Less than 40 percent of students who start at a two-year public college will complete a degree in six years, reports Pew Research Center. The completion rate is 62.4 percent for students who start at a two-year for-profit institution.
Two-year colleges are enrolling fewer students but granting more associate degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Condition of Education report.
Enrollment — about 7.2 million in 2012 — declined by 7 percent from 2010 after steady growth since 1990. The number of associate degrees increased by 8 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.
Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.
Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.
In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.
Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.
Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.
Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.
“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.
An experiment in online competency-based education has its first graduate, reports Inside Higher Ed. Less than 100 days after enrolling, Zach Sherman, a 21-year-old sanitation worker in Ohio, earned a self-paced associate degree from College for America. Four others also have completed degrees.
Southern New Hampshire University launched the college in January
It is one of three institutions now offering “direct assessment” academic tracks, which are not based on the credit hour standard. That means students can control how fast they move through the program’s task-oriented homework, assignments and assessments. There are no formal instructors at the college — only academic coaches and reviewers who determine if students have mastered each task by checking each assignment and sending them back to students for more work until they demonstrate competency.
Sherman works nights at a ConAgra Foods plant that makes Slim Jim snack meats, usually working a 56-hour week. In three months, he earned the equivalent of 60 credits by mastering 120 competencies. In one month, he averaged 30 hours a week on schoolwork.
Most of College for America’s 500 students are enrolled through partnerships with employers such as ConAgra, Anthem, FedEx and the City of Memphis.
Sherman took vocational classes in high school, earned a diploma and enrolled in the local Edison Community College. But he quit after a year because he was “working crazy hours” at ConAgra.
When pressed, Sherman also says the traditional college classroom experience was underwhelming. His faculty and coursework at Edison were good, he says. But going to class reminded him of elementary school.
“I don’t necessarily like that sit-down format,” he says. “It felt like we were robots at times.”
Sherman has applied to be a sanitation supervisor job at the plant. His associate degree is “going to help me move up,” he believes. “They’re really big on degrees.”
Sherman’s couldn’t transfer his community college credits to College of America’s program, which isn’t based on credit hours. But students can “use their knowledge and learning from previously taken college courses to more quickly demonstrate competencies,” explains Inside Higher Ed. If a graduate wants to go for a higher degree, the associate degree can be “translated” into course equivalencies.
Tuition was free for the first cohort. The next group will pay $2,500 a year and will be eligible for college aid, employer-paid tuition subsidies and Pell Grants.
College for America is a learning revolution that will help fill the job skills gap, writes Julian Alssid.
Community colleges awarded more than 1 million associate degrees in 2011-12, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, reports Community College Week, which lists the top 100 associate degree and certificate producers.
Completion campaigns are starting to pay off. Indiana’s Ivy Tech, a statewide system, ranks first among two-year institutions and third overall in associate degrees awarded with a 12 percent increase. Completion is “now a priority for all community colleges,” said President Thomas J. Snyder. But Ivy Tech is underfunded, he complained.
The situation only worsened when students poured into the system after the 2008 recession.
“The facilities themselves are woefully under built,” Snyder said. “Our student to adviser ratio is 1000-1. Most colleges try to get to 500-1.”
Snyder said while 47 percent of all students enrolled in public colleges in Indiana attend Ivy Tech, the state gets just 14 percent of the higher education appropriations.
The Lone Star College System in Texas ranked third among two-year institutions, and 10th overall, in the number of associate degrees conferred, with 4,208, a 27 percent increase from a year earlier. The number of degrees earned by Hispanic students increased by 55 percent from the year before.
“Our board has made student success its top priority,” said Chancellor Richard Carpenter. “For the past three or four years, not a meeting goes by where we don’t talk about completion.”
Lone Star leads the statewide Texas Completes program, which aims to “identify, address and eliminate obstacles to student success and implement procedures and policies to speed a student’s completion.” For example, all new students must attend a common orientation and declare a program of study in their first year.
Credit creep is making it harder for community college students to complete an associate degree, according to a Complete College America survey. In theory, college students need 60 credits for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree, but none of 104 associate degree tracks surveyed had a median requirement of 60 credits or less.
Many associate degrees now require 70 credits or more, notes Inside Higher Ed.
Nate Johnson, a higher education data expert who managed the survey, said he was surprised that half of the community colleges surveyed did not have a single program limited to 60 credits, including general education degrees and those aimed at students who transfer to four-year institutions.
. . . The likely reason for the credit inflation, he said, is a common one in higher education. “People tend to add things without taking anything away.”
Students who change majors often need to take extra courses. Some take more courses to earn credits that will transfer after realizing earlier credits aren’t useful. On average, students who earn an associate degree have racked up 80 credits, according to Complete College America. Many give up before they complete a degree.
Some states — Maryland, Indiana and South Dakota — are setting credit limits for associate degrees. California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to limit community college students to 90 credits at the low in-state rate, but the Legislature rejected the idea.
Colleges and universities awarded 5.1 percent more degrees in 2011-12, despite a 1.6 percent dip in enrollment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Community colleges lost 250,000 students, but granted 8 percent more associate degrees. The number of bachelor’s degrees rose by 4.3 percent.
On 11D, Laura McKenna advises people considering postsecondary education: “Don’t get an AA degree anywhere but at a super cheap community college . . . live at home, and get a part time job.”
She adds: Don’t get a degree in a profession that doesn’t require a degree. “You don’t need an AA degree in party planning” to be a party planner.
For those going for a bachelor’s degree, don’t borrow more than $15,000, try to finish in four years and “don’t choose a school based on the college atmosphere,” writes McKenna, a former political science professor.
President Obama’s College Scorecard is “a little buggy,” but may help those who can’t spot a rip-off, she writes.
Work for a year before starting college, adds Megan McCardle on The Daily Beast. “You’ll get much more out of the experience, and you won’t need to borrow as much.”
As an English major who went to graduate school, McCardle advises: “Don’t major in English or history. It’s getting hard to overcome a poor major choice by going to grad school.”
Both warn against investing time and money in low-value master’s degrees and PhDs.
High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.
Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
. . . Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.
Despite high unemployment, some 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and other high-tech fields are unfilled for lack of qualified workers, testified Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Chicago is trying to fill the skills gap.
Five high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district, including Corliss High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Lake View High School, began offering career-training tracks in September. The vocational programs are aligned with the needs of area businesses such as IBM, Motorola, and Verizon, which each partnered with a school to design alternative curricula, according to the CPS Website.
. . . Students enrolled in the program can earn a technical certification and credit toward an associate degree from City Colleges of Chicago, along with a high school diploma.
Two-year technical pathways can lead to lucrative careers, notes U.S. News. “Electrical engineering technicians earn a median salary of about $56,000 with an associate degree, and the median pay for nuclear technicians is roughly $68,000 with an associate’s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Radiology technicians also earn high salaries with a two-year degree.
Recent graduates with a technical or vocational associate degree average higher earnings than four-year graduates in three states analyzed by CollegeMeasures. In Virginia, the average technical associate degree graduate earned $49,000 a year between 2006 and 2010.
Community college degrees “are worth a lot more than I expected and that I think other people expected,” said Mark Schneider, president of CollegeMeasures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research.
The job news gets even better for two-year graduates, reports Forbes.
This on the heels of stats from the Department of Labor from the fall that showed job growth for those with associate’s degrees was outpacing that of more advanced degree holders. The good news doesn’t stop there; the majority of the fastest growing occupations in the US, from dental hygienists to veterinary technologists, require only a community college education.
In 2010 – 2011, the average community college student paid $2713 in tuition and received, on average, $1700 in Pell Grant aid, Forbes notes. Most community college students don’t borrow to complete an associate degree and those who do don’t need to go heavily in debt.
If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates — President Obama’s goal — it must increase associate degree holders, concludes Getting Back on Top, a report by Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education. That will require a national focus on enrollment and success in community colleges and trade schools.
Currently the U.S. ranks second only to Norway (35 percent) in the percentage of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or better at 32 percent. However, America is outranked by most countries when it comes to two-year degree graduates, tying for 18th with the United Kingdom and Germany at 10 percent.
Overall, the U.S. ranks fifth in the world in adults with degrees at 42 percent when not differentiating between two- and four-year colleges — behind Russia (54 percent), Canada (51 percent), Israel (46 percent) and Japan (45 percent).
When it comes to young adults ages 25 to 34, the U.S. is falling behind other countries, which are producing more young two- and four-year graduates.
“If we can double the 10-percent two-year degree rate to get to a 20, 25 percent rate, we will be up there in total college attainment rate, which will have a significant impact not only on college rankings,” Hull said.
It’s not just a matter of bragging rights, of course. Many jobs now require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.