Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For a prospective med students National Merit Finalist status worth a quarter-million dollars

    I've repeatedly blogged about how National Merit Finalists will qualify for automatic full-ride scholarships at many schools.
    Of 16,000 Semifinalists named last week, 15,000 will go on to become Finalists. Those who don't make the cut will have poor essays, fail to validate their PSAT with a 1960 or higher on the SAT, have low grades, or receive a negative recommendation from their high school. In Mississippi there are 135 Semifinalists this year; most will become Finalists.
.   Let's take a look at two schools offering automatic National Merit scholarships: Ole Miss and Alabama.
    I've selected Ole Miss because -- well, just look at the blog name. I've selected Alabama because it has one of the most generous Finalist packages in the nation, and as a result is pulling in lots of Finalists.
    Ole Miss offers Finalists a combination of three different undergraduate scholarships; as best I can figure it, eligible students automatically receive two; the third is automatically awarded to students who don't get a scholarship from the National Merit Corporation.
    The National Merit Academic Excellence Award is valued at $46,084 ($11,521 per year – includes a full-tuition scholarship, currently valued at $6,996 per year and the standard cost of double-occupancy room in a campus residence hall currently valued at $4,525 per year). Non-Resident students will also receive a full non-resident scholarship currently valued at $12,084 per year. Finalists may receive additional awards. This scholarship is awarded in lieu of the Academic Excellence Scholarship.
    Stacked on top of this are the Barnard Scholarship, worth $12,000 and the National Merit Finalist Award, which is worth $4,000 but limited to those students who don't receive a National Merit Corporate award.
    So the total value of the Ole Miss package is $62,084 over four years for state residents; it's considered a "full-ride," covering room, board, tuition, and some books. For non-residents the package is worth $82,436. Students receiving this scholarship are eligible for additional awards.
    Alabama's award is a little richer, although technically it's not a full-ride. Oklahoma and Alabama are in somewhat of a bidding war in an effort to attract the highest number of Finalists. The winners of this battle are the National Merit Finalists.
    Alabama offers housing for only the first year. Students also receive $3,500 per undergraduate year, offset by any National Merit Corporate Award. Add to this a one-time $2,000 award for international study and a free iPad on arrival, plus free tuition, and you have a pretty good package. The real beauty of the Alabama award is that it isn't an undergraduate award; it's a university award, good for 10 tuition-free semesters of both undergraduate and graduate school.
    Given that most Finalists will arrive at college with almost two-year's worth of credits through AP and dual enrollment, the inclusion of graduate school is big. Really big.
    Alabama doesn't give the dollar amount of its scholarship, so I've tried to ferret it out as best I could. In valuing the Alabama scholarship I based my numbers on two years of undergraduate school and three years of graduate, law, or medical school.
    Tuition and fees at Alabama are $4,975 per semester for residents and $11,850 for non residents. Annual tuition for the law school is $10,660 per semester for residents and $18,000 for non-residents. For medical school it's $12,745 residents; $30,466.80 for non-residents.
    So let's assume we have a typical National Merit Finalists who arrives at Alabama with two-year's worth of credits, and that he then wants to go to law school. For that student the Alabama scholarship package is $7,000 NM Award, plus $82,360 in undergraduate and law tuition, ($155,400 non-residents), plus $8,800 in housing, plus a one-time $2,000 award, plus an iPad worth say $300, for a grand total of $100,460 for Alabama residents and $173,500 for non-residents.
    Oh, and just for fun, let's go ahead and calculate the value of the Alabama scholarship for someone going to medical school. Just subtract the non-resident law school tuition of $108,000 and add in the cost of non-resident medical school tuition of $182,800 and you pretty much max out the scholarship at $248,300.
    I haven't detailed the University of Oklahoma Finalist package, but it is similar to that of Alabama; the two schools are competing ferociously for Finalists. Oklahoma provides a special office just to assist Finalists with any problems they might have and also offers Finalist-only housing. In my opinion such benefits are quite valuable, but I don't know how to put a price-tag on them.
    In recent years the honors college concept has taken firm hold at public universities. These elite colleges within a college offer an outstanding education value.
    Values are relative and in the eye of the beholder. An out-of-state tuition waiver is worthless to a student not wishing to attend school out of state. The same goes for graduate school if one doesn't wish to attend (but how many Finalists don't?). But these scholarships are automatic and clearly valuable; under the right circumstances they can be worth a quarter of a million dollars.
    Sadly, many very bright high school students are completely unaware of the value of National Merit Finalist status and as a result won't put any real effort into winning the free quarter-million dollars. That's sad indeed!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marriott refuses to pay maids decent wages, so they want to browbeat guests into doing so

    Instead of paying its housekeeping staff a fair and decent wage the Marriott Corporation has a better idea. It’s attempting to browbeat its guests into paying the help.
    Marriott is going to put tip envelopes in every hotel room instructing its customers of their obligation to pay for Marriott’s hired help. This rather than simply paying them a decent wage.
There has been a movement for some time by America’s elites to browbeat us into leaving daily tips for the hotel maid. USA Today is so pro-tipping that they have printed obviously false information.
    In March of 2005 USA Today spent a day with a maid at an upscale Maryland hotel, going from room to room as the maid cleaned. Virtually no one tipped. One maid interviewed cleaned 14 rooms without receiving a single tip. In the face of this fact, USA Today printed the following:
Mike Lynn, a Cornell University Hotel School associate professor who studies tipping, cites polls that found only a third of hotel guests tip housekeepers. ‘The social norm is that you do (tip), though not everyone knows it.’
    Consider this for a moment. The USA Today reporter just personally observed that very few hotel guests tip. Then a college professor allowed that two-thirds of hotel guests do not tip. And yet we are still told that, "The social norm is that you do (tip), though not everyone knows it."  Sorry, but if two-thirds of hotel guests don’t tip, then the social norm is not to tip.
    The Marriott initiative, called “The Envelope Please,” is designed to educate the public of the need to tip hotel maids. Or, to put it another way, it’s designed to turn a non-tipped position into a tipped one, thus shifting the burden of paying the maids from their employer to the customer.
    When we go to a restaurant we tip the waiter or waitress because we know they are only making $2.13 per hour. For good or bad, the system that has evolved so that waiters are almost completely dependent on tips. It's also created a surly class of waiters who feel they are entitled to a giant tip just for opening a bottle of wine (tips should be based on the cost of the food, not the wine).
    Tipping the hotel maid is not the norm, however. And so to hire maids the hotels have to offer market wages. Hotels – like any business – have a simple formula for every employee hired: they pay as little as possible and as much as is necessary.
    In some markets hotel maids are paid quite well. In Washington, D.C., maids earn almost $20 per hour, or $40,000 per year. In New York City maids earn in excess of $50,000 per year. If the hotels need help in attracting and keeping help, they should pay more, not browbeat the customer into giving tips.
    For what it’s worth, sometimes I tip the hotel maid, sometimes I don’t. If I’m on the late side of checking out, I usually tip. If my children are with me, I tip, because they tend to really mess up a room. But if I’m by myself and don’t create a mess, then the compensation is the duty of the employer.
    In other words, I tip on those occasions when my behavior might have caused the hotel maid to work above and beyond her usual amount. But I’m not going to tip someone extra just for doing their job.
    As public policy, creating yet another tipped position is a step backwards. Our goal should be a society in which people are simply paid, not one in which more and more people are made dependent on tips.
    We don't need a campaign designed to browbeat us, the customers, into paying for Marriott's hired help through tips. Instead, we need to start a campaign designed to browbeat Marriott into paying its employees fair, decent, and market wages.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Madison Central has 21 of 135 National Merit winners; four Semifinalists home-schooled

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    Listed at right (click to enlarge) are most or all of Mississippi's National Merit Semifinalists, as well as their high school
    I'm going to be blogging quite a bit over the next couple of weeks about the PSAT and National Merit Exam. My reason for giving it so much attention is simple: the PSAT is the most important examination that any really bright student will ever take.
    Sure, the ACT, SAT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE, and so forth are important. But they can be taken more than once. Taking the PSAT is like hunting with a single-shot shotgun; one shot is all you get, so you have to be ready. The rewards are immense, with numerous universities with great honors colleges offering automatic free rides to National Merit Finalists.
    Oxford High School had fewer Semifinalists than in past years, but four out of 200 is still a better showing than the overwhelming majority of schools.
    Items of interest in this year's scores:
    ● Mississippi has 135 National Merit Semifinalists this year, representing approximately the top one percent of Mississippi high school graduates. The cutoff score for Mississippi this year was 207, the same as last year. The national cutoff score for Commended status was 201, a two-point drop from last year.
    ● Tupelo got a National Merit Semifinalist! Tupelo High School used to be a real National Merit powerhouse, with as many as 11 Semifinalists in one year. They allowed things to slide, and for the past two years have had none. In an effort to break the slump Tupelo last year offered a nine-week PSAT-prep class limited to those students with a chance of making it. One did. Congratulations Tupelo!
    ● Four Mississippi Semifinalists are home-schooled, which I found surprising. Perhaps I could teach my children if they would listen to me or obey me, but they won't. Nor do I have the time! I want to know how these parents got they children to obey!
    ● DeSoto County has 15 Semifinalists this year, which I believe to be a record. DeSoto County is known for good schools and test scores but it hasn't been known for producing lots of National Merit Scholars; perhaps that is going to change. Also interesting is where the finalists came from. Five came from DeSoto Central, probably the best and most affluent school in DeSoto County. Five came from Southaven High; three from Olive Branch High School, one from Lewisburg High School, and one home schooler.
    There has been a trickle white- and affluent-flight going on in DeSoto County for several years now, as residents seem to be favoring DeSoto Central and more-recently Lewisburg. I have some friends who bought a weekday-house in the DeSoto Central school district some time back so their child could attend. But very bright students apparently are still getting a fine education at both Southaven High and Olive Branch High.
    ● Jackson Prep had nine NMSFs, the best of any private school save for St. Andrew's School, which had 12. St. Andrew's has a reputation for being incredibly liberal, as in li-ber-ul; just something to keep in mind if you don't want your kids getting a lot of strange ideas. (Don't get me wrong, I have friends who went to St. Andrew's. Liberal friends, who when telling people where they attended high school refer to it as "that liberal school" in a country-boy accent.)
    ● Northwest Rankin High School had eight Semifinalists. These folks were not on my radar; congrats!
    ● The Mississippi School for Math and Science has 10 Semifinalists. MSMS doesn't deserve the credit for this as these students were newly arrived when the took the PSAT, but it does show that there is a quality student body at the school.
    ● Madison Central High School apparently wears the National Merit crown, with 21 Semifinalists. This is out of about 550 students, and so represents four percent of the student body. Last year Oxford was the top open-enrollment public school in terms of percentages, with about 5.5 percent Semifinalists. Hopefully it will be again next year.


National Merit winners announced with five from Lafayette County; OHS 4, LHS1

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    National Merit Semifinalists have been notified and the state cutoff scores have seeped out. Mississippi's NMSF cutoff remained at 207 this year.
    Oxford High School has four National Merit Semifinalists. This is fewer than the 11 last year or the 12 the year before, but is still an outstanding performance. Lafayette County High School has one Semifinalist.
    Oxford High School's Semifinalists are William E. Anderson, David M. Dennis, Joonhee Jo, and William G. Tollison. Lafayette County's Semifinalist is Addison E. Roush. Congratulations to these winners, who are now automatically eligible for full-ride scholarships to many universities worth as much a quarter-million dollars!
    I'm surprised. I predicted that this year's cutoff would be 205, two points lower than last year. I based this on a two-point drop in the score for commended students, and on the substantial drop in Mississippi critical reading scores. Of course, math and writing scores were up.
    The Commended Student cutoff for this year is 201, and this info has been out for quite a while. In 2010 and 2011, and the Semifinalist cutoffs were 203 and 205 respectively, so this year has the largest gap between the Commended cutoff and the NMSF cutoff in Mississippi's testing history.
    Most states had a drop in their cutoff score. Alabama, for example, had a four-point drop to tie Mississippi at 207. Alabama's cutoff has tended to be five or six points higher than Mississippi's.
    While this is bad news for those of us hoping our children will make the cutoff in a year or two, it's good news for Mississippi. Semifinalists represent the top one-percent of graduates in each state. Commended students are made up of those scoring in the top three percent nationally who don't make Semifinalist. There were years in the past where Mississippi had no commended students; our top one percent was so far behind the rest of the nation that the Semifinalist cutoff was at or below the Commended cutoff.
    So a 207 Mississippi cutoff means that our state's best students are closing the gap with students from high-achievement states. A large gap still remains, though, as the chart reveals; the Massachusetts cutoff this year is 223.

Source for state cutoff scores:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We hated Nashville's LP Field, but we sure love our Costco Grove supplies

    Jinny and I stopped by the Nashville Costco on the way home from the Vandy game and discovered some hard-to-find Grove supplies.
    The reusable wire racks were either two or three dollars each. The metal pans were around six bucks per package, for 15 steam pans and 30 food pans. The Sterno was $15.99 for 24 cans, which comes out to 67 cents per can.
    We've seen these at various places for two to five times these prices. For example, Jinny saw Sterno for sale at Wal-Mart yesterday for $4.99 for two, or $2.50 per can.
    We haven't decided what we're going to cook yet, but what ever it is, we're ready!
    Costco tends to carry items like these for two or three weeks, and then they won't been seen again until the next year, if ever. The Nashville Costco had a lot of catering supplies, and I'm guessing the Memphis one will, too. I may pay them a visit to see if we forgot anything.

    Speaking of the Vandy game, we really hated LP Field. The stadium is nice enough, but getting in and around is a major hassle.
    We got to LP Field about a half-hour before kickoff. We didn't have tickets, as we usually just buy from someone at the game. Well, nobody was selling tickets. The kickoff came right as I finished buying our tickets.
    So far it was our fault. But the line to get into the stadium was unbelievable. They were taking about 30 to 45 seconds to wave down each person with a metal detector, and there weren't very many people waving the wands around; thousands of use spent quite a bit of time in line. If this is necessary, fine, but they need to hire enough people to handle the security.
    We had Club seats, but entered the stadium on the wrong side. There was a huge line to get into the Club section, and only one entrance. So when we found out we were on the wrong side we had to walk all the way back to the entrance, then around the stadium, then wait in line forever, and finally we managed to get into the club side where we were supposed to be.
     By the time we reached our seats the second quarter had started. I doubt we will be any rush to return to LP Field, although we certainly enjoyed the victory.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Oxford High does it again with 27 graduates scoring 30 or higher on ACT; six score 35, two 36

    I wrote back in April that eight Oxford High School students had scored a 35 or 36 on the ACT and thus qualified to be STAR students.
    What I didn't report on was the number scoring 30 or higher. I asked for the information but never got it. The school board recently issued a report showing that 27 OHS students scored 30 or above out of a graduating class of 203.
    That comes out to more than 13 percent scoring a 30 or higher. On a statewide level, 931 students out of 28,481 students taking the ACT scored 30 or higher, or 3.25 percent of test-takers. As best I understand it, in Oxford almost every student took the ACT -- 198 out of 203, or 97.5 percent -- while on a statewide level participation rates were lower. So this makes the Oxford scores all the more impressive. (See state report, HERE. See national report, HERE).
    Here's the breakdown of the top ACT score distribution:
 2 - 36 composite score
 6 - 35 composite score
 1 - 34 composite score
 4 - 33 composite score
 5 - 32 composite score
 5 - 31 composite score
 4 - 30 composite score
     As you can see from the chart above, OHS doesn't have a normal "bell distribution curve." There ought to be a 50- to 60-percent increase in the number of students at each score point below 35, but there isn't. Of course, based on normal score distributions there ought to be a thousand students scoring below 30, but there are only 171. I'd love to have the chance to see the entire OHS score distribution, as I think it would be highly unusual. I suspect Oxford doesn't so much have a bell curve as it does a squiggly line curve.
    Also interesting is that Oxford's numbers for 2014 are almost identical to the numbers for 2013. In 2013 Oxford had 12 National Merit Finalists, eight students with 35 or 36 on the ACT, and 27 students with a 30 or higher on the ACT. The 2014 numbers were identical, except that there was one fewer National Merit Finalist.
    I've mentioned in the past that there is a lot of brain clustering going on around the nation as families with bright children seek out adequate school systems with other bright kids. A friend of mine calls it "bright-flight." And Oxford is adding a dozen or so of these super-bright kids every year.
    Other "bright-flight" clusters include the Madison County School system and St. Andrews School in Jackson. In 2013 11 of Oxford's approximately 225 juniors earned National Merit Semifinalist honors. At Madison Central High School it was about 23 out of 550. Mississippi's top brain-magnet is St. Andrews School in Jackson, where 15 out of about 85 students earned Semifinalist status last year. Of course St. Andrews is both private and selective, so it's not really fair to count them. The same goes for the Mississippi School for Math and Science, where 12 of 120 earned NMSF honors last year. But these kids don't arrive at MSMS until shortly before they take the PSAT.
    High ACT scores like Oxford has had the past two years may not happen annually, but more are in store for the future. My son is in 10th grade this year, and five or six students from his grade earned a 30 or higher on the ACT prior to the start of the school year. Given that many, if not most, Mississippi schools don't have a single student to break the ACT 30 barrier, I'd say that having half a dozen do so prior to their entering 10th grade is pretty impressive.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

If the citizens of Kosovo had right of self-determination, then so should citizens of New Russia

Ukraine is made up of two nations trapped within a single national border.
    When it comes to foreign policy the United States doesn't really have any principles. Whatever our leaders want at any given moment is treated as an eternal, moral truth.
    When the nation of Serbia cracked down on the Kosovo Liberation Army -- which our own state department had branded a terrorist organization -- Bill Clinton ordered the Serbians to give away Kosovo, the very cradle of Serbian civilization.
    When Serbia refused, NATO bombed that country into the stone age. War Criminal Wesley Clark targeted journalists for bombings, just as the terrorist organization ISIS targets journalists today.
    Serbia eventually surrendered. The result of the NATO bombing is that Albanians were allowed to steal Kosovo from Serbia and ethnically cleanse that province of its Serbian minority. NATO goons supported this on the principle of  the right of self-determination. Under this doctrine, when a majority of the population wants to break away and form its own country, it should be allowed to.
    Where was NATO when we Southerners wanted to exercise our right to constitutional self-government?  Okay, it hadn't been formed, but why is it that the same type of Yankees who opposed the right of Southern self-determination supported it for Kosovo?
    Now the United States had done another 180-degree turn and is suddenly opposed to the right of self-determination for the people of eastern Ukraine. This has nothing to do with principal and everything to do with harming Russia.
    Much of eastern Ukraine is populated almost entirely by Russians who have no desire to remain a part of a nation of non-Russians. The decision was made with Kosovo that they shouldn't have to.
    For the past decade, Russia has been the one force for peace in the world. Russia opposed the overthrow, sodomization, and murder of Muammar Gaddafi which has placed terrorists in charge of that country. Russia has supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in his effort to defeat the very terrorists who are now -- like Wesley Clark -- murdering journalists, not to mention Christians by the thousands. And Russia has supported the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own choices and not live under the yoke of slavery.

    Any doubts I might have had about the Russian Freedom Fighters were put to rest when I saw the flag of New Russia. This time, let's win.