Paying off your student loan

Would-be participants of higher education must be given full and transparent advice before they accumulate debts as students that follow them into the workplace, according to a report published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education.

Deborah Figart of the School of Education, at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway, says that there is a dearth of pre-loan and post-loan counseling for undergraduate students using student loans to help finance their higher education. She has devised an assignment that can be adapted to a wide range of courses to help educate students about debt before it becomes a serious problem that can stay with them for life.

“The average student loan debt for a US graduate of the Class of 2013 was $28400, according to the Project on Student Debt,” reports Figart, “Each month, young adults are burdened with 25 to 30 percent or more of their net pay dedicated to student loan debt.” Anecdotes about telling horror stories of alumni with tens of thousands of dollars in interest-accruing debt earning minimal wages. Law graduates precluded from obtaining a license to practice despite passing the necessary bar exams because of a bad credit record, restaurant school graduates hoping to become chefs but earning a fraction of their debt peeling potatoes.

Most worryingly, Figart adds that the average student has around 8 to 10 loans and the total student debt far outweighs the nation’s total credit card bills. Figart has taught financial and economic literacy to students and teachers, covering subjects related to budgeting and consumer debt. And, while some states oblige courses to include a component related to budgeting and finance, too many students are “falling through the cracks”, she adds. She points out that the federal “Know Before You Owe Private Student Loan Act” does not go far enough in several ways and so also fails to protect students from debt.

Figart urges that students must be counseled in such topics as loan repayment options, average salaries for a wide range of jobs, suggested debt-to-income ratios, and the likely consequences of defaulting on loan repayments. “In an economy where job security and job quality are increasingly elusive, students pursue higher education as an investment, not simply a means of personal fulfillment,” she adds. While financial counseling may dash the dreams of some or at least postpone those dreams, it could nevertheless save thousands of students from a fate worse than debt.

Figart, D.M. (2014) ‘The teaching commons: is student loan debt good or bad debt?’, Int. J. Pluralism and Economics Education, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp.401–406.

Emission control

The notion of global warming was first mooted by French scientist and mathematician Joseph Fourier in 1824 and discovered by John Tyndall in 1860, he and later, Svante Arrhenius, pinned down the mechanisms. It is perhaps deceived wisdom that Arrhenius was the first to suggest that Sweden might once again be able to grow tropical fruit, such as bananas with a little geo-engineering, but Alexander Graham Bell in 1917 suggested that the unchecked burning of fossil fuels would force the very greenhouse effect and global warming we have observed since the Industrial Revolution. The data is there, despite the denialists and those who suggest the infrared spectrum of carbon dioxide is not enough to cause the effect and that atmospheric water vapour is the only relevant factor. I recently wrote of a decade’s worth of evidence that demonstrates once and for all that carbon dioxide is the forcing factor.

That notion of geo-engineering has been discussed at length in recent years, looking at ways of scrubbing out the carbon from polluters such as cars and fossil fuel power stations, sequestration of the gas from the atmosphere, anything to avoid having to actually do anything to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels or to actually cut emissions or offend the oil companies. It seems unlikely that we will give up our power any time soon even in the face of climate change. It could be that carbon sequestration is the only way forward.

Now, scientists in India have modelled the effect of physically removing carbon dioxide from the air. Their non-linear model takes into account particulates, water droplets and many other factors.

The team has applied their model to two possible scenarios. In the first, they assume that carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere through the introduction of aerosols or particulates (calcium oxide) that would sequester carbon dioxide so that it would precipitate out of the atmosphere. The model suggests that greenhouse gases could be eliminated from the atmosphere using this approach. In the second scenario, absorption of carbon dioxide would be carried out by plant photosynthesising species.

Of course the feasibility of such geo-engineering relies on a carbon neutral technology for their implementation and the means to dispose of the precipitate in the first scenario and a sustainable use for the biomass that doesn’t simple regurgitate the greenhouse gas back into the atmosphere through decay or burning.

Shukla, J.B., Chauhan, M.S., Sundar, S. and Naresh, R. (2015) ‘Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reduce global warming: a modelling study’, Int. J. Global Warming, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.270–292.

March Research Picks Extra

Removing arsenic from paddy fields

The presence of the toxic element arsenic in soluble form in groundwater and soils is a serious issue for many parts of the developing world and even in desert regions of the developed world. Researchers in China have now investigated whether ferrihydrite (iron hydroxide) and gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate) might be able to reduce the bioavailability of arsenic to growing rice plants in paddy fields and so lower the risk of toxicity for those eating the rice. In laboratory studies of pot-grown rice plants bedded in arsenic-contaminated water and soil, the team found that gypsum had no effect but adding ferrihydrite (just 1.5% by volume to the paddy soil) could reduce the amount of arsenic absorbed by the plants to 36% of untreated plants. This compound thus shows promise as a soil improver in arsenic-contaminated regions of the world where rice is grown widely as a food crop.

Chen, X-P., Zhou, J., Lei, Y., He, C., Liu, X., Chen, Z. and Bao, P. (2014) ‘The fate of arsenic in contaminated paddy soil with gypsum and ferrihydrite amendments’, Int. J. Environment and Pollution, Vol. 56, Nos. 1/2/3/4, pp.48–62.


The lean, flipped classroom

For designers, businesses and engineers, “Lean” and “Six sigma” are important process optimization tools for reducing wasted raw materials, human resources, energy and time. The concepts have been used in education too to improve student outcomes and to make educators more effective. Now, US researchers have applied lean and six sigma to another educational paradigm – the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom abstracts the lecturing and resource provision components of education and puts the onus on the student to seek out those materials outside the classroom. From the educators’ perspective, they should in the flipped classroom provide access to what would be conventional lecture materials and resources through online and remote systems. Classroom activities then become more interactive and preclude the conventional notions of note-taking and other activities in a lecture-type teaching environment. The team has demonstrated significant potential for the lean six sigma flipped classroom in its studies.

Kovach, J.V., Carden, L.L. and Ramos, M.A. (2014) ‘‘Flipping’ the Lean Six Sigma classroom’, Int. J. Six Sigma and Competitive Advantage, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.227–246.


Sex sells, but not always

It’s a cliché in marketing, that “sex sells”, but a study of a diverse demographic in the Middle East by researchers at the American University of Kuwait, in Safat, suggests the opposite. They have found that sexually provocative imagery of people and celebrities in visual advertisements can often be so much of a distraction to potential consumers that the product being advertised is often forgotten the face of scantily clad bodies and naked people. The team found, in their marketing research, that consumers of different genders, ethnicities, nationalities and age often focused their attention away from a product. The researchers suggest that the distraction may be one of a negative social and religious stance leading to a failure on the part of such marketing.

Mostafa, A.A. and Bahman, R.D. (2014) ‘The effect of provocative visual advertisement on the consumer’, Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 5, Nos. 3/4, pp.339–348.


Superhydrophobic plastic

Superhydrophobic materials are substances with a surface that by virtue of its nanoscopic structure repels water and sometimes other polar materials to the point where they simply cannot be “wetted”. Such materials have the potential to revolutionize a wide range of engineering applications but might also be used as highly biocompatible, non-stick coatings for replacement joints, artificial heart valves and other prosthetic, implanted body parts. Now, researchers in Egypt have demonstrated a straightforward way to make the common plastic material polypropylene superhydrophobic and self-cleaning for use in biomedical applications. Scanning electron microscopy and spectroscopic studies prove that the products are indeed superhydrophobic. And biological tests show that water is totally repelled from the surfaces. Moreover, bacteria such as the common superbug Staphylococcus aureus cannot adhere to these materials.

Abbas, R., Sadik, W.A., El Demerdash, A.G.M. and Badria, A.F. (2014) ‘A simple method to prepare superhydrophobic polypropylene coatings for biomedical applications’, Int. J. Nanoparticles, Vol. 7, Nos. 3/4, pp.156–169.