Is college too easy?

“Declining study time is a discomfiting truth about the vaunted U.S. higher-education system. The trend is generating debate over how much students really learn, even as colleges raise tuition every year.”

“Some critics say colleges and their students have grown lazy. Today’s collegiate culture, they say, rewards students with high grades for minimal effort and distracts them with athletics, clubs and climbing walls on campuses that increasingly resemble resorts.”

Here’s the money quote: “By contrast, the typical student today spends 27 hours a week in study and class time, roughly the same time commitment expected of students in a modern full-day kindergarten.”

You can and should read the whole article here.

Why would anyone be surprised by this? The decline of America hasn’t appeared out of nowhere. President Obama, in his memoir Dreams from My Father, wrote: “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow [cocaine] when you could afford it…” This is from a Harvard and Columbia graduate – not exactly a ringing endorsement of the most elite universities.

I should note, both of President Obama’s immediate predecessors also smoked some weed, Presidents Bush and Clinton. The fact that this was 30-40 years ago only illustrates my point – the decline of America began long ago. It takes time for fruit to ripen…or rot.

And not to speak ill of the dead, but just how good of an education is Harvard providing when a recent graduate celebrates by getting so drunk that he accidentally kills himself?

Learn by Doing

For a long time, I’ve been advocating for a new type of university. One where students learn (and earn degrees) not by studying and taking exams, but by doing. The idea is catching on…you can read the whole story here. But here’s the money quote: “We wanted to help inspire young people to change the world through engineering and science, and realized that the 10,000 superstar students we have at MIT are uniquely positioned to do that…”


“Just because everyone else does something doesn’t make it right.” Mom and dad, were, of course, right about that. So I’d never argue that America should go metric just to keep up with everyone else. However, we should go metric because it is a superior system of measurements. It’s not even close. At this point in time, we’re only hurting ourselves, as the rest of the world has already seen the light.

Ten Laws

Digital Rules – Ten Laws Of The Modern World by Rich Karlgaard,

• Moore’s Law. Listen to a billionaire explain why an understanding of Moore’s Law is a key to unlocking business riches. Don Valentine founded Sequoia Capital in 1972 and presided over early investments in Apple Computer, Electronic Arts, Cisco Systems, Yahoo! and Google. He once told me the secret to his success: “That’s easy. I just follow Moore’s Law and make a few guesses about its consequences.” This April marked the 40th anniversary of Gordon Moore’s famous dictum. In 1965 Moore (he co-founded Intel three years later) noted that components on silicon chips were doubling every year. In 1975 he amended that to every two years. Today Moore’s Law has transcended silicon chips. It has become a way of saying that all digital stuff, from PCs to cell phones to music players, get twice as good every 18 to 24 months–at the same price point. Projecting from Moore’s Law, venture capitalist Valentine saw a future of personal computers, games, routers and search engines. Now, go project!

• The Back Side of Moore’s Law. This one says that digital stuff gets 30% to 40% cheaper every year–at the same performance point. The back side of Moore’s Law is why your $299 Treo 650 is as powerful as a $3,500 Compaq PC was in 1988. It’s why hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians now own their personal portals to the global economy.

• Andy and Bill’s Law. The origin of this was a funny one-liner told at computer conferences in the 1990s. It went like this: “What Andy giveth, Bill taketh away.” It meant that every time Andy Grove–then chief executive of Intel (nasdaq: INTC – news – people )–brought a new chip to market, Bill Gates–then CEO of Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people )–would upgrade his software and soak up the new chip’s power. But beyond the laugh, there’s deep truth. Moore’s Law constantly enables new software. Often the new software is just an incremental improvement. But every few years the world gets a wild breakthrough–graphic computing in the 1980s, Web browsers in the 1990s, fast search engines today. Next? Surely something amazing.

• Metcalfe’s Law. This one’s named after Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of the computer networking protocol Ethernet. Metcalfe said the usefulness of a network improves by the square of the number of nodes on the network. Translation: The Internet, like telephones, grows more valuable as more join in. This is how eBay (nasdaq: EBAY – news – people ) grew so profitable so fast.

• Gilder’s Law: Winner’s Waste. The futurist George Gilder wrote about this a few years ago in a Forbes publication. The best business models, he said, waste the era’s cheapest resources in order to conserve the era’s most expensive resources. When steam became cheaper than horses, the smartest businesses used steam and spared horses. Today the cheapest resources are computer power and bandwidth. Both are getting cheaper by the year (at the pace of Moore’s Law). Google (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ) is a successful business because it wastes computer power–it has some 120,000 servers powering its search engine–while it conserves its dearest resource, people. Google has fewer than 3,500 employees, yet it generates $5 billion in (current run rate) sales.

• Ricardo’s Law. The more transparent an economy becomes, the more David Ricardo’s 19th-century law of comparative advantage rules the day. Then came the commercial Internet, the greatest window into comparative advantage ever invented. Which means if your firm’s price-value proposition is lousy, too bad. The world knows.

• Wriston’s Law. This is named after the late Walter Wriston, a giant of banking and finance. In his 1992 book, The Twilight of Sovereignty, Wriston predicted the rise of electronic networks and their chief effect. He said capital (meaning both money and ideas), when freed to travel at the speed of light, “will go where it is wanted, stay where it is well-treated….” By applying Wriston’s Law of capital and talent flow, you can predict the fortunes of countries and companies.

• The Laffer Curve. In the 1970s the young economist Arthur Laffer proposed a wild idea. Cut taxes at the margin, on income and capital, and you’ll get more tax revenue, not less. Laffer reasoned that lower taxes would beckon risk capital out of hiding. Businesses and people would become more productive. The pie would grow. Application of the Laffer Curve is why the United States boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, why India is rocking now and why eastern Europe will outperform western Europe.

• Drucker’s Law. Odd as it seems, you will achieve the greatest results in business and career if you drop the word “achievement” from your vocabulary. Replace it with “contribution,” says the great management guru Peter Drucker. Contribution puts the focus where it should be–on your customers, employees and shareholders.

• Ogilvy’s Law. David Ogilvy gets my vote as the greatest advertising mind of the 20th century. The founder of Ogilvy & Mather–now part of WPP (nasdaq: WPPGY – news – people )–left a rich legacy of ideas in his books, my favorite being Ogilvy on Advertising. Ogilvy wrote that whenever someone was appointed to head an office of O&M, he would give the manager a Russian nesting doll. These dolls open in the middle to reveal a smaller doll, which opens in the middle to reveal a yet smaller doll…and so on. Inside the smallest doll would be a note from Ogilvy. It read: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” Ogilvy knew in the 1950s that people make or break businesses. It was true then; it’s truer today.

I ‘lost’ another student today

There are those who would argue that I never had them to begin with, but I refuse to be that cynical. Or perhaps that truth would just hurt too much. I honestly don’t know. Here’s what I do know: If you want to lead a noble, upright and honorable life, then follow me. I don’t know if the following story is true or not, I do know that it expresses great wisdom.

“Excuse me, young man. I’m looking for something and wondered if you might direct me.”

“Of course, sir. What do you wish to find?”

“My wife has broken a strap on her sandal,” said Socrates. “Where might I go to get this mishap repaired?”

Xenophon directed Socrates to the Street of the Cobblers. Socrates thanked him. “I have also a broken pot. Can you tell me where I might go to get it made whole?”

“To the Ceramicus, of course,” said Xenophon, directing Socrates to the Street of the Potters.

“Thank you indeed! Clearly, my young friend, you are well-acquainted with our city and its many purveyors of services. Now, may I put to you one final question?”

“Please do, sir.”

“If I wished to lead a noble, upright and honorable life, to whom might I go to learn this art?”

At this, the young Xenophon admitted that he was stumped.

“Then follow me,” said Socrates, “and find out.”

NASH: Students wanted. Please contact me via the comments section.

P.S. I lost Nick, you don’t know him, but if I could choose one young man for a son, he’d be one of the two finalists. Freeman, you’re the other.