What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? Community colleges expect little of first-year students — and get even less, concludes the National Center on Education and The Economy.
The report paints a grim picture.
High school graduates have trouble reading textbooks written at the 11th- to 12th-grade level, so instructors provide study aids to help poor readers get by. Students do little writing. When they do write, ”instructors tend to have very low expectations for grammatical accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”
Despite taking high school algebra, geometry and often advanced algebra, most students are placed in remedial math. They’re not prepared for “college math,” which amounts to “Algebra 1.25,” basic algebra with a bit of geometry and statistics. Yet what students most need to succeed in college courses is mastery of “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.”
Community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S college students: About half hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the rest are pursuing a vocational credential, NCEE estimates.
It’s not enough for community colleges to raise expectations, the report concludes.
We need to bear in mind that a very large fraction of high school graduates does not meet the very low expectations that community colleges currently have of them. The nation may have to learn to walk before it runs, which means that it is important, first, to enable our high school students to meet the current very low standards before we ratchet those standards up.
Common Core Standards, if implemented well, will help, eventually, the report concludes. But there’s a long way to go.
Researchers analyzed textbooks, tests, assignments, student work and grading at seven community colleges in different states. The study focused on general education and popular career programs: Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming 1 and Nursing.
Only one program at one college required mastery of advanced algebra, the study found.
Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, with hopes they’ll make it to Calculus. That should be only one option, the report recommends.
Mastery of Algebra II is widely thought to be a prerequisite for success in college and careers. Our research shows that that is not so. . . . fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.
Students shouldn’t take algebra till they really understand middle-school math, the report advises. If they wait till 10th grade, that’s OK. They can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers.
States should “build alternative math pathways through the last two years of high school that are aligned with student interests and career plans,” says Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz. “If the Report’s assertion is correct —that only 5 percent of jobs require the mathematics embodied in the calculus pathway —then our education system should focus more on the mathematics that most young people will actually use in their civic and work life, e.g. statistics, data, probability.”
However, the path to 12th-grade calculus usually starts with eighth-grade algebra. At 12 or 13, students would have to decide whether they’re aiming for a university degree in engineering or science. Imagine a STEM-prep track for 5 percent of students — or even 20 percent — with everyone else preparing for a low-tech university degree or a community college job training program. The future engineers and physicists are likely to predominantly Asian-American, white, middle class and male.
An all-day conference on the report will be livestreamed today starting at 9 am EDT.
“Not everyone has to go to a four-year liberal arts college. We still need plumbers,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.
“Why aren’t we graduating more kids not just with a high school diploma but with an industry certification degree?” he asked the auditorium full of conservatives.
According to Rubio,there are 3 million jobs that aren’t being filled because Americans don’t have the right skills for these jobs.
“They need skills for these jobs,” he continued.”So, instead of being a receptionist, she can be an ultra-sound tech.”
Rubio also argued that not only are not enough Americans acquiring useful skills, but so many of these same Americans are graduating from four-year universities swamped in student debt.
The 41-year-old senator recently finished paying off his student loans using the proceeds of his book. He borrowed nearly $150,000 to earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1993 and a law degree from the University of Miami in 1996.
“College for all” has become a curse, writes linguist John McWhorter in the New York Daily News. Young people are told the only way to a middle class life is a four-year degree, but vocational training also can lead to the American Dream, he writes.
There is nothing ignoble about finishing high school, spending a year learning how to fix heaters and air conditioners and going off to ply a trade and make a good living (i.e.. the one we know plumbers make when we pay their fees).
. . . Did the guy who installed your cable-TV service have a college degree? How many sound technicians, mechanics or building inspectors spent four years on a college campus? How about the person who did your ultrasound?
Complaining of a maze of federally funded job training programs, House Republicans have introduced the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act to consolidate 35 federal employment and training programs into a single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund.
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.
College graduates’ skills don’t match the available jobs, said participants in a community forum in Fort Collins, Colorado, reports The Coloradoan.
Matt Dinsmore, co-owner of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, said he employs three people with masters’ degrees, including a beer stocker with a physics degree.
Martin Shields, a Colorado State University economics professor, said a college degree is an important investment, but the first four to five years after college are “tougher than they’ve ever been.”
Dawn Putney, CEO of design and marketing firm Toolbox Creative, most four-year graduates don’t have the job skills she needs. Young people are encouraged to go for a university degree, not to explore alternatives such as community colleges, she said.
Jim Neubecker, a member of the Governor’s Workforce and Small Business Development Council, said union electricians, pipe-fitters and plumbers can work 40 hours per week while attending school two nights per week, learning skills while avoiding debt. Community colleges often partner with unions to get students certified on otherwise prohibitively expensive equipment, Neubecker said.
A growing number of college graduates are underemployed, concludes a new study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;
In 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees; now more than 15 percent do in both jobs. Increasingly, new college graduates are working as clerks, cashiers, retail sales reps and waiters and waitresses, the report found. About five million are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education.
Comparing average earnings for high school and college graduates is misleading, the report warns. “Overproduction of college graduates lowers recent graduate earnings relative to those graduating earlier.”
Not all colleges are equal: Typical graduates of elite private schools make more than graduates of flagship state universities, but those graduates do much better than those attending relatively non-selective institutions;
Not all majors are equal: Engineering and economics graduates, for example, typically earn almost double what social work and education graduates receive by mid-career;
The number of college graduates is projected to increase by 19 million in 20 years; the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree is projected to increase by 7 million, according to the BLS.
If President Obama’s college completion goal is met, even more young people will be competing for a limited number of professional jobs, warns Richard Vedder, co-author of the study and director of CCAP. Soon, would-be janitors will need “a master’s degree in Janitorial Studies.”
The “college for all” movement is misguided, CCAP argues, calling for “new and cheaper ways to assure employee competency” and investing “less in four year degree programs and more in cheaper training, including high school vocational education.”
College graduates continue to earn significantly more than non-graduates, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, tells Inside Higher Ed.
“You can’t have a 48 percent surplus of college graduates and an 84 percent college wage premium over high school,” Carnevale wrote via e-mail. “This advantage wouldn’t have been growing along with the number of college graduates since 1983. The market is very responsive to labor supply…. If there was an over production the employers would’ve figured it out some time over the past 30 years.”
Nearly half of sales reps in the wholesale and manufacturing industries have four-year degrees in what the BLS considers a high school-level job. “What Vedder doesn’t point out is that sales representatives with B.A.s make $73,000 a year compared with sales representatives with high school degrees who only make $38,000 a year,” says Carnevale.
Old ideas about higher education are keeping completion rates low at community colleges argues Removing the BA Blinders: Reconceiving Community College Procedures to Improve Student Success, part of The Changing Ecology of Higher Education from Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.
Outdated norms — “all students should pursue a BA degree, take four years of full-time courses, expect no interim credentials or payoffs, explore only academic fields (labeled “general education”), and require minimal formal guidance” — pose “serious barriers to nontraditional students, write James Rosenbaum, Janet Rosenbaum and Jennifer Stephan.
In our interviews, community college students report a wide variety of mistakes in college. They take many courses without credits, they receive many credits that do not count toward credentials, they face predictable delays without receiving warning about them, and they receive credentials that have no job payoffs.
Many reformers have BA blinders. They devote great energy to transforming low-achieving students into traditional students by imposing massive amounts of remedial coursework. This BA-centric approach has failed consistently—sometimes with failure rates as high as 83% in national studies, for students placed in the lowest level of remedial coursework.
The researchers compared six community colleges with two for-profit career colleges. The career colleges had a much higher success rate: 57 percent vs 37 percent. For blacks, the difference was striking: While only 19 perent of blacks in community college completed a credential, 64 percent completed at private career colleges.
“Students at private occupational colleges are nearly identical to public community college students in terms of prior test scores, grades, and socioeconomic status,” according to federal data, the researchers point out.
Private career colleges help students earn vocational certificates quickly en route to an associate degree. If they quit after the first certificate, they’ve improved their employment prospects. It’s often a bachelor’s or nothing — usually nothing — for community college students.
In traditional community colleges, students go through a “fail-first” process in which 42% drop out in the first year, 50% of them return, and 53% of them drop out again. In interviews, counselors report that they do not mention their occupational programs to young students (ages 18 to 24). Students are only told about these options if they are returning dropouts or older than age 24.
Since it’s assumed all students should go for a bachelor’s degree, community colleges place students in remedial courses to acquire college-level academic skills and urge first-year students to take a smattering of general education courses. Many students could skip remediation if they were urged to take vocational courses, the report finds. “In our interviews with 48 occupational faculty, most reported that computer networking technicians, medical technicians, and accounting staff only need eighth- to tenth-grade math skills.”
Career colleges structure programs, telling students exactly what to take, require advising, monitor students’ progress carefully and provide job placement services, researchers found. In community colleges, students are on their own — unless they have college-savvy parents who can guide them.
The report recommends seven ways to improve completion:
1. Offer opportunities for quick successes
2. Offer opportunities for quick payoffs
3. Avoid or delay obstacles that prevent success
4. Develop degree ladders
5. Provide structured program pathways with courses in predictable time slots
6. Provide “guardrails” that help guide student progress
7. Emphasize job placement
Many students want a bachelor’s degree because they’ve been told it’s the only path to success. The portion of incoming freshmen that cited ”to be able to get a better job” as a very important reason for attending college reached an all-time high of 87.9 percent in 2012, reports UCLA’s annual survey of new students at four-year colleges and universities. There are many realistic options for career-minded students with little chance of completing a bachelor’s degree but a fighting shot at a pharmacy tech certificate or an associate degree in computer networking.
Community colleges’ mix of job training and academic education creates good citizens, says Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in an interview with Community College Journal excerpted in Community College Times.
. . . ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied the genuine social inclusion that is the real test of full citizenship. Those denied the education required for good jobs tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity and economy. . . . If community college educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors, good citizens and self-possessed individuals who can live fully in their time.
Almost a third of new job openings between 2010 and 2020 will require middle skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree — Carnevale predicts. Some of these jobs pay middle-class wages: 62 percent of middle-skill jobs pay $35,000 or more per year, his research has found. Thirty-one percent of entry-level associate-degree jobs and 27 percent of jobs requiring licensure or certification pay more than entry-level BA positions.
“Before the 1980s, employers provided entry-level training to the vast majority of middle-skill workers, largely in blue-collar occupations,” Carnevale says. Now community colleges help young people “get through the door to jobs that pay.”
There is a “missing middle” between high school and four-year college, says Carnevale.
Perhaps because employers did the entry-level training for so long in the United States, the American education system has been built around the four-year bachelor’s degree. For institutional and cultural reasons, the “college is a BA” mantra continues. Students march in lockstep into four-year institutions, many without any clue of how they will attach to the labor market at the end of their four to six years. This blind homage paid to the prestigious BA job is largely responsible for the difficulty in recruiting and training workers, along with the lack of information about how viable and upwardly mobile middle-skill jobs can be.
In spite of high unemployment, “2 million jobs persistently go unfilled for want of skilled workers,” says Carnevale.
Some Montana teens are choosing high-paying jobs in the booming energy industry over college, reports the New York Times from the town of Sidney. It’s a “risky” decision, opines the Times. What if the oil and gas drilling boom is shut down by environmental regulation?
. . . with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”
Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing . . .
One high school senior makes $24 an hour as a cashier in Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. She plans to work for a few years, save her money and move to Denver.
In eastern Montana, counselors say “more and more students were interested in working for at least a year after graduation and getting technical training instead of a four-year degree.”
Last year, one-third of the graduating seniors at Sidney High School headed off to work instead of going to college or joining the military, a record percentage. Some found work making deliveries to oil rigs, doing construction and repairing machinery. Others decided to first seek training as welders or diesel mechanics, which pay more than entry-level jobs.
Meanwhile, enrollment at Dawson Community College in Glendive, about an hour from Sidney, has fallen to 225 students from 446 just a few years ago, as fewer local students pursue two-year degrees.
People are moving to the energy belt in search of jobs at good wages, but even more jobs are expected.
Shay Findlay found a job repairing drilling pumps the day after he was graduated from high school. At 19, he earns $40,000 a year and enjoys his work. His friends are home from college for Christmas break with “stories of dorm-room dramas and drunken scuffles with campus police officers,” reports the Times. “They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”
Who’s taking the risk? Findlay’s party-hearty friends are very likely to drop out of college owing money. Honor-roll students with the ability and motivation to earn a degree — petroleum engineering pays very, very well — will benefit from going straight to university. But that’s not who’s earning a welding certificate or working as repairmen, drivers and cashiers.
The New York Times is worried about the risk to the “college-industrial complex,” writes Heather Mac Donald. “Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education.” They aren’t studying the great ideas of Western civilization, she writes. Most will “double major in communications and binge drinking.”
If community colleges are turned into job training centers, it could “do irreparable harm not only to our educational system but also to the egalitarian foundations of our democratic society,” writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Other industrialized nations track students in middle or high school into a technical or university track, deciding who will be leaders and who will be worker bees. In the U.S., students decide for themselves. “Practically anyone who wants to go to college can do so” at a community college, even with low test scores and grades or limited finances, he writes.
In my 26 years as a community-college professor, I’ve had many students who were in my classes only because their parents told them they needed to go to college. They really had no interest in college, or at least in traditional college, but that sounded better to them than the alternatives, such as moving out of the house and getting a full-time job.
Then one day they were wandering across the campus and noticed that the college offered a program in automotive repair. Or cosmetology. Or construction management. They said to themselves, “Wow, I didn’t know you could study that in college. I’ve always been kind of interested in _________________.” Next thing they knew, those students had figured out what they wanted to do. They suddenly had a direction in life.
Conversely, I have had students—usually older, nontraditional students—who were in college solely to acquire a specific credential, in order to get a particular job or to upgrade their employment. Many times they were taking my English class only because it was required for their program, and they weren’t happy about it. They were probably just as unhappy about having to take history and psychology and biology.
But then a funny thing happened: They discovered that they liked writing. Or history. Or psychology. Or biology. Or all of the above. They learned that they actually enjoyed learning. I’ve had students in this category who went on to earn Ph.D.’s and become professors themselves.
No other sector of higher education gives low-income and working-class people “a legitimate shot at upward mobility,” Jenkins concludes.