Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

RIP Sugar Bacon

After suffering a severe stroke, my stepmother, Marguerite “Sugar” Bacon, died two days ago at the age of 87. She and my dad had been married 60 years, and after my dad died two months ago, she missed him terribly. I don’t believe in heaven, but if I’m wrong, I’m pretty sure she’s with him now.

Sugar was a wonderful stepmother, and I have no memories of a life without her. I truly thought of her as my second mom.

She was a remarkable woman. Very traditional in her beliefs, she never worked a paying job. She thought a woman’s place was in the home. She also thought it was a woman’s place to say exactly what she thought… about any topic. Her marriage with my dad was a partnership of equals. She never understood what women needed to be “liberated” from. She ran the household, was active in the community, and rose to positions of leadership in the Garden Club. Asking little for herself, she always sought to be of service to others.

It’s been a tough 10 days, and I’ve had to put my blogging on the back burner. The blog will be quiet next week as well for a variety of personal reasons. But I’ll have a lot to say when I come back.

— JAB

Note to Readers — Another Misfire!

I’ve been working on a four-part series about Virginia higher-education policy since the enactment of the 2005 Restructuring Act. In juggling and updating different pieces in WordPress, I accidentally hit the “Publish” button for one of them. I have taken the piece offline, but email subscribers will get a copy in their in-boxes.

While the article, Part II in the series, is close to complete, it is subject to revision as I work on Parts III and IV, and also in need of final fact-checking. Please ignore it until I can publish at the proper time in proper sequence.

College Graduation Rates and SAT Scores

This table shows the math and verbal SAT scores for Virginia's public universities, along with college graduation rates.

This table shows the math and verbal SAT scores for Virginia’s public universities, along with college graduation rates. Table credit: Cranky’s Blog

John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog fame, is turning his analytical gaze from K-12 schools to higher education. In his latest post, he explores the strong correlation between a Virginia public institution’s six-year graduation rate and the average SAT scores of its student body, as seen in the table to the left and the plotted chart below of median SAT math scores. (See his post for the chart of English SAT scores.)

The commentary in his post is sparse, but he makes interesting points in his email correspondence with me:

UVa and Mary&Bill both take very smart kids and graduate nearly all. The middle-tier colleges take less bright kids and graduate fewer. VCU takes still less bright kids and graduates still fewer. All these sit pretty well on the fitted line, except that JMU under-performs on the math datum.

Why should schools taking less able students graduate a smaller proportion? If they were doing their jobs, they would adapt to their clientèle and give them degrees. Doubtless the market would discount those degrees (surely it does already as to the kids who graduate now). But we wouldn’t see the kids being sloughed off.

VSU and Longwood both over-perform, albeit not by nearly enough. But they are doing something better, if not entirely right. What is it?

Image source: Cranky’s Blog

Six-year college graduation rates are the standard performance metric for U.S. colleges and universities. Four years to graduation is the ideal. Six years contain a lot of slack and, to my mind, and represents a shamefully low hurdle. The inability of a student to graduate within six years constitutes a total failure, either on the student’s part, the university’s part or both. It represents a misallocation of resources by the higher ed system and a personal tragedy for the student, who typically accumulates thousands of dollars in loans and has no sheepskin to show for it.

We need to better understand the key variables affecting six-year graduation rates.

John gets the conversation rolling by noting that the odds are stacked in favor of smarter students (with smarts measured by SAT scores). Indeed, SAT scores account for almost 80% of the variation in the graduation rate. Smarter kids come disproportionately from well-off families that raise them in an environment that rewards educational achievement and also have the means to support them financially while in school. These students can spend more time studying and less time worrying how to pay tuition, fees, room, board and incidentals.

But the correlation is not perfect. Some institutions do better with the raw material (students) they are given than others, as can be seen by the squares above and below the plotted line. (Old Dominion University may be an outlier because its student population contains a high percentage of military personnel who leave when they rotate to an assignment in another location.)

John asks if institutions are gearing their curriculum and academic standards toward the students in their student body, as opposed, perhaps, to the students they wished they had. That hypothesis is worth pursuing.

Here’s another: Could the guidance and support given students play a role in college graduation rates?

In 2011 the University of Virginia performed slightly above expectations in six-year graduation rates, but only slightly. As part of its strategic plan (the Cornerstone Plan) instituted in 2013, UVa is pioneering the concept of “total advising,” which integrates academic advising, career advising, and coaching. One would hope that the program will show higher six-year graduation rates for the class of 2017.

Likewise, it would be interesting to see what the Virginia Military Institute, Christopher Newport University, and Mary Washington University — all of which performed above expectations — are doing differently from other universities.

One way or another, we need to figure out how to help students graduate on time and on budget.

A New Sponsor for Higher-Ed Journalism

I am pleased to announce that Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @ EDU has begun sponsoring Bacon’s Rebellion effective January 1 this year. Under terms of the agreement, Bacon’s Rebellion will provide in-depth coverage of higher education issues in Virginia, with a particular emphasis on the cost of attendance of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @ EDU, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 2014 in response to soaring tuition, fees and other costs associated with attending U.S. institutions of higher education. The philosophical viewpoint of the group and Bacon’s Rebellion are closely aligned. Readers will find the following statement from the group’s “About Us” page to hit familiar themes:

The public insists that new answers be found to preserve and protect the core American belief that anyone can succeed with talent and hard work. Yet, many public university leaders maintain that tuition increases are inevitable and irreplaceable. Rankings, they contend, count more than affordable excellence.

The chances of “fixing” the system from inside seem increasingly unlikely. Progress seems incremental at best, particularly at “flagship” public research universities who set the pace for cost and the standards for excellence.

Concerned by the rising cost of higher education, a group of “philanthropists, edupreneurs, and researchers” created Partners for Affordable Excellence @EDU with a mission to enhance academic excellence in higher ed while maintaining affordable tuition. Partners has helped draft legislation to make more transparent how colleges spend the tuition & fees they receive and how efficiently they operate. Additionally, the organization is developing an online training tool to instruct newly appointed board members on the fundamentals of college and university governance.

The Partners board of directors includes three Virginians, at least two of whom are readily familiar to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion: Gilbert T. Bland, past chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and former member of the boards of Old Dominion University and the James Madison University Foundation; Helen E. Dragas, former rector of the University of Virginia; and James V. Koch, former president of Old Dominion University.

The terms of the sponsorship, as with all Bacon’s Rebellion sponsorships, ensure the editorial independence and integrity of the blog.

Note to Readers

electrocution_hairGood news! We think we have restored the Bacon’s Rebellion blog to full functionality. Things should be working more smoothly now. However, we’re still suffering after-effects of the Denial of Service attack and our efforts (far more complicated than we anticipated) to migrate the blog to a faster, more secure platform.

What’s in it for you?

Subscriptions. Bacon’s Rebellion offers three ways for you to stay in touch: (1) Subscribe to our RSS feed; (2) subscribe to our email notification; and (3) NEW!! subscribe to our Twitter feed. Pick the options that work best for you.

We may have lost some email subscriptions in the migration from one platform to another, however. If you do not receive your email updates, please let me know, and I’ll try to get it straightened out.

Comment registrations. Readers have been bedeviled by difficulties when signing in to make comments. We think we’ve fixed that problem, but readers may have to reset their passwords one more time. If you have any trouble, contact me at jabacon[at]baconsrebellion.com, and I’ll generate a new password for you.

Thanks, JP. Thanks again to JP Barringer with (Barrel Strength) Design for helping me through this laborious process. He spent way more time on this project than he ever bargained for. I never could have done it alone.

Bacon Takes Aim, Shoots Foot

shooting_footMy apologies to the Department of Environmental Quality, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and most of all readers: Late yesterday or early this morning I accidentally published a rough draft of an article about environmental regulation of natural gas pipelines in Virginia. That draft was incomplete. I still had reporting to do, and I had not fact checked it. I have removed the draft from the blog in order to continue working on it.

— JAB

Back in Action… Almost

We're back!

We’re back!

It’s been a remarkably long and arduous process to restore the Bacon’s Rebellion blog after it was knocked out by a denial-of-service attack a month ago. For two weeks, it was literally impossible to access the files, and I continued publishing the blog only by jury-rigging a new, bare-bones website. Then, in the two weeks following, it turned out to be far more complicated than expected to migrate a decade’s worth of posts, images and comments from Hostmonster, whose responsiveness in this crisis situation was execrable, to Godaddy, which may or may not prove to be any better. We’ll see.

I can safely say that the task was way beyond my capabilities — it turns out that Godaddy’s WordPress blog publishing software has a different file structure than Hostmonster’s — and I never could have done it without the help of reader JP Barringer. A partner in the web design firm (Barrel Strength) Design, JP repeatedly worked into the wee hours of the night. I have become accustomed to arising early in the morning and reading his email updates time-stamped as late as 2:00 a.m.

We are close to regaining full functionality. For reasons unknown, the widgets in the side columns were not restored when JP published the blog early this morning. We will work to restore those over the next hour or two. Meanwhile, JP has added some features that should make the website faster and more secure.

If something isn’t working right– if you’re not receiving your email updates, having difficulty making comments, whatever — let me know at jabacon[at]baconsrebellion.com (substituting “@” for “[at]”). I’ll get on it as soon as I can.

— JAB

The Disintegration of Newspapers Accelerates

Woodward and Bernstein. The glory days of newspaper journalism are long gone.

Woodward and Bernstein. The glory days of newspaper journalism are long gone.

by James A. Bacon

The disintegration of the newspaper industry is accelerating. Even as the global advertising market is expected to grow 4% this year, spending on newspaper print ads is expected to decline 8.7% in 2016, according to estimates from GroupM, an ad-buying firm, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. That would be the biggest drop since the last recession. Leading newspaper brands like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are getting clobbered just as hard as the smaller papers.

That decline appears to be matched by a decline in local newspaper advertising spending. I made a quick count of advertising pages in the T-D today. After excluding the non revenue-producing in-house ads and public service ads, the 38-page newspaper edition contained roughly six pages of display and classified advertising, plus a six-page advertorial insert. In the heyday of the newspaper industry, advertising comprised up to 50% of the newspaper lineage.

Newspapers are migrating as rapidly as they can to online advertising, and they are making gains. But they have much more competition in cyberspace, and the revenue yield per eyeball is lower than it is for print. Thus, while a full-page ad in a national paper might run $100 per 1,000 readers, the WSJ reports, prime-time TV ads run about $37. I haven’t checked online advertising recently, but as I recall the cost of banner ads runs around $1 or $2.

Readers of print ads are literally dying off, and so is the print-based business model that supports newsroom staffs that, though shrinking, are still substantial. What everyone needs to contemplate — and that includes Google, Facebook, and all the other technology-driven platforms that have extracted most of the economic value from online readership — is what happens when newspapers begin folding one by one. Who will report the news?

Look at all the online news aggregators — they feed off content created by others. They spend zero, zip, nada on creating content themselves. What happens when their reputable news content dries up? What will they have to aggregate? What will people have to comment upon? These entities will be exposed for the parasites they are.

I frequently chastise local newspapers for voids or failings in their coverage. But that coverage, as imperfect as it is, is vastly preferable to the information sources that would be available if there were no newsrooms. While in-depth investigating reporting is nearly dead in Virginia, reporters still cover important public hearings and other events. Without newspaper reporters, we would have almost no idea of what is happening. (I’m sorry, I don’t take TV news seriously. Local TV covers only the most controversial topics, and their format requires them to boil down complex stories to one- and two-minute snippets that skim the surface.)

Yes, newspapers’ framing of issues is biased (subtly on the part of local media, blatantly on the part of national media) by the values and worldviews of the journalists, who skew center-left. But the journalistic ethic tempers biases by fostering an ideal of objectivity that requires reporters (a) to check facts, and (b) to take note of differing points of view.

As local newsrooms shrink, there will be fewer journalists to cover a society that grows ever more complex. Reporters will know less and less about the topics they are writing about, and their coverage inevitably will become more and more shallow. At some point their value-add will be negligible. Then our main sources of information will be press releases, think tank studies, official presentations at public hearings, commentary, and bloggers unconstrained by journalistic ethics of any kind.

If you thought the state of public discourse in America couldn’t get any worse, think again.

Blog Update

The old server that served Bacon’s Rebellion at Hostmonster.com is still out of condition, the victim of a “denial of service” attack. The server hosted multiple websites, so there is no evidence that Bacon’s Rebellion was the target of the attack.

It has been nearly a week now but Hostmonster still has not resolved the issue. One technician told me that he has rarely seen it take so long to fix a problem like this. It should not be long, however. Once I can access all my files, I can work toward restoring the blog’s full content and functionality.

In the meantime, if you miss participating in Bacon’s Rebellion as much as loyal reader (and frequent comment contributor) Allen Barringer, follow his directions on how to gain full access:

Thanks to Jim Bacon’s problems with his blog hosting service, lots of us are having difficulty signing on to Bacon’s Rebellion. If you try to log in in the usual way with your BR user name and password (or if you have set up your computer to log you in to BR automatically) it will fail — you will get an error message that says you have an invalid password, and also that you have tried too many times to login.  Neither is true; this is an error from BR’s former blog hosting service. There is an alternative: look again at that log-in screen and you will see that it says: “Log in with WordPress.com /or/ Login with username and password.” The first alternative, “Log in with WordPress,” will work, as it bypasses the old blog host and goes directly to Jim’s new website; but you must first create a WordPress account. If you do not have a WorkPress account, here is how to create one:

What is WordPress.org? This is a volunteer organization consisting of people who promote and support blogging, and write the ‘open source’ computer program that makes blogs like Bacon’s Rebellion possible. Most blogs use the free WordPress software, and many blog readers sign on through WordPress because that signs them on simultaneously to all the WordPress-based blogs they subscribe to, or “follow.” By creating a WordPress account you incur no obligation to WordPress;  however, you will be able to sign in to any WordPress-based blog (including BR) through your WordPress account, and also, if you have an interest in blogging, you will be able to read and participate in any WordPress discussion forums.

To create a WordPress account, click on this link: https://login.wordpress.org. A login form will appear. At the bottom right, click on “Create an account” and the “Registration” screen will appear. Choose a Username and fill in your email address — you can skip all the other blanks — except, click on the blank next to “I am not a robot”; and then click on “Register.” Now, WordPress.org will send you an email with a temporary password.  Get the temporary password and sign in.   Your account at WordPress.org simultaneously exists at WordPress.com, with the same username and password. Continue reading

Making Progress

Got email restored to my PC — not my laptop or tablet, but I’ll worry about them later. Apparently, my Outlook 2010 is too old. I’ll have to upgrade to the new subscriber-based Outlook. Anyway, the email setup process is so complex that I never could have gotten as far as I have without extensive help from the Godaddy help desk. I would refer back to my essay on how overly complex our society is getting… but of course, I still can’t access my old blog!

Enough with my problems… Any email you sent me since Friday morning is either trapped in Hostmonster denial-of-service-attack hell or has bounced back to you. But if you email me now, I should receive it. Of course, I’ll have to go out of town shortly to take care of an elderly parent. When it rains it pours!

— JAB