New goal: ‘Community college ready’

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.

Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be prepared to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

‘Gainful employment’ rules are ‘awful’

The new “gainful employment” rules are “awful,” ”unfair and discriminatory,” writes Richard Vedder on Minding the Campus. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The gainful employment rules apply to vocational programs at career colleges (primarily for-profit) and community colleges. If the goal is to stop wasting government money,”why not scrutinize students majoring in, for example, sociology, from Wayne State University?” asks Vedder. “Only 10 percent of students graduate in four years at Wayne State, and over twice as many default on loans as graduate in that time span.”

Moreover, while dropouts and loan defaults are high at many for-profits, when one corrects for the socioeconomic and academic characteristics of the students, the findings are decidedly more mixed. For example, the for-profits have roughly double the proportion of African-American students as do other institutions, and black students disproportionately come from low-income homes with high incidence of college attrition.

. . . I happen to disagree fundamentally with the “college for all” approach of the Obama Administration, but if you are going to pursue it, why attack the very providers who most aggressively are trying to help meet your goals? The for-profits disproportionately enroll poor first-generation students, and who are members of minorities. Moreover, accounted for properly (including state subsidies for public schools, taxes paid by for-profits, etc.), the for-profits use fewer of society’s resources per student.

The six-year completion rate for students at two-year for-profit colleges is 62.4 percent, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. At community colleges, which also enroll many disadvantaged students, the completion rate is 39.9 percent.

Finally, the “gainful employment” regulations say a borrower shouldn’t have to spend more than 12 percent of total income (20 to 30 percent of so-called discretionary income) to repay student loans. A person earning $35,000 a year with $4,800 annual loan repayments would not be considered gainfully employed. “If the individual in question went from a $20,000 job before going to school to a $35,000 job with a $4,800 loan commitment, that person has advanced considerably,” Vedder argues.

Repeal the Higher Education Act and “radically rethink federal provision of aid to students,” he concludes.

Students at a community college in rural Texas may lose all access to federal aid, including Pell Grants, because of a new regulation on defaults, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Stop pretending college is for everyone

College isn’t for everyone, writes Mike Petrilli on Slate. So let’s stop pretending it is.

All students — regardless of their academic or “soft skills” — are told that college is the only path to a decent job, he writes. But low-skilled students are set up for “almost certain failure,” Petrilli argues. They need “high-quality career and technical education, ideally the kind that combines rigorous coursework with a real-world apprenticeship, and maybe even a paycheck.”

Poorly prepared students can go to an open-access college, but few succeed, he writes. Less than 10 percent of community college students who start in remedial courses will complete a two-year degree within three years, estimates Complete College America. Most will quit before taking a college-level course.

College access advocates look at those numbers and want to double down on reform, seeking to improve the quality of remedial education, or to skip it entirely, encouraging unprepared students to enroll directly in credit-bearing courses, or to offer heavy doses of student support. All are worth trying for students at the margins. But few people are willing to admit that perhaps college just isn’t a good bet for people with seventh-grade reading and math skills at the end of high school.

Unfortunately, our federal education policy encourages schools and students to ignore the long odds of college success. Federal Pell Grants, for instance, can be used for remedial education; institutions are more than happy to take the money, even if they are terrible at remediating students’ deficits, which is why I’ve proposed making remedial education ineligible for Pell financing. On the other hand, Pell can only be used for vocational education that takes place through an accredited college or university; job-based training, and most apprenticeships, do not qualify. That should change.

By pretending that low-skilled students “have a real shot at earning a college degree,” we mislead them, Petrilli argues. They’re less likely to pursue a path that might lead to success.

Petrilli’s argument represents the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” charges RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. “Vocational ed tracks are a legacy of ability tracking and the comprehensive high school model, both of which emerged from the bigoted assumption that poor and minority kids (especially those from immigrant households) were incapable of mastering academic subjects.” 

“College-preparatory learning is critical for success in both white- and blue-collar professions,” he argues. Young people who are not “college material” won’t be “blue-collar material” either.

High-paying blue-collar jobs require high levels of reading, math and science literacy, Biddle writes. All require postsecondary training, often at a community college.

Welders, for example, need strong trigonometry and geography skills in order to properly fabricate and assemble products. . . . Machine tool-and-die work involves understanding computer programming languages such as C . . . Even elevator installers-repairmen, along with electrical and electronics installers, need strong science skills in order because their work combines electrical, structural and mechanical engineering.

I agree with Petrilli that young people get very bad advice. By ninth grade, they should be told the odds — based on high school grades — of completing a bachelor’s degree, vocational associate degree or a vocational certificate. They should know that a dental hygienist or a welder may earn more than a four-year graduate in sociology, theater arts or just-about anything studies.

They need to know early, so they have time to develop the reading, writing and — especially — math skills they’ll need to pursue a technical or academic education.

Students who master middle-school math can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers, concludes What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? by the National Center on Education and The Economy. “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.”

Tech ed: Where’s the money?

Endorsing career tech education isn’t enough, said Snap-On CEO Nicholas Pinchuk at the American Association of Community Colleges’(AACC) Workforce Development Institute. Business, government and education leaders must invest in technical education and make it a legislative priority, he said.  “The goal of an education is not a degree; it’s a career.”

Technical education also continues to fight an image problem, Pinchuk said. Technical jobs, such as welding and auto mechanics, are seen as a “consolation prize” rather than as a foundation to the U.S. economy. People agree these jobs are needed, but don’t think they are good enough for their kids.

“These are jobs that other kids do,” Pinchuk said. “We have lost the respect for the dignity of work.”

Many community colleges do a good job working with local businesses, but more two-year colleges need to align curricula with jobs, Pinchuk said. Snap-On works closely with Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin, where the company has its headquarters.

The Walmart Foundation will give AACC $4.19 million to create a new job training initiative focused on middle skills, it announced at SDI.

Thank God I wasn’t college material

Thank God I wasn’t college material, writes Matt Walsh.

He hated high school.

I dreaded every class, every assignment, every test, every worksheet, every mound of busywork, every shallow and forced interaction with peers I couldn’t relate to or connect with or understand; every moment, every second, every part, every inch of every aspect of my public educational experience.”

One day in detention, the teacher asked what he wanted to do with his life. He thought maybe he could be a writer. Writing was the only thing that came naturally.

 That’s when she dropped the bombshell: “Well, that sounds like an amazing goal, Matt. Get those grades up and go to college for a degree in creative writing!”

. . . I have to go to college to do the one thing I’m kind of halfway good at doing? I have to finish high school and then go through FOUR MORE YEARS OF THIS? Impossible. I’m not college material. I’m not even high school material.

And I have to get a DEGREE in CREATIVITY? Wait, WHAT? Your creativity comes from your own mind and your own heart — you can’t learn how to be creative. If I can write things, and people want to read the things that I write, shouldn’t I be able to market that ability, regardless of my college experience?

Walsh never went to college. That means he didn’t “amass a gigantic debt” or “miss out on four or five years” developing his skills.  He supports his family of four as a writer.

College makes sense for future doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like, Walsh writes. But it’s a scam for most students.

Something has to change. Listen to me on this one. Something HAS to change. This can’t continue. It is not a sustainable model. There are millions of kids with no assets, no plans, and no purpose, taking out enormous loans to purchase a piece of paper they’ll likely never use. It can’t go on this way.

. . . Total student debt has gone up by 275 percent in the last decade. How far will it climb, how many more kids will be thrown to the wolves, before we change direction? Since I was born, college tuition rates have gone up by 500 percent. FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT. Why do we send guys like Bernie Madoff to prison while the academic elite get away with gouging an entire generation to death?

Don’t send your kids to college” unless they’re pursuing a career that requires a degree, he writes.

Writers can demonstrate their skills by writing. In many other fields, it’s harder to prove competence. But certifications, digital badges and such like could help young adults show what they know.

Chris Bowyer is the first person in his family not to go to college. He works for the family business, a media company. He thinks college costs too much.

Carnevale: We need practical pathways

Students need a choice of practical pathways, including career tech says Georgetown economist Anthony Carnevale in a New York Times interview.

Carnevale, who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce, worries the new Common Core standards will set the single-curriculum pathway in stone, despite lip service to applied learning.

In theory, the Common Core says, we just want you to be able to do a certain set of things, we don’t care how you learn it. But when I look at the assessments, basically it looks like very academic kinds of learning goals to me.

Today’s career tech isn’t a rehash of the old voc ed, which was “drummed out of the curriculum because it put all the females in home ec, and all the boys in the construction trades,” he says. Career and tech education can be integrated with high educational standards, but it “requires a different kind of teacher, a different kind of curriculum, different equipment” and funding.

C.T.E. is still the red-headed, illegitimate child at the family reunion in many ways. The path from high school to Harvard is still the one we all honor more, and that is a very academic pathway.

. . . it’s not practical to send everybody to Harvard. It is practical to send everybody to college. . . . (C.T.E.) . . . can produce higher high school graduation rates for less advantaged kids, higher math scores, more going to college.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now backing career tech, says Carnevale. President Obama has been talking up certificates and two-year degrees for years.

The retirement of the baby boom generation will create 32 million job openings, predicts Carnevale. Economic recovery should produce 20 million new jobs. “That’s a huge opportunity, and now’s the time when the country needs to step up and meet it.”

Dream the affordable dream

Cartoon by Liza Donnelly

Collegebound students must dream the affordable dream, writes Michael Alcorn in the Arvada (Colorado) News. A music and fitness instructor, he’s the father of three children, including a daughter in 12th grade who wants to study nursing.

Me, the “life coach” parent, wants her to dream as big as the sky and the stars. . . .

Me, the “teacher” parent, really believes in education and higher education and the value of learning for learning’s sake . . .

But me, the “financial advisor” parent, looks at the average of $26,000 student loan debt for graduates, looks at one in three college graduates living in their parents’ basements, looks at 45-percent dropout rates and 40-percent graduate underemployment . . . This part of me loves the idea of two years of community college to get the general ed. out of the way, transferring all those credits to the great, local private university with the great nursing program, and finding a way to get her into life without crippling debt.

Only 20 percent of jobs require bachelor’s degrees, according to the Department of Labor, writes Alcorn. About 30 percent of adults are college graduates. “One hundred percent of high school students in any suburban school are told . . . they’re a failure if they don’t go to college.”

The three parents in his head keep arguing, but the one who says “debt be damned!” probably isn’t going to win, he concludes.

College is worth the cost — usually

worthIs college worth it?  Two new reports provide different perspectives, writes Scott Carlson in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The “overeducated American” is a “myth,” states a new College Summit report. Workplace demand for college graduates is rising, according to Smart Shoppers: The End of the ‘College for All’ Debate?  College graduates earn 80 percent more than high school graduates, the report estimates. Even in jobs that don’t require a degree, more-educated workers earn significantly more.

However,  returns on the college investment have been exaggerated, concludes another new report, which focuses on higher education in California. The Economics of B.A. Ambivalence notes that most students take more than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. In addition, some earn much less than others.

When the California Master Plan for Higher Education was enacted, in 1960, only 10 percent of Californians had a college degree, and the earnings gap between degree holders and non-degree holders was 35 percent. In 2010, they say, that earnings premium was 43 percent—higher than in the past, but still half the figure cited in the College Summit report. But, the researchers point out, the wage gap is higher now not because wages for college-degree holders have gone up, but because wages for people with only a high-school degree have gone down.

Graduating with burdensome debt is a higher risk, the researchers write.

College remains a good investment for the average California student and for American society. Nevertheless, it is true that more graduates now run the risk of not earning enough to make their investment in college worthwhile. This reality explains why many families of ordinary means are increasingly skeptical about paying for college.

“College is a ‘steppingstone’ to the middle class—not a ticket,” the authors warn. “It deserves the scrutiny an individual would give to any risky investment.”

They recommend better advising  and more loan-repayment options.

Adults who’ve left school without a degree ask: Is College Worth It for Me? But few look at graduation and default rates when they choose a postsecondary option, reports Public Agenda. And many don’t understand that for-profit higher education will be more expensive.

A future for all: Build paths to skilled jobs

While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, “apprenticeships and other pathways to rewarding careers are more cost-effective for millions of young people,” argue Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, and Nicholas Wyman, founder of The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, on PBS NewsHour.

Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images.
Two out of every five young adults are unemployed, yet employers can’t find “machinists, computer numerical controllers, electricians, welders, healthcare technicians” and other workers with “middle skills,” Lerman and Wyman write. The idea that everyone should pursue a bachelor’s degree has created a skills gap.

They see encouraging signs:

In New York City, for example, ‘P-Tech’ school, a collaboration involving IBM, the City’s Education Department and CUNY, is providing a STEM oriented, grades 9-to-14 curriculum with work-based learning that leads to a high school diploma and an associates degree. P-Tech’s aim is to turn out graduates with the skills they need to step directly into solid, good paying technical jobs–or to go on the higher learning with great confidence of success.

South Carolina is strengthening career tech, developing first-rate technical colleges and boosting apprenticeships.

In Pickens County, which is part of Appalachia, the closure of cotton mills and textile plants has depressed incomes and expectations.

Yet the county’s K-12 school system is confidently preparing young people for decent careers. It begins in grammar school where children receive hands-on experience with STEM concepts and problem solving. It continues at the district’s state-of-the-art Career & Technical Center, where vocationally-oriented high school students have access to industry-experienced teachers and to the machine tools, computers, robotic systems, and other equipment they will encounter in the most modern workplaces. School leaders and teachers have also overturned the long-standing perception of parents and students that the Career & Tech Center is for low-achievers. Entry to the Center’s ‘Technician Scholar’ program is by application only; kids with low GPAs and bad attitudes need not apply. It’s now cool to be a “Scholar Technician.”

Local employers collaborate with superintendents, sending their managers and technicians to work with teachers and mentor promising students.

Apprenticeship Carolina, a state program, helps employers start apprenticeships programs and coordinates with local technical colleges. Since its 2007 start, apprenticeships have increased six-fold in the state.

Students with different goals need different skills, Lerman argues. “High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation. As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math.”

College for who?

“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”

“College for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. President Barack Obama asked every American to pledge to attend at least one year of college.

In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools.

At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).

Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.

A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists  $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”

. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.

Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.

MATCH has considered launching a vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.

To keep students from running up college debt, MATCH is helping graduates enroll in community college with an explicit transfer path after two years: “Kids say: ‘I’m going to Bunker Hill College to study X, then I’ll transfer as a junior to U-Mass’.”

Community colleges have low graduation rates, Goldstein acknowledges. He fears a “peer effect” that “normalizes dropping out.”