JP Morgan Trip with Queens College

In addition to being in charge of NPP, Professor Miller is also a professor in the BALA program.

In addition to being in charge of NPP, Professor Miller is also a professor in the BALA program.

About two weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the New Professional’s Program event entitled “Day on Wall Street”. For those of you who do not know, New Professionals Program is a recently established student service that provides various methods of training and preparation for entering the job market. Since there is so much competition when applying to a job, you should definitely take advantage of this invaluable resource. Veterans in the business world, Professor Denise Miller and Ms. Diane Shultz are responsible for NPP’s instant success; it baffles me how Queens College students survived without having their guidance! But I digress. The goal of this event, which took place at JP Morgan, was to give students who are contemplating a career in finance a glimpse into what the job entails. Though I was there for only 7 hours-a fraction of any employee’s workday- I gleaned a tremendous amount in a day packed with information.

After waking up at 5:30 AM (on my day off!) and bracing the biting cold, I arrived at JP Morgan ready for what lay in store. The first item on the itinerary was the Morning Call, in which a panel of about 4 individuals explained, discussed, and analyzed the contents of a confidential handout that listed industry trends, different companies, and business strategies to the audience of employees. Sitting in the back row with my fellow Queens College peers, I looked around the room and noticed a pattern. Besides for the fact that JCrew or Banana Republic seemed to be the popular choice of attire, almost everyone carried a Starbucks venti coffee. I pride myself in never drinking coffee, but I was not surprised to see this, considering the long day in store for them!

Just to avoid a lawsuit, I blacked out the names of the people who met with us. As you can see, it was a packed day!

Just to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit, I blacked out the names of the people who met with us. As you can see, it was a packed day!

Following the Morning Call, we headed off to a pristine business room where we were treated to a delicious breakfast. Now that we were fully awake, we heard from a variety of speakers. There had been a great deal of thought put into planning this event, and it showed. The order of the speakers went up the ranks of employees, from analysts to associates to bankers. The progression reflected the JP Morgan culture; as you work there longer, you get promoted to a higher position.  After each group of speakers, we had a ‘break’, which functioned as time to network with the speakers one on one. In my opinion, these networking opportunities were the most invaluable part of the day: we were able to converse with the employees and get personal advice. At first, the prospect of networking with so many successful businesspeople intimidated me, but soon enough I was comfortable, knowing that these individuals were just human, and had once started out in my position, too.

Over the course of the day, there were certain themes and lessons that were reinforced. Firstly, all the employees emphasized the importance of being a team player. I was initially skeptical, given JP Morgan’s indelible label as being cutthroat. However, as I thought about it, I realized that being extremely driven and being a team player are two characteristics that are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are ingredients that together result in maximum success.

Achieving success, and ultimately getting places, is impossible to do on your own; nobody gets anywhere by themself. A second important lesson was that networking is crucial. It happens everywhere, whether you realize it or not. Furthermore, connections you foster must be maintained; it is not enough to simply strike up a conversation with someone, never to speak to them again. You want people to remember you.

JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Both have a similar name, but are NOT to be confused.

JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Both have a similar name, but are NOT to be confused.

Lastly, they emphasized the importance of being scrupulous. They mentioned instances of reading cover letters in which people write about Morgan Stanley, which is an automatic X. When applying to many places, it is easy to get mixed up. However, companies as prestigious as JP Morgan seek excellence and perfection. An application is a reflection of you, and therefore any egregious mistake indicates that you are an unqualified candidate.

By the time I left JP Morgan, I felt that I had had an extremely worthwhile, enriching experience there. Unlike many others I have attended, this business event remained true to its title. It was informative, engaging, and interesting, and I look forward to going to another one in the near future!

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 2:06 am Comments (1)

SAT Inc

Achieve more? Give me a break.

Achieve more? Give me a break.

The SATs. Just the mention of that three letter term (it is no longer an acronym) sends shivers up and down my spine. For most people, talking about the test evokes terrible memories of a difficult time in high school that have been tucked away, unsuccessfully, into oblivion. With so many people having taken it, there are a handful of discernable SAT archetypes that I have identified:

  1. The Overachiever: Preparing since the womb, this stressed individual carries vocabulary flashcards in one hand, and an SAT review book in the other.
  2. The Oblivious One: There is always that one person who forgets something vital the day of the test, such as a calculator or a #2 pencil. While fellow test takers shower this person with sympathy, they secretly think, ”At least it did not happen to me!”
  3. The Underdog: Completely under the radar, this person surprises everyone by doing well. Diligence and/or tutoring helps.
  4. The Braggart: The one who goes around and makes sure that everyone knows his/her impressive score.
  5. The Hated One: The person who barely puts any effort into studying, and gets the highest score. In the ensuing weeks, admirers swarm him/her, while secretly spewing venomous hateful comments in sheer jealously.
  6. The Holy Grail: Someone who manages to balance studying and relaxing, and ultimately succeeds on the test without compromising their sanity. Disclaimer: this individual does not exist.

The SAT plays a crucial role in our society by contributing stress to high school juniors as well as to the overall college application process. Recently, College Board announced that it would be implementing several changes to this standardized test. Though ostensibly innocuous, these changes reflect the true nature of the SAT. This test is not a way to gauge the intellectual capabilities of students; rather, is a money-making scheme.

Atticus Finch was a man of courage and integrity, both inside and out. College Board promotes itself as a company dedicated to higher learning for students, but in reality is seeking profits-just like any other business.

Atticus Finch was a virtuous man of courage and integrity, both inside and out. College Board promotes itself as a company dedicated to higher learning for students, but in reality is seeking profits-just like any other business.

Significant changes have not been made to the SAT since 2005, when the highest composite score was raised to 2400 from 1600 due to the addition of the essay section. Now the scores will return to being out of 1600. The optional essay will be focused more on expressing experiences and opinions, rather than answering prompts. So much for using the tried and true formula of using one literary and one historical example as support-Atticus Finch and the Civil War never let me down. Words deemed too obsolete will also be replaced with jargon more often used in college. Additionally, math concepts will be more focused, with some sections not allowing the use of a calculator. My jaw dropped, though, when I discovered that there would no longer be a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers. This is not the SAT that I had come to hate.

Why is it that the College Board decided to make such drastic changes? College Board is echoing arguments that teachers have been making for years: the SAT is disconnected with the work of high schools. Many of the words that students memorize, not learn, for the SAT are neither used in the classroom nor are part of everyday vernacular. In the math section, questions are often characterized as being “SAT” in nature, and never actually covered in a school curriculum.

In reality, though, I think College Board is trying to make the SAT more attractive because it recognizes that the ACT is a serious threat. While the SAT costs $51 to take and penalizes for the wrong answer, the ACT is $50.50 and allows for guessing without penalty. With people finding the ACT to be more manageable, as well as colleges now accepting it as a substitute for the SAT, more students are registering for this exam instead. College Board now sees that where it once held a firm monopoly, it now faces legitimate competition. Seeing that its current testing policy was unpopular, College Board, like any company desperate to reverse a downward spiral, decided to spice things up.

Every year there is a new official SAT study guide book. Not only does College Board make money from the registration fees, but also from the preparation that goes into taking the test, too.

Every year there is a new official SAT study guide book. Not only does College Board make money from the registration fees, but also from the preparation that goes into taking the test, too.

Of course, everything about the SAT is about making money; the registration fee is simply icing on the cake. There are pricy “new” SAT books that must be updated every year. Once you have the books, you must also hire a tutor. The SAT is notorious for not testing intelligence, but rather for testing the ability to take the SAT-a skill that no teacher can ever impart to a student. (When I volunteered as an SAT math tutor, people could not fathom why I would give up the change to do the exact same thing, except for at least $80 an hour-the starting rate for a novice SAT tutor.) Clearly, this puts underprivileged kids at a disadvantage when they do not have the financial means to gain access to unlocking the code to conquering the SAT. Furthermore, by giving the option of score choice, College Board is favoring students who can afford to take the test multiple times. Also, did I mention that there are fees for sending SAT scores to colleges? By the end of the entire SAT process, parents can easily fork down $3000. Is $1000 a letter really worth it?

It is scary to think that these filled in bubbles can play a significant role in the college you attend.

It is scary to think that these filled in bubbles can play a significant role in the college you attend.

Ultimately, there is a fundamental issue with the SAT as well as the ACT. Why is it that a significant determinant for most Americans to get accepted into college is a test compiled by 2 private companies? College Board feigns sympathy for the test takers by having a Question of the Day, but in reality, it exploits them. Perhaps having a government mandated test, rather than one made by an arbitrarily powerful one, would fairer? New York City has regents, why can’t there be a national version of this?

Published in: on March 6, 2014 at 2:37 am Comments (5)

Shrinking Products, Increasing Prices

So does this mean that the original was of subpar quality? This phrase often unnerved me, rather than pleasing me as companies intend.

So does this mean that the original was of sub-par quality? This phrase often disturbs me, rather than making me excited as companies intended.

Companies are constantly trying to spice up their products in order to keep current customers interested, as well as to reach out to a broader consumer base. New flavorings and new packaging are two examples as to how expansionary marketing tactics are implemented. Recently, I noted that the size and portions of many items on the shelves have been shrinking. You should definitely take note of this trend because it will affect your spending habits. At first you might not notice the subtle difference, but over time you will be keenly aware of the fact that you are spending significantly more.

As you can see from the diagram, there are a few steps between production and actually reaching you, the consumer. The more steps, the more hikes in price.

As you can see from the diagram, there are a few steps between production and actually reaching you, the consumer. The more steps, the more price hikes.

Why is it that items are suddenly shrinking in size? Based on the cell phone market, one would think that companies are all thinking that bigger is better! When creating a product, there are various parts that go into production. Labor, equipment, and ingredients all cost money. When pricing a good, companies add up their expenses and then decide on a price that both covers their costs and leaves room for a profit. (Actually, a middleman gets involved between the manufacturer and the store. By the time the item reaches your shelf, the price has been marked up significantly.)  If the cost of any of these inputs goes up, the company transfers the burden on the customer. It makes sense: if the price of an input rises, then the value of the final good is greater than it was before; therefore, a new price is needed to reflect the appreciation in value. Businesses cannot continue to charge the same amount when it costs more to produce-otherwise they would soon go out of business. And since there is inflation, prices have continuously risen over time. However, because wages have gone up at the same rate, people normally do not feel such a pinch on their bank accounts.

Of course, this normally happens in a healthy economy. As I have mentioned in past blogs, the US economy is still very fragile. While it is indeed expanding, growth is very tepid. Businesses are afraid to do anything too drastic, lest they set off a negative response and cause sales to plummet. Knowing that increasing prices is not the appropriate tactic in this scenario, they chose a creative and discrete method in order to offset the rising cost of inputs.

A graph depicting the Law of demand. As the price (on the y axis) goes down, the quantity demanded (the x axis) increases.

A graph depicting the Law of demand. As the price (on the y axis) goes down, the quantity demanded (the x axis) increases.

         Their solution: shrink the size of their goods, but keep prices the same. That way, they would actually be charging customers more, but in such a subtle way that many would not notice. Psychologically, they reasoned, people are more likely to notice a price hike of $0.20 than to notice that an item is 0.5 ounces smaller. This way, they successfully circumvent a fundamental rule in economics, the Law of Demand, which dictates that demand decreases when price increases. Furthermore, by using a new shape, a company appears more modern and dynamic, thereby attracting more attention. Genius!

A conspicuous example of shameless shrinking is evident in the new Chobani yogurts. For a while, I was ecstatic with this Greek yogurt company. Its products are yummy, healthy, and cheap (using this coupon which often doubles). Did I mention that their key lime pie

It might not have as fancy a facade as the brand name, but it tastes just as good. Never judge a book by its cover-in the case of saving money and getting more, the generic brand is a win-win.

It might not have as fancy a facade as the brand name, but it tastes just as good. Never judge a book by its cover- by paying less overall and getting more for what you paid, the generic brand is a win-win.

flips are to die for? The American market shares similar positive sentiments about Chobani, as it has become the latest official craze. Unfortunately, what was originally sold at 6 ounces is now only 5.3 ounces. How did Chobani divert attention from the smaller size? It began labeling the new containers as being “under 100 calories” because it knew that its health conscious audience would respond well to the lower calorie content. Though I eat healthy for the most part, I did not view this positively. As someone who is capable of eating A Lot, I realized immediately that fewer calories mean less volume. (I figured this out with my brain, though, not my stomach.) Unfortunately, many people are not so acutely sensitive to being ripped off; many people I asked did not realize that the Chobani yogurts were smaller. Looking at the shelves in Shoprite, I noticed that the generic Greek yogurts were still the original 6-ounce sizes. Thus, they are not only cheaper than the brand name at face value, but also proportionally, as they cost substantially less per ounce.

The original shape and size of Chobani yogurts. This is 6 ounces.

This is the original size and shape of Chobani yogurt. It is 6 ounces.

This is the new shape you might have begun to see on shelves. New features include a more defined rim, a claim of being 100 calories, and 5.3 ounces label.

This is the new shape you might have begun to see on shelves. New features include a more defined rim, a claim of being 100 calories, and 5.3 ounces label (bottom left).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all foods are shrinking, though. Since the 1970’s, fast food portions swelled in size.  A sad reality in a world struggling with

And we wonder why people are struggling to maintain their weight in today's society...

And we wonder why people are struggling to maintain their weight in today’s society…

an obesity problem, and probably an important contributing factor, value sizing is a way to make consumers feel like they are getting the biggest bang for their buck. The food is already dirt cheap, so companies can afford to increase the portions.

Why is it that some companies are decreasing portions while others are increasing them? I have two possible answers that are based on two different economic concepts.

Firstly, everyone tries to maximize his or her own utility, or happiness. For people who eat healthily, their utility will not be greatly impacted if there is less Chobani. They are trying to maintain their weight and realize that eating this Greek yogurt, no matter how much, is still good for them. People going out for fast food, on the other hand, are concerned with buying food at a low price. The more they get, the greater their utility. Imagine if, at a drive-thru, you get an order of fries that is half the size it used to be. You would not be happy.  Companies realize this discrepancy and act accordingly. Not only does the utility of fast food eaters go up more if the size increases, but also the cost of doing so is significantly cheaper.

blog 5.8 hipster healthy

Hipsters, notorious for being a part of a wealthier demographic, are willing to spend more to eat healthily.

Cost affects consumer behavior as it does business behavior. Elasticity is the degree to which supply or demand is sensitive to changes in price. In the case of changing portion size, elasticity clearly manifests itself. When Chobani changes the size of its product, thereby making it more expensive, demand is highly inelastic- people will continue to buy it despite it costing more.

Ever seen this at a local Drive-thru? Probably not, because people buying there are most likely on a strict budget.

Ever seen this at a local Drive-thru? Probably not, because people buying there are most likely on a strict budget.

To eat healthily, they are willing to pay more. However, when it comes to unhealthy food, demand is extremely elastic. Increase the price by even a small amount, and a large number of people will stop buying. The appeal in this type of food is, after all, in its cheapness; it certainly is not heart healthy. The only way to appeal to more consumers in this case is either by decreasing the price or by increasing portion sizes. Since we live in a time of rising prices, the latter is the more plausible method.

Because of external influences such as store promotions, sales, and tax hikes, prices are always in a state of flux. Since the subtitle of this blog is “financial advice from yours truly”, I feel that it is my responsibility to enable you to legally acquire things for the cheapest price. The first way to do this is by being on the lookout for business tactics that trick consumers into paying more than they need to. Be conscious of prices, but more importantly in this case, beware of the shrinking sizes!

Published in: on February 23, 2014 at 6:28 am Comments (1)

Internships: Paid Slave Labor or Legitimate Learning Experience?

The fact that you can even see one car in this picture is surprising, given the sheer quantity of snow that has fallen in the past few weeks.

The fact that you can even see one car in this picture is surprising, given the sheer quantity of snow that has fallen in the past few weeks. At this rate, they should start offering  internships for snow related professions!

Snow might be covering everything as far as the eye can see, but I know what most of you have on your minds: your plans for the summer. As college students, you can no longer dawdle during your vacation. Ask anyone and they will say that they have applied to a number internships. Internships have exploded in popularity recently and play a critical role in the job sector of the economy.

Apprentices often bring to mind early America (think Benjamin Franklin), when teenage boys worked alongside men in various professions. Internships are the 21st century version.

Apprentices often bring to mind early America (think Benjamin Franklin), when teenage boys worked alongside men in various professions. Internships are the 21st century version.

What exactly is an internship? It is similar to an apprenticeship, but not quite. An apprenticeship is job specific and usually involves working alongside an expert in the field. An internship, on the other hand, is much more broad in nature. It is an opportunity to be exposed to a field in which someone is potentially interested. A successful internship is a learning experience and gives the intern a thorough idea of what a particular job or line of work entails. Since it is an experience, though, it has slowly been transforming into fodder for padding one’s resume. As a result, having one internship in which you actually do meaningful work is often perceived as less impressive than having a plethora of internships in which your main function is to organize a pile of papers. That, then, begs the question: quality or quantity?

Potential interns wait in line and are treated like they are part of a slave auction: they are cheap labor with little to no rights.

Potential interns wait in line and are treated like they are part of a slave auction: they are cheap labor with little to no rights.

Of course, hiring someone to work as an intern raises the issue of money. An intern clearly does not have the title of employee. Do they legally need to be paid? If so, must they also be paid at least minimum wage? At first, I thought the answer was obvious: working as an intern without receiving any form of monetary compensation is akin to slave labor! Legally, as always, the issue is much more complex. There is a six factor test issued by the Department of Labor that dictates the following 6 criteria that qualify an internship to be unpaid:

  1. The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment. (You actually learn something from it!)
  2. The internship is for the benefit of the intern. (The company provides you with the opportunity to be exposed to the field you applied for, and not be forced to do meaningless, unrelated work.)
  3. The intern does not displace paid employees. (The company cannot make you do something in place a current employee so as to avoid having to pay the hired worker.)
  4. The company provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of students, and, on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training (The company must train you as to what to do, and it cannot use you for worthless tasks, such as fetching coffee.)
  5. Students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period. (The intern knows that s/he is not guaranteed a job at the end.)
  6. The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent in training. (Both parties involved know that this is free labor. The company knows that they are getting a good deal, and the intern knows that s/he is getting the short end of the bargain- but is still willing to do so.)

Companies obviously want to avoid having to pay interns at all cost (pun intended) and therefore want to fulfill these criteria. Realistically, though, it is almost impossible for them to do so; most do not care about the intern’s learning experience. As a result, they frequently stretch the truth as to the nature of the internship. Most likely, they lie. You should be well aware of the fact that even a lunch or transportation stipend still does not legally cover the requirement for receiving a wage. Simply put, most unpaid internships are illegal.

Outrageous internship demands have been immortalized in The Devil Wears Prada.

Outrageous internship demands have been immortalized in The Devil Wears Prada.

Many people believe that internships are ethically problematic on multiple levels. One major issue is that of wages. Companies will pay either abysmally or, if possible, nothing at all. In their eyes, the intern is simply cheap labor. Unlike employees who commit to a company, interns come and go. Accordingly, they are viewed as worthless and are given meaningless, tedious work that is unrelated to the job. Companies are notoriously cavalier when it comes to intern exploitation; they have no qualms about asking interns to do petty favors, such as fetching a cup of coffee. It becomes rather difficult, almost impossible, to glean insightful experience about the job when you have no active exposure (except maybe to slave labor)!

 

This is JP Morgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon. Recently JP Morgan has come under fire for hiring the children of many Chinese elite in order to win business with their parents.

This is JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon. Recently JP Morgan has come under fire for hiring the children of many Chinese elite in order to win business with their parents.

Besides for the actual institution of internships, there is also a great deal of controversy regarding those who are actually accepted. There are a plethora of internships available, but because companies sense student desperation, they continue to be selective. You can find them by searching online, or, more specifically, on LinkedIn. Applying is the easy part; the real battle is getting a nonautomated response. The best way to circumvent this annoying roadblock is by getting an internship through a connection. I have frequently witnessed people who get an internship through a family member or a family friend. This method has a higher rate of success in terms of getting a legitimate internship. However, it is very unfair because it reinforces the age-old problem of nepotism. People can will lounge around and passively wait for an opportunity to head their way. Laziness is condoned, while ambition is unrecognized. C’est La Vie.

In economics, the concept of barriers to entry is discussed in relation to the various types of market structures. In a perfect, or pure, competition, no participants have enough influence to be market takers and influence the price of the items. There are many companies that sell the same product, and it is therefore easy for another company to join the market. However, in a monopoly, where there is one party that controls the market of a certain item and consequently, the price, it is nearly impossible for a company to join the market that is already completely dominated.

In economics, the concept of barriers to entry is discussed in relation to the various types of market structures. In a perfect, or pure, competition, no participants have enough influence to be market takers and impact the price of the goods. Every item is practically identical and therefore costs the same. With  every company selling the same product and bearing the same amount of influence, it is easy for another company to join the market. On the other hand, in a monopoly, there is one party that controls the market of a certain item and, consequently, the price. As a result, it is nearly impossible for a company to join a market that is already completely dominated.

A former professor of mine raised another issue. I knew he would have an opinion on the matter, and he did not disappoint! He argues that the institution of internships ultimately serves the upper class. For one, the wealthy have more pull and connections with top companies. On a more economic level, those who are not financially stable cannot afford to take off from their paid job and spend a few months as an unpaid intern.  The opportunity cost of missing a paycheck is far greater than the experience they could potentially gain from an internship. Furthermore, there is an economic concept called the Time Value of Money, which states that a given amount of money at the present moment is worth more than the same amount in the future. There are a few formulas for calculating future and present value, but the basic gist is this: by saving your money now and investing it, you can make more money. If you spend it, you lose that money plus any interest you could have made on it. Similarly, even if an internship increases the prospects of landing a well paying job in the future, the paycheck you receive now is, in comparison, more valuable. An internship, which is supposed to be an opportunity for learning and growth, therefore services to a privileged demographic. Furthermore, barriers to entry (exactly what it sounds like- something that prevents you from entering) exist for people trying to enter all job fields. However, barriers to entry acutely impact members of the lower class, who lack the many opportunities that are available to the wealthy. Therefore, by not partaking in any internships, they further lose out on experience necessary to break through the barriers to entry of a particular industry and to get a good job.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the economy, it is important to get internships. Granted it is disgusting the way in which many companies are exploiting young workers; often, they use interns as a way to circumvent the cost of paid employees. In fact, I read a recent article in which college graduates could not land a job, but they were hired, time and time again, as interns. It is a sad reality that the competition for internships now is not among college students and their peers, but also rather with recent graduates who should be in the pool of employed workers!

I could have made a fortune as a private SAT math tutor. Instead, I helped underprivaleged high school students who could not afford $100 an hour tutors. In that way, I helped even the playing field of those taking the SAT, so they had just as great a chance to do well as the wealthy students who hired private SAT tutors.

I could have made a fortune as a private SAT math tutor. Instead, I helped underprivileged high school students who could not afford to pay $100 an hour. As a result, I helped even the playing field of those taking the SAT; my students were as prepared to take the test as the wealthy students from private schools.

Last year, I applied ad nauseam to many positions, only to get rejected by all of them. Instead of getting bogged down, I chose to volunteer at Let’s Get Ready instead. I had to work hard (I also took 2 summer classes!), but in the end, the experience was rewarding. I felt that I had truly accomplished something- I had impacted people’s’ lives. Of course, an extra bonus was that I could add that experience to my resume. Future employers would see that I am not just ambitious, but also altruistic. Internships are an important part of any college student’s resume, but do not forget that there are other options, too!

Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 9:17 pm Comments (1)

$hmalentine’s Day

 

I cannot tell you how many times I witnessed a scene like this , in which a couple takes up an entire bench. It would be cute if the scenic view were not Powerdermaker Hall. Not exactly what I would call 'picturesque'.

I cannot tell you how many times I witnessed a scene like this , in which a couple takes up an entire bench. It would be cute if the scenic view were not Powerdermaker Hall. Not exactly what I would call ‘picturesque’.

 

Wherever you go on campus, you will inevitably spot a young couple that is unapologetically in love, especially one on the cusp of engagement. I hope you exhibit more self-restraint than I do by refraining from staring and making a disgusted face; in my defense, they are everywhere! The romantic ambience will only become more visible, or more unbearable, on Valentine’s Day. The fluffy teddy bear, the bouquet of roses, and the box of chocolates are all indelible markings of the painfully cliché, Hallmark sponsored holiday. The good news for all of you single folk is that you can cash in on the many available sales that companies market to all those who are love-struck.

Obligatory Forrest Gump quote: Momma always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'".

Obligatory Forrest Gump quote: Momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get'”.

Like on Halloween, chocolates on Valentine’s Day are on sale. The difference is that on Valentine’s Day, they are wrapped in quaint, heart shaped pink boxes. While they are intended as gifts for a significant other, there is no reason why you cannot treat yourself to some high quality chocolate. If you are content being single, they will serve as an effective pick me up snack; if you are miserable as the third wheel-a situation that I personally find awkwardly amusing-you can pretend that a lover gave you the gift.

Random fact: this ubiqutous logo actually depicts Lady Godiva, who, according to legend, rode around on a horse nude in midday in order to persuade her husband to ease the tax burden on the people.

Random fact: this ubiquitous logo actually depicts Lady Godiva, who, according to legend, rode around nude on a horse in midday in order to persuade her husband to ease the tax burden on the people. Fascinating story? Yes. Fitting for chocolate? Not so sure.

If you want to indulge on a little bit of fancy chocolate at no expense, look no further than a Godiva store. While the franchise promotes itself as an elite chocolatier for the upper class, it is in fact accessible to everyone. By joining its membership club, which simply entails giving your email, you are allowed one free chocolate a month. No catch at all! Note, though, that the freebies do not roll over and accumulate. As someone who does not quite know the concept of self-restraint when it comes to eating chocolate, I find this policy to be the perfect way to indulge my sweet tooth without feeling guilty afterward. Of course, Godiva is not doing this in order to befriend customers. Rather, the prospect of free chocolate entices people to enter its stores; once there, they are more likely to buy something. I admit that getting the chocolate from the cashier and simply walking out is often awkward. However, one look at the astronomical prices allays my uncomfortable sentiments.

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I saw people pay full price for roses. I was curious as to what would happen to the supply afterward. As I suspected, prices were slashed the following day. Unlike other holiday specific goods that go on sale, flowers die relatively quickly and do not last. The lower prices reflect sellers’ desperation to get rid of something that can only temporarily remain a part of their inventory.

blog 3.4 tulip graph

The price of tulips kept rising and rising, until it suddenly plummeted, just like what happens with every economic bubble.

The sharp decline in the value of roses after Valentine’s Day reminds me of another floral related event that impacted the economy: the Tulip Mania in Holland. In the 1600’s, the price of tulips skyrocketed, and people invested heavily in these popular flowers. Predictably, the bubble soon popped and the value plummeted, thereby leaving many people devoid of life savings and property. While a long line for a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day is not quite the same as the Dutch craze for tulips, both events show that even a relatively simple commodity such flowers can have an impact on the economy on a grand scale.

Valentine's Day "specials" are really just a way to lure in customers to spend money.

Valentine’s Day “specials” are really just a way to lure in customers to spend money.

While there are no general sales in honor of Valentine’s Day, you still have the opportunity to save money. Now that the semester is in full swing, you undoubtedly need something saccharine to counteract your bitter cup of coffee. Through some simple cost-benefit analysis, I would suggest that for a college student strapped for cash, a discounted box of chocolates is a much more worthwhile investment than is a teddy bear or a bunch of flowers.

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 1:56 am Comments (1)

The Skinny on CUNY Professors

Rate My Professors and the Course websites are bookmarked on every QC student's computer the week prior to registration. (I personally keep it on my toolbar I value these resources so much.)

Rate My Professors and the Course websites are bookmarked on every QC student’s computer the week prior to registration. (I personally keep it on my toolbar I value these resources so much.)

As every college student knows, there is a science behind crafting the perfect semester schedule. Of course, you must first consider the subjects, the total number of credits, and when the classes meet. No decision, however, is complete without consulting the courses website to see the grade distribution, as well as Rate My Professors for the reviews written by students. (Warning-the ratings are often extremely skewed; people who post reviews either have terrific experiences with the teacher and shower him/her with praise, or do horribly in the class and consequently trash the professor.) Thus, while the topic is important to note, the choice of professor can effectively deter or encourage a student from enrolling in a particular class. And by this point in the semester, you should be able to tell whether the descriptions you saw beforehand accurately reflect your instructors’ dispositions. What you might not be able to tell, though, is whether they are full time or adjunct professors. At Queens College, there are 1,070 adjunct professors teaching, a whopping 59% of the total teaching staff (far greater than the national average of 47%). As someone who has had numerous adjuncts as teachers, I was curious as to how adjuncts affect the college, as both an institution and as a center of education.

In the eyes of the students, an adjunct bears a tremendous stigma. It is important, though, to understand what exactly adjunct professors are and what they do. By definition, they are part time instructors hired per class on a contractual basis. This in contrast to regular professors, who have the possibility of gaining tenure. With no contract locking them to the job, adjuncts are often PhD candidates or individuals with another job, who plan to keep the position temporarily. From a positive point of view, adjuncts can provide real world experience to students; on a negative note, they are gone within a short time, thereby preventing a student from easily reaching out to them for a letter of recommendation.

blog 2.4 poverty rate chart

Despite the fact that the Quality of Life in America has allegedly improved over the years, the number of people living in poverty has recently skyrocketed. Who would have thought that an adjunct professor could potentially contribute to this statistic?

Of course, Queens College financially benefits by hiring adjuncts. Not only are they cheaper to hire, at an average of $24,000 a year, but they also receive no healthcare benefits. To put that figure in perspective, the poverty line for a family of four is just shy of that salary, at $23,550. That means that any adjunct raising a family must supplement their income by working a second job.

Adjuncts and their abysmal monetary compensation came to light recently during the Petraeus scandal. No, I am not talking about the one where he had an affair with his biographer, only for the story to balloon into a huge federal investigation, and lead to his ultimate resignation as director of the CIA. Once Petraeus resigned, he was inundated with teaching offers from various colleges; such a widely recognized, well-educated man is a hot commodity in academia. Despite having the possibility to teach at Ivy League schools, he chose to accept the offer to teach a seminar at the Macaulay Honors College, a CUNY honors program.

blog 2.6 petraous macaulay letter

This is the letter that was leaked to the public, showing that CUNY was willing to pay General Petraeus $200,000. This letter was signed by the former Chancellor of CUNY, Matthew Goldstein.

Word slowly leaked that for the 3-hour, once a week course, Petraeus would receive $200,000. Put in perspective, that amount is nearly tenfold what the average full time adjunct professor makes. In order to further entice him to teach, CUNY promised him that graduate students would form the curriculum and grade the assignments. Essentially, his job would be to teach 16 students for three hours; he would not have to deal with any of the other classic components of teaching. When I heard this, I was irate. CUNY complains incessantly about being in debt and lacking funds (Remember the printing money for filling out course evaluations?). And yet, they were willing to fork over an amount that could cover ten new adjuncts, or split and distributed among the salaries of existing adjuncts! The salary was consequently reduced to $150,000, a lesser, but still exorbitant, sum; soon thereafter, he ultimately accepted a token sum, and more acceptable amount, of $1 to teach the course.

blog 2.7 harvard

blog 2.8 qc logo

The scandal reflected a bigger, broader issue within academia, that of paying for a name. Elite schools bear intrinsic values in their names, and can therefore charge more. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. In microeconomics, there is a concept known as the Signaling Theory, in which one party conveys information about itself to another. That theory manifests itself, often unfairly, in labels individuals receive based on the college they attend. When looking at two candidates for an internship, one from Harvard and the other from Queens College, the hirer will likely choose the former. The rationale, of course, is that a student from Harvard is more qualified because his college signals more ability than Queens College. CUNY knows its students are faced with this problem, and therefore thought that acquiring such a renowned figure to teach a course for the Macaulay Honors College would elevate the CUNY system’s prestige.

Some of the students from General Petraeus' seminar: "Are We on the Threshold of the (North) American Decade?"

Some of the students from General Petraeus’ seminar “Are We on the Threshold of the (North) American Decade?”

I asked a friend of mine who took the class to describe the experience. While he thought the course material was stimulating and he gleaned a great deal from the professor, he nonetheless believed that the $200,00 salary would have been excessive and inappropriate, considering the salaries of normal adjunct professors as well as the fact that the students were not even paying for the course, as they were on a full ride scholarship.

Professors, and especially adjuncts, are notoriously underpaid. However, students are struggling, now more than ever, with rising tuition costs. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt is $1.2 trillion. On the one hand, having well paid teachers will encourage better performance and will entice people to teach. On the other hand is that the higher the tuition, the more debt that students will rack up; having a generation drowning in debt is not beneficial to an economy already marked by sluggishness and instability. Education is first and foremost an investment; nowadays, however, institutions have transformed it into a business.

Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm Comments (1)

Fee Fi Fo Fed: Big Changes for the Federal Reserve

Classic vacation pictures such as this one have been inundating all college students' Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds. We get it-no filter!

Classic vacation pictures such as this one have been inundating college students’ Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds. We get it-no filter!

For the past month, you have undoubtedly found yourself in one of two situations: 1. You were in Puerto Rico, where you sipped martinis while basking in the sun’s rays under a cloudless sky at a picturesque beach- all, of course, while instagramming your newly tanned self and the breathtaking views ad nauseam, or 2. You lounged around the house eating everything in sight, went to sleep at an ungodly hour, and then woke up mid-afternoon, only to regret that decision, but to nevertheless repeat it as you searched inane videos on YouTube at 2 AM.  Unfortunately, with the return of the spring semester comes the return of reality. While you put all of your worries aside, the finance world was chugging along at full steam. A major newsworthy story that took place over break was the approval of a new chairwoman, Janet Yellen, to the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve plays a crucial role in the finance world, and her appointment will have profound effects on both the American and global economy.

Ben Bernake has been the Fed Chairman since 2006. Former president Bush appointed him; President Obama reappointed him in 2010.

Ben Bernanke has been the Fed Chairman since 2006. Former president Bush appointed him; President Obama reappointed him in 2010.

Before delving into any details, I will note that from here on out, I will refer to the Federal Reserve as the Fed. Everyone in business calls it by this shorthand name; calling it by its proper name is akin to calling Bed-Sty by its full name, Bedford-Stuyvesant. (As a native New Jersey resident, I once did that, only to be mocked incessantly in the following weeks for my naiveté regarding New York.)

In early 2013, chaos erupted in Cyrus as people attempted to withdraw the contents of their bank accounts at banks, fearing that they might lose their savings. Ultimately, the government stepped in and restricted large withdrawals to prevent banks from running out of money.

In early 2013, chaos erupted in Cyrus as people attempted to withdraw the contents of their bank accounts at banks, fearing that they might lose their savings. Ultimately, the government stepped in and restricted large withdrawals to prevent banks from running out of money.

The Fed was established in 1913, in response to the Panic of 1907. As the name suggests, there was pure chaos at the time. The New York Stock Exchange plummeted 50%, when there was already a painful recession. Worrying about the fate of their money, a deluge of people swarmed to the banks to withdraw the contents of their accounts, an event known as a bank run. Nowadays, when you see a bank is “FDIC insured”, you are assured by the federal government that no matter what happens to the bank, you are guaranteed the safety of up to $250,000 in your account. People with more than that, however, get nervous when a bank might go under since they could potentially lose their money.

Go to any bank in America and you should see this sign (or a variation).

Go to any bank in America, and you will see this sign (or a variation).

The structure of the Fed is such that there are 4 different parts: The Board of Directors, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Federal Reserve Banks, and the Board of Directors. While the parts frequently overlap, each has a distinct role that creates a sense of checks and balances that similarly characterize many aspects of the American government.

During a recession, the reserve ratio requirement was heavily slashed, in order to allow banks to loan out more money.

During a recession, the reserve ratio requirement was heavily slashed in order to allow banks to loan out more money.

The Board of Governors is the main governing body of the Fed. The president appoints all 7 members, who have 14-year terms. Of these members, there is a chairman and a vice chairman, who are chosen by the president and are confirmed by the Senate. The ultimate responsibility of this group is to form the monetary policy. The Board of Governors accomplishes this role in two ways. The first is through setting reserve requirements. As the Central Bank, the Fed is a financial hub flocked to by all banks. Banks make money by loaning out money, and profiting off of the interest. It is therefore in their best interest (pun intended) to lend out as much money as possible. However, to keep these banks in a healthy position-meaning, to prevent greediness that would result in a bank collapse-the Fed requires a certain percentage of total deposits, called the reserve ratio, to be kept on hand. The amount of money that must be left in the bank is considered on reserve. The higher the amount on reserve, the less the banks can lend.

Secondly, the Board of Governors sets the discount rate. The money that banks lend out to you is not grown on trees-surprise! The discount rate is the interest rate they are charged when borrowing from the Federal Reserve Banks. Whenever you borrow money, you are charged a higher interest rate than the bank was; you pay the discount rate the bank must pay in addition to the bank’s own interest rate. Since banks want to pay the lowest amount possible, the higher the discount rate, the less money available to loan out.

When they decide to buy or sell securities, they need the New York Fed president- they can immediately notify him of required transaction, and he will carry it out immediately.

When the FOMC decides to buy or sell securities, it needs the president of the Federal Reserve of New York, whose region houses Wall Street, in order to immediately carry out the necessary transaction.

FOMC is responsible for the third means of forming the monetary policy. With 12 members, 7 of whom are on the Board of Governors, FOMC is in charge of open market operations, which refers to the buying and selling of securities. Since this is accomplished exclusively on Wall Street, it makes logical sense why the president of the Federal Reserve of New York is a permanent member. The other members are 4 of the other 11 regional Fed presidents; with 1-year terms, the positions rotate on a yearly basis. Legally, FOMC must meet at least 4 times a year in Washington, D.C., where it prepares written reports on various financial developments. Most importantly, though, is their ability to immediately buy and sell securities based on their assessment of the current status of the economy.

The Federal Reserve Banks, which are regional, function as the operating arm of the Fed. They “provide services to the depository institutions”. Simply put, they dish out the dough to banks. Federal Reserve banks are just like the regular banks we frequent, except that they exclusively serve banks as customers. They are the source of the money that you borrow from the bank, albeit which you borrowed at a higher interest rate than the bank originally did.

The last group is the Board of Directors. There is a 9-person committee for each of the 12 regional banks; the respective regional banks appoint 6 of the members, while the Board of Governors appoints the other 3. This group is characterized by its responsibility to supervise the reserve banks. Directors are the link between the Fed and the public, a crucial element to ensure that all decisions are ultimately for our benefit.

Now that you know all the parts of the Fed and how it functions, you can see why it is so important. It has the ability to impact interest rates and the amount of money in the economy, both of which affect consumer spending and saving habits. Since the global economy bases many of its decisions on what happens in America, the consequences of any decision by the Fed can be, and often are, broad in both nature and scope.

The most talked about action of the Fed lately has been its policy on quantitative easing. Since the recession, the Fed has been making interest rates shockingly low, hovering around 0%. It accomplished this through quantitative easing, in which it purchased government securities from the market in order to reduce interest rates and increase money supply. Here is what this means in basic terms: by buying a lot of securities, the Fed is inundating the market with more money; with more money in the market, the interest rates go down. After all, with so much money, banks cannot loan it all out a high rate-so the rate must go down.

Critics of quantitative easing say flooding the market with cash is not the solution to our economic woes. It might even lead to more problems-with some claiming it will cause inflation.

Critics of quantitative easing say flooding the market with cash is not the solution to our economic woes. It might even lead to more problems-with some claiming it will cause inflation.

When there was a recession, the Fed deemed it necessary to reduce interest rates in order to persuade people to borrow money. Now, after so many years, and with America in a healthier state, the Fed is considering tapering the quantitative easing, meaning that it wants to scale back on the buying of billions of dollars worth of securities. To put the matter in perspective, the Fed has been buying $85 billion worth of bonds each month. Some people think it is time to finally stop quantitative easing and allow for higher interest rates since the economy is doing better; others believe the economy is still too vulnerable and the Fed must buttress the tepid, but rising, growth in the economy by maintaining the quantitative easing.

This is Janet Yellen. Become familiar with this face, as it will be in the news very often from here on out.

This is Janet Yellen. Become familiar with her face, as it will be in the news very often from here on out.

Janet Yellen is the first female to serve as chairwoman of the Fed in its 100 years in existence. The fact that both Republican and Democrats were able to approve of her is quite noteworthy, considering the schism that existed between the two parties barely 2 months ago during the Government Shutdown. With a new person in charge, there are bound to be changes. Will the reserve ratio stay the same? What will the discount rate be? What will be the fate of quantitative easing? All of these issues came to the forefront recently, as well as the candidates’ respective positions. For example, Janet Yellen believes in continuing quantitative easing. Whatever the case may be, it is important to know that new monetary policies will definitely be coming, so watch out.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 12:35 am Comments (0)

BRICS: B for Brazil

This is a back view of the colorful art piece located by Rosenthal Library. It really got me thinking about the economic role Brazil plays in the global market.

This is a back view of the colorful art piece located by Rosenthal Library. It really got me thinking about the economic role Brazil plays in the global market.

Rocinha, depicted here from an aerial view, is a favela in Brazil. I think that Queens College’s art piece, with its bright colors and structural form, accurately captures the cultural and energetic nature of the real favela. (After having taken Art History, I know how to appreciate the aesthetics, too!)

Rocinha, depicted here from an aerial view, is a favela in Brazil. I think that Queens College’s art piece, with its bright colors and structural form, accurately captures the cultural and energetic nature of the real favela. (After having taken Art History, I know how to appreciate the aesthetics, too!)

Walking around the Queens College campus this semester, you might have noticed a conspicuous change. I am not talking about the improved drainage system, most evident by the newly installed drain in front of Powerdermaker that successfully prevents flooding when it rains. (Although, it was about time!) Rather, I am referring to ‘Projeto Morrinho’, the art project on the stairs by the fountain next to the Rosenthal Library. At first I was rather annoyed by its inconvenient placement; I like sitting in that spot when it is nice outside. As I looked around and saw signs on the lampposts, I realized that this art project had something to do with the year of Brazil theme. It depicts a favela, which is a shanty town found in urban areas in Brazil.  Favellas came to being in the 1970s, when people began moving from their rural homes to the cities. This rural exodus was the major starting point in the developing urbanization of Brazil. In fact, Brazil has been playing an increasingly important role in the global economy as of late.

This map highlights the fact Brazil is relatively isolated geographically from the other BRICS countries. Impressively, it still maintains a relevant, important role in the global economy.

This map highlights the fact Brazil is relatively isolated geographically from the other BRICS countries. Impressively, it still maintains a relevant, important role in the global economy.

A clear indicator of Brazil’s significant role in the world economy is its inclusion in BRICS. The term BRICS, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, (and South Africa) was coined by Jim O’Neil in a report he wrote under Goldman Sachs in 2003. In this piece, he claimed that by 2050, these four economies  (South Africa was tacked on later) would be wealthier than the economic behemoths of today, namely the United States and Russia. A rather bold assertion at the time, his conclusion was based on the fact that changes in political, economic, and social policies have been conducive to tremendous economic growth in the respective countries. Together, they could function as a force in the global market, thereby shifting the current powers.

Each country in BRICS has a unique part in contributing to the world economy. Brazil is known for being the largest exporter of resources (To learn more about Brazil’s environment, check out Songyi’s blog!). In fact, Brazil has the largest national economy in Latin America. It is a mixed market, meaning that people can trade freely, but with some government regulation. By trading a wide range of goods and resources, including aircrafts, electrical equipment, ore, and coffee, Brazil has created a highly diversified economy that is ripe for growth. As a result, it has been able to expand its capital markets, reach the lowest level of unemployment that the country has seen in years, and achieve consistent trade

As was highly publicized during the government shutdown, America owes creditors more than $17 trillion dollars. This number rises every second-in fact, by the time I post this, this amount will be completely obsolete!

As was highly publicized during the government shutdown, America owes creditors more than $17 trillion dollars. This number rises every second-in fact, by the time I post this, this amount will be completely obsolete!

surpluses. In short, their financial situation is much healthier, both in the short and long run, than that of America, which is struggling with a high deficit (owing others money) and a contracting economic market (in terms of the variety of goods that are produced).

O’Neil’s prediction was made when a graph of the United States GDP was growing. However, now that the GDP is well below what it should be, O’Neil’s prediction for the growth of BRICS might not come into fruition. The financial crash of 2007 had a widespread impact on every nation’s local economy, and consequently, behavior in the global market.

O’Neil’s prediction was made when a graph of the United States GDP was growing. However, now that the GDP is well below what it should be, O’Neil’s prediction for the growth of BRICS might not come into fruition. The financial crash of 2007 had a widespread impact on every nation’s local economy, and consequently, behavior in the global market.

While O’Neil’s argument had merit, there were some flaws that must be addressed. One of the most critical oversights was the fact that O’Neil assumed that there was a limitless supply of resources, such as oil and coal. In fact, there is a finite amount, and a country’s decisions and consequent behavior is based on the fluctuations of a resource’s availability. Brazil might be doing well at the current moment, but if there were to be a sudden scarcity of water, their economy would surely reach a standstill. Perhaps it would even plummet into a recession, unable to cope with this sudden obstacle. Another hurdle that O’Neil neglected to consider was the aftermath of a potential economic tumble in a world power’s economy. I am referring, of course, to the financial crash of 2007. At the time that O’Neil wrote this piece, Brazil and the other three countries might have been poised to dominate the word economy. However, the impact of the crash manifested itself in every country, in varying degrees. Suddenly, it is clear that even someone who works for Goldman Sachs is not infallible in his economic acumen.

blog 15.7

This picture poignantly depicts the worries of the Brazilian people. While the rest of the world is excited for the World Cup, local citizens are concerned with their own well-being. They would rather their money be spent in a way that improved their way of life, rather than preparing to host a major sporting event.

In the year of 2013, Brazil does not exactly appear to be on the track that O’Neil predicted. Indeed, it is engaged in trade with other countries. However, there are inevitable bumps in the road when it comes to achieving a country’s potential. There is a great deal of government corruption in Brazil; politicians rarely go to jail, even when found guilty of egregious crimes such as kidnapping and slave labor. I learned in microeconomics that government can make markets better off when they interfere, such as by ensuring that businesses charge fair prices. However, using funds for illegal purposes or in inefficient ways causes a nation to regress, not progress. The corruption, and national sentiment of frustration, came to light when the government wanted to implement a fare hike on public transportation. While a $.10 increase is miniscule compared to the frequent fare hikes

The proposed increase of (only) $0.10 sparked immense outrage, leading to violence in the streets.

The proposed increase of (only) $0.10 sparked immense outrage, leading to violence in the streets.

instituted by the MTA, it infuriated Brazilians. They were fed up with the fact that they had paid burdensome taxes but received pathetic public education and transportation systems in return. These taxes were mainly being spent on preparations to host the World Cup in 2014 (To learn more about the World Cup, check out Nick’s blog!) While the World Cup generates revenue from tourist spending, Brazilians have been suffering acutely from the current government prodigality. To be a thriving economy, a nation must invest in infrastructure and innovation that will be beneficial in the long run.

Brazil is a dynamic country with a unique culture and a fascinating history. While it used to be ignored relative to other countries, it should not longer get the cold shoulder.  While predicting what will happen in a country’s economic future is impossible, it is normal to make an educated conjecture as to what will likely occur. I personally think that Brazil will flourish over the next few decades, in comparison to other world powers. Granted, it has not been growing as fast as it should have because of the sluggish nature of the general world economy. Nonetheless, be on the lookout for a new key player in the global economy that will surely rival China as America’s number one trade partner.

By the way, the unit of money in Brazil is called the Real (not pronounced like the word meaning authentic, but rather ‘ree-al’.)

By the way, the unit of money in Brazil is called the Real (not pronounced like the word meaning authentic, but rather ‘REE-al’.)

Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm Comments (0)

It’s True: No more $15 for Printing when Filling out Teacher Evaluations

With the $15 for printing no longer being rewarded, I now only have 3 uses for  my student ID: entering the QC library, entering the QC gym, and of course, getting student discounts at stores and theaters.

With the $15 for printing no longer being rewarded, I now only have 3 uses for my student ID: entering the QC library, entering the QC gym, and of course, getting student discounts at stores and theaters.

When I first heard about the Technology Fee Committee last semester, I was excited to join. As a freshman, it would be my first real opportunity to actively contribute to the college and potentially have an impact. Also, I was interested to know if the technology fees that each and every student pays (included in your student fees) were being allocated in the most efficient way. At the last meeting, we were informed that students who filled out teacher evaluation forms would no longer get $15 for printing. Why? Queens College is in major debt and needed to cut corners somewhere. Although I was visibly irate (which some professors at the meeting thought was humorous because the anger matched the redhead “fiery temper” stereotype), I attempted to calmly and logically explain why this is a terrible idea.

I first explained that the number of students who would fill out the evaluations would plummet. Money, I said, is the ultimate incentive when it comes to human behavior. Students who needed money to print multiple ten-page essays (like myself) would fill out the forms in order to get the money to print. By taking away the $15 incentive, most students would suddenly have no motivation to complete it. Ultimately, significantly less people would fill it out.

When I raised this issue, an administrator responded that he did not think such a precipitous drop would result. He explained that Baruch College does not provide $15 for printing when a student fills out the evaluation, and yet students still complete it. I immediately, but politely, rejected his notion on psychological-not even on economic-grounds. Taking away a reward that people have become accustomed to getting will result in far greater consequences should the reward be taken away, than if nothing were to have been offered from the beginning. Baruch students are accustomed to filling out evaluations with no expectation for anything in return.  On a tangential note, I genuinely don’t understand this. Baruch is considered the business CUNY. How are none of their students asking “What’s in it for me, financially?” Queens College students, on the other hand, will feel the sting of a reward being snatched from them.

I was foolish enough to have submitted the evaluation immediately, think that I should do it before I forget and not get $15 for printing. The evaluation system has a glitch in it, so that I had to fill out my biology evaluation twice, as you can see. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about, as I will be getting no money, regardless.

I was foolish enough to have submitted the evaluation immediately, thinking that I should do it before I forget and not get $15 for printing. The evaluation system has a glitch in it, so that I had to fill out my biology evaluation twice, as you can see. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about, as I will be getting no money, regardless.

The administrator then claimed that students should be filling them out solely out of a civic duty to their college. He also proceeded to ask if we voted in the elections, and that filling out the evaluations are essentially the same thing. At this point I almost wanted to laugh. He was referencing the fact that evaluations are considered when determining tenure for professors. While this is technically true, evaluations in fact play an infinitesimal role in the process. Furthermore, I found it insulting that he had also equated my democratic right of voting for a leader in the free world with my evaluation of “strongly disagree” to the question of “professor returns assignments in timely fashion”. Granted, I understand that he was talking about student apathy and did not intent to be offensive. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that students look out for their best interests, and not the financial best interests of Queens College.

This is what I anticipate to be the trajectory of number of completed student evaluations:it will plummet. Maybe not the first semester, as some people do it out of habit. Once they realize that they did not get the $15, the following semester they will not fill it out. I guarantee it.

This is what I anticipate to be the trajectory of number of completed student evaluations: it will plummet. Maybe not the first semester, as some people do it out of habit. Once they realize that they did not get the $15, the following semester they will not fill it out. I guarantee it.

However, he also did not take into account the often-apathetic nature of students. Money functions as a more powerful motivator than does civic responsibility. I am not denying the fact that people will still fill them out. However, a fellow student member of the committee made an accurate analysis of the situation at hand. The apathetic people will stop filling them out. However, students who either abhor a professor or are enamored by their professor will be the ones filling out the evaluations. The results of the evaluations will come out extremely skewed, with opinions at opposite extremes. To have a helpful evaluation system, it is necessary for people in the middle to also contribute. Considering the fact that the Technology Fee Committee just approved of a move to spend money to improve the teacher evaluation system, I think we should ensure that the information posted on this system is also accurate.

I did not write this post to bash the Technology Fee Committee. As a member, I have learned a lot about the internal workings of Queens College as well as its budgets allocations. However, I was angered by this revelation, and I thought it is important for students to be aware of it. I asked of the administrative members that, at the very least, the remaining balance for printing not be removed at the end of the spring semester if indeed it will not be replenished. Unfortunately, I highly doubt that they will heed my request. It used to be more financially worthwhile to print at Queens College by swiping my card. Now, however, I think I just might start printing at home or, if that becomes too much of a hassle, invest in a printer (which, to cover my costs, I would sell upon graduation to another student who would be in a similar predicament).

Published in: on December 2, 2013 at 10:10 pm Comments (3)
Tags: , , , ,

Black Friday Bash

It is not surprising to see parking lots filled to capacity (or excess) on Black Friday. The prospect of incredible savings draws big crowds.

It is not surprising to see parking lots filled to capacity (or excess) on Black Friday. The prospect of incredible savings draws big crowds.

I like to say that while some people observe Good Friday, I observe Black Friday. I therefore consider it to be a personal affront when I hear mainstream media warn “Be careful, those crazy shoppers will be coming out in full force in less than a week!” Unfortunately, Americans who take advantage of sales on Black Friday have earned a reputation as being insane, stopping at nothing to snatch an item off the shelf before someone else gets the chance. While these people are the only ones portrayed in the news, there is also a minority of people like myself: educated consumers who remain calm and composed, all while efficiently hitting every shop that offers unbelievable deals. Both friends and family have even asked me to do their Black Friday bidding because they themselves are too scared to go. It is out of the goodness of my heart that I share with you my secrets and tricks of the trade here; however, should you use them against me if we happen to be in the same store, you will face my wrath. (Just kidding. Not really.)

Red is depicted as a negative value, such as in this graph.

Red is depicted as a negative value, such as in this graph.

Black Friday, though not an official holiday, falls out every year without fail the day after Thanksgiving. Its name may have originated from two possible sources: 1. “Black” described the heavy traffic flow on this day in Philadelphia many years back 2. “Black” describes the profit that businesses earn on this day (‘In the red’ means negative, or making a loss.) Whatever the case may be, this day has proven to be critical to the success of businesses, many of which depend on the increased revenue they generate on that day to cover any losses they incurred throughout the calendar year.

I will not be worrying about how businesses benefit here. I like to view Black Friday as the opportunity for the educated consumer to make killer deals. You have to be careful to go to the right stores in order to get the best deals. For example, electronics can be found for dirt-cheap in places other than Best Buy, such as in Target, Walmart, or Amazon. For clothing, however, Target is not the best place to go. Instead, check out stores that focus on selling clothing in particular, such as Lord and Taylor and the Gap. While these stores might have a reputation for being pricy, they actually provide incredible sales on Black Friday. Garments that you like but could not buy because of the hefty price tag are suddenly affordable, sometimes even dirt-cheap. There is a specific method to catching these lucrative deals.

Coming with a prepared list of where you want to go (and , ideally what you want to get) is the only semblance of organization you will experience on day associated with extreme chaos.

Coming with a prepared list of where you want to go (and , ideally what you want to get) is the only semblance of organization you will experience on a day associated with extreme chaos.

It is easy to get overwhelmed on Black Friday. There are so many deals; where do you go even start?  For those of you who get easily distracted, a list of exactly where you will go will help you to stay on track, as well as help you maintain your sanity. Besides for a list, you should take a coupon with you, if possible. That way, you can increase your savings by even more than is advertised. The coupons are either more valuable than usual (25% on everything, not only on select merchandise) or have a set dollar amount off. For example, I got my hands on a $20 off $40 or more for Lord and Taylor. I am excited to use this voucher, and even more enthused at the additional savings I will accrue by my 20% off coupon at the same time. Savings galore! However, you must be cautious about when you use them. Many stores offer unbelievable discounts or validate their coupons during a small time frame. You therefore have to use your time wisely so as to scoop up all the good deals before they expire. Time is your enemy on Black Friday.

Black Friday can be characterized by sheer mayhem. When else will you find a grandma sprinting across the store amidst a huge crowd?

Black Friday is be characterized by sheer mayhem. Even a grandma can pose as your greatest threat in getting that heavily discounted item off of the shelf. And no one likes to fight Grandma.

Another enemy you will encounter on Black Friday are fellow shoppers. All of you have the same mission in mind: saving money. Some people might also be seeking out the same items as you. Be cautious of all shoppers, as you never know from a cursory glance what type of shopper s/he is. They can be either civil and considerate, or shamelessly hostile, taking no prisoners. There are a few tips that will allow you to come out unscathed. First, wear close-toed, comfortable shoes. You share the same goal as the nurses in hospitals who also wear such footwear: to be protected from heavy objects (in our case, trampling feet) and to make the hours spent on your feet seem more bearable. Secondly, the younger you look, the better. I have noticed that customers are nicer to me when I wear a messy bun and am sans makeup than when I look put together. (I think this might be because they feel somewhat guilty when shoving someone who looks 15 than doing so to a 25 year old. For Black Friday shoppers, it is an unfortunate reality that dignity is entirely irrelevant.

Lately people have chosen to do their shopping online, instead of facing the unpredictable customers who will stop at nothing for a  good deal. I repeat, Nothing.

Lately, people have chosen to do their shopping online, instead of facing the unpredictable customers who will stop at nothing for a good deal. I repeat, Nothing.

The hysteria of shoppers reflects the highly capitalistic nature of Black Friday that has evolved over time. With the widespread use of the Internet and its strong influence, businesses have expanded their deals technologically. Often, more sales are offered on company websites than in stores. This is likely the case in order to attract people  too scared to face the stores or the impossible parking. Online transactions also serve to thin the crows (by how much, I am unsure), making it easier for store employees to man cash registers. In addition to online deals on Black Friday proper, retailers have created what is now called “Cyber Monday”. For those individuals who missed out on Black Friday deals, they have a chance to catch some last minute online. The boon to Cyber Monday is that these deals are only available online-physical stores do not extend Black Friday deals through Monday.

You probably think that I would be over the moon if Black Friday would be expanded, to take place 24/7. While I love Black Friday, and the fact that deals are now available online both the day of and the following Monday, there is one aspect to its evolution that I abhor. Lately, stores such as Walmart have begun extending the sales for customers by opening the stores late Thursday night. I love a good deal, but I have no tolerance for such ungratefulness toward employees. These workers have to work ungodly hours on Black Friday because stores open as early as 5 am to accommodate as many customers as possible. Who are we to then dip into their vacation day to force them to work even more? I don’t care if they get paid “time and a half”-they should get paid triple. The message of Thanksgiving, that of appreciating everything you have and what others do for you, clearly goes over everyone’s heads. While I could potentially make some killer deals by going shopping on Thursday night, I refuse to do so on moral grounds. I am convinced that I find incredible steals regardless, due to Karma.

Some people have an explicable rush when buying something at a heavily reduced price. If you are one of those, don't worry: you are in good company.

Some people have an inexplicable rush when buying something at a heavily reduced price. If you are one of those, don’t worry: you are in good company.

I highly recommend you go out shopping on Black Friday, taking into account the advice I gave you, but please, do not go shopping on Thursday. Stay at home with your friends and family and appreciate what you have. This may sound bizarre in an economic/financial blog, because normally everything has to do with self-interest. When it comes to shopping on Thanksgiving itself, I am steadfast in my beliefs that it is wrong. However, feel free to ask me any questions you have about shopping on Black Friday, as well as the great deals you get (I genuinely get vicariously excited)!

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 12:25 am Comments (0)
Tags: , , , , , ,

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar