Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Chicago Tribune is unprepared for college

The Chicago Tribune published today an article with a plausible headline --- public high school students are unprepared for college --- but their logic is suspect. A state law required public universities to publish the average freshman year GPAs for students from each high school, and the Tribune has published their interpretation of the data. For each university, the Tribune plotted the high school grade point averages (GPAs) of incoming students versus their average GPA in colleges. They conclude that if students have a lower GPA in freshman year of college than high school, that implies that students were unprepared.

It seems obvious to me that college GPAs are lower than high school GPAs. About 50% of Harvard students were ranked 1 or 2 in their high school graduating class, and probably over 80% had a GPA of 4.0, and yet college GPAs are way lower. Further, college GPAs come from a wide variety of courses, so they're even harder to interpret than high school GPAs. Engineering students have lower GPAs than humanities majors, so a really good high school that sends most of its students to major in engineering might look worse than a mediocre high school that sends most of its students to major in humanities. If college GPAs weren't lower than high school GPA, I would think that the students weren't challenging themselves enough. Finally, high schools with disadvantaged students can be expected to have lower college GPAs not because the students are poorly prepared by their high schools but because the students were disadvantaged.

The report itself is more useful, and it provides a good comparison of the students from each high school that tend to attend each school. Not a comparison of the high schools themselves, of course: enormously confounded by the which students from each school tend to attend the state universities. It does break down GPA by subject. A high school that sends its best students to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will look like a better high school who sends its best students out of state. Still interesting.

The Tribune's assumption that having a lower GPA in freshman year of college than high school implies that students weren't prepared conflates many issues in an illusion that a few numbers can summarize a high school without any statistical assistance. Is this a reminder that a weak attempt at evidence-based decision-making is worse than none at all?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

College students in sex work

It's not new for college students to engage in allied sex work fields: in the late 1960s or early 70s, my father had a student who was a Harvard student working as a stripper. I wonder if the economy has made this work more common or has increased attention.

This article seems to be in a U Penn publication on 3 Penn students: 2 women who worked in fetishist contexts (foot fetish and dominatrix) and a gay man engaging in traditional sex work. The three students say that they find their work empowering, which isn't surprising especially for the two women who are both acting as dominatrices of older accomplished men. (Who exactly is in charge in a dominatrix scenario --- the man who pays and dictates terms or the woman who executes the scenario --- is an interesting question, which I assume has already been discussed in the women's studies literature.) Whether or not they truly feel empowered by their sex work, their sexualities and maturation seem tied to their work. At least one student describes the sex work as empowering not for the experience of domination but because they know they can support themselves, and it's surprising not to see them engaging in any reflection about whether that ability to earn money from sex is truly economically empowering. No mention of STI or health risks.

This article on the larger context: many women with Harvard and other Ivy email addresses seem to be seeking sugar daddies. The women they interview don't even find as much money as they expected: one just gets some money for a one-time rendez-vous that was never repeated, so basically they're just doing old-fashioned high-risk sex work rather than the "arrangements" publicized on the websites. A huge contrast with the Penn article, which paints a rosier picture.

Both articles are about educated Americans, mostly women, but they seem to have similar tropes to less educated Americans and women from developing countries: only some participants in these relationships call them what they are, and only some acknowledge the coercion and how much they may give up by participating in these exchanges.

MSM sugar daddies in India

This article covers Indian male college students who are part-time sex workers with upper class clients. The narrative is like that in the more educated classes Africa (female university students in Zimbabwe) or the US (a recent Huffington post article.)

To me, the remarkable part is how frankly these students call themselves sex workers. While normally pejorative, that sex worker label may serve an important role for males who consider themselves heterosexual and want to distance themselves from their "work." Unfortunately, engaging in more likely than not unprotected receptive sex that they're being paid for doesn't mitigate the disease risks to their female partners who will likely never know about their part-time jobs.