simply can’t do anything about macro economic performance without working on energy problems. This kind of information has been circling among economics bloggers for quite a while but hasn’t made much way into the mainstream.

* “A toddler hit by two vehicles in a southern Chinese city and left unassisted by more than a dozen passersby died Friday, adding new fire to an anguished debate over the state of empathy in China’s fast-changing society.” Notice to the video. File this under “The world is not flat” (yet) and “culture is the water we swim in,” usually without knowing it.

* What dealing with California bureaucrats is like. We’ve experienced this indirectly; see, for example, this post and this one for more.

* Solving America’s teen sex “problem:” The Dutch have dramatically reduced adolescent pregnancies, abortions and STDs. What do they know that we don’t?

* “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” is about a school without computers and the high-tech moguls who send their kids to the school. This resonates with me, given the research on computers in schools and the dangers of distraction.

* Hispanics Reviving Faded Towns on the Plains; notice the contrast with what Isaac wrote in “Seliger + Associates Hitches Up the Wagons and Heads Out to Where the Pavement Turns to Sand.”

* “The Economics of Bike Lanes;” hint: they’re pretty good. Notice this quote about the Washington MetroRail: “Parking spaces cost on average $25,000 each, compared with $1,000 per space for a secured bike cage. “It’s an extremely expensive proposition for us” to expand car parking, [Kristin Haldeman, Metro’s manager of access planning] said.”

* On Never Quitting starts with a great line: “I used to think Joe Konrath was full of shit.” Note that this is posted on Joe Konrath’s blog.

* Grant humor, via The New Yorker:

* Why academics should blog, which seems completely obvious to me.

* How to fix math education in high school and college. Good luck: the incentives don’t look good to me right now.

* A former teacher gets an MFA in puppetry and can’t find a job afterward; note that we’ve worked for a number of nonprofit puppeteers over the years. Hat tip Alex Tabarrok, and do read his analysis:

What astounds me is not that someone could amass $35,000 in student loans pursuing a dream of puppetry, everyone has their dreams and I do not fault Joe for his. What astounds me is that Richard Kim, the executive editor of The Nation and the author of this article, thinks that the failure of a puppeteer to find a job he loves is a good way to illustrate the “national nightmare” of the job market.

* The feds pay contract IT workers half what they pay their own employees. If that’s not enough, those contractors then turn around and work to minimize their own employees’ rights and compensation.

* Best recent RFP: the National Park Service’s “Exploration of Acoustic Environments – Natural Sound Field Activities Focused on Diverse and Undeserved Youth.” I like noise too.

* From the U.K.: World power swings back to America. Maybe.

* New York City Cops and contempt for the law.

* Malcolm Gladwell on “The real genius of Steve Jobs.”

* Apple may axe the Mac Pro. We hope not: Isaac used one for four years, and the form factor is amazing for anyone who needs expandability in their computers. That being said, their current prices have gone from ludicrous to ridiculous; we hope for a price cut and more reasonable processors, rather than the removal of the line itself.

Eat What You Kill: If You’re Not Hunting Grant Programs, You’re Not Eating

Mark Zuckerberg is supposedly only eating animals he kills this year. It’s a “personal challenge” for him, rather like not eating Big Macs for the rest of us.*

It’s easy to wonder how eating-what-you-kill as a metaphor might apply to the rest of Zuckerberg’s life, but since I’m not friends with him I can’t ask. Nonetheless, you can probably can imagine how this metaphor applies to grants: in times when you’re prospecting for grants, you should be a bear and bite any salmon, as Isaac wrote at the link. You can’t afford to be as picky as you might otherwise be.

In an idealized world, you’d probably get your preferred mix of grants, donations, and contracts, with a heavy emphasis on donations unencumbered by donor restrictions. I’d also like someone to randomly give me a million bucks, but that doesn’t seem real likely, and if someone did give me a million bucks, I’d worry that I was walking into a movie—specifically, a thriller with lots of murky motives that might leave the protagonist dead at the end. So I write proposals and teach undergraduates instead of waiting for magical money that, even if it did appear, would probably result in a scenario like the one described in Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan (hint: the title is ironic. Also, the book is quite good and highly recommended).

So if, like me, your organization doesn’t to exist in an idealized world, the desired blend of funding streams is not going to magically appear. Which means you should take what you can get. Until the recent financial crisis, for example, a lot of organizations could rely on capitated funds and contracts through cities, counties, and sometimes states, which provided steady, reliable sources of incomes to supplement donations and the occasional grant. Now a lot of organizations that once relied on such sources simply don’t have them. They can’t go to Safeway and pick up a nicely cut chicken.

They have to eat what they kill, like Zuckerberg, although Mark is doing so by choice and can send someone out to Whole Foods for a chicken or 12 anytime he feels like adopting a new philosophical stance. You can’t, and as a result the number and quality of grants that organizations apply for takes on greater urgency. One reason we like discussing Upward Bound so much is simple: it offers the possibility of five years of uninterrupted funding. That can carry an agency that might otherwise become skeletal through the lean times that continue.

Most organizations simply don’t have good alternatives to grants any more. They shouldn’t be worried about finding some existential balance between donations and grants; they should be taking whatever they can get. There aren’t a lot of choices; some organizations are trying to survive one Bratwurst at a time, as we described a few years ago, but fundraisers like washing cars and selling food are really tough, especially since you’ll naturally be up against professionals whose job is selling bun-wrapped meat or cleaning vehicles.

We’re not fools: we know that most nonprofits would rather have donors rain money on their head. I’d like to win the Lotto or an inheritance and be an artist full-time, but that’s not incredibly likely for me in the short term. For nonprofits, easy money from the Stimulus Bill is gone. You’re back to the basic stuff. You can debate this all day, but the proposals have to be written. You have to eat what you kill. If you’re not ready to wield the knife, you should hire somebody who will.


* I finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and among many other fascinating tidbits Isaacson describes Jobs’s numerous nutritional oddities surrounding food and Jobs’s belief in the possibility food offers for transcendence. Jobs went through periodic dietary restrictions, like eating and drinking only fruit or fruit juices, being a vegan, and fasting. I wonder about the extent to which this impacted his illness and how, if at all, his unusual eating beliefs were tied to the extreme achievement in other aspects of his life.

FY ’12 Upward Bound Draft RFP Found with $305,289,000 for New Awards — A Nice Apparition for Halloween

Subscribers to our free weekly Email Grant Alerts and faithful blog readers know that I have been predicting for a few months that the FY ’12 RFP for the Upward Bound program would be soon be issued. It’s getting there, and we now have a copy of the complete Draft FY ’12 Upward Bound RFP.

For the last several weeks, we’ve known the draft FY ’12 Upward Bound NOFA was floating in the ether, although the Department of Education didn’t seem to want to post it publicly for some unknown reason. But, after 19 years in business, we’ve got our sources and finagled a copy of the draft RFP and related docs in advance of publication.

By the time your read this, you should be able to find an announcement about Upward Bound in the October 31 Federal Register. The draft essentially provides a 30 day comment period on the Department of Education’s plan for “reinstatement of a previously approved application for grants under the Upward Bound (UB) Project (1840-0550), which has expired.” This bit of federal Doublespeak means that there have been some legislative changes since the last Upward Bound RFP process in 2007. The Department of Education needs to go through a public comment period before issuing the RFP they’ve already produced—and it will probably be in more or less the same form as the version we have.

You’ve gotta love the timing of the Department of Education performing a little prestidigitation by releasing the phantom RFP on Halloween. Boo!

I’ve paged through the 114 single-spaced page Upward Bound RFP and it looks remarkably like every other TRIO Program RFP I’ve ever seen. But the best part in the RFP is that there will be $305,289,000 for new UB awards, with an average award of $330,000/year for five years. The Department of Education is still being coy about the deadline, but let’s do some math: the 30 day comment period starts on October 31, it’ll take about 15 days or so for the program officers to examine and reject comments, and about 15 days or so to set up the next FR publication. Thus, the FY ’12 RFP should be published between Christmas and January 15. These days, most Department of Education RFPs have 30 day deadlines, so expect the deadline to be late January to mid-February.

Upward Bound will be one of the best opportunities this year to grab a pretty big Department of Education grant salmon this year. Nonprofits and institutions of higher education (IHE, which means “college or university” in Edu-speak) are eligible applicants. Upward Bound is a great way of funding academic support programs for high school students to enable them to build the skills needed to graduate from high school and thrive in the postsecondary education milieu (free proposal phrase here).

Just don’t wait for the actual RFP to be issued. Find the draft RFP, read it, and, if you think you organization could run the program, go to work on planning the project. With over $300 million up for grabs, there should be at least 1,000 grants awarded. We’ve written many funded TRIO grants, including Upward Bound, and know that the funding decisions for these programs are often the stuff of strange tales. But if your organization doesn’t get moving and submit a great, technically correct proposal, you will miss out on a twice-a-decade opportunity. It’ll take that long for the next Upward Bound bus to roll by. Get on this one.