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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
When Work Disappears for all but the well-educated elite, what happens to society? asks Megan McArdle in The Daily Beast.
In much of the industrial world, it seems to be increasingly difficult for people to earn a decent living without a fairly elite set of skills . . .
It’s impossible to look at what’s happening to the bottom half of American society and not worry. Some of the breakdown is cultural–a fraying of the basic ties that keep people connected and cared for. Some of it is economic, the disappearance of steady employment that allows people to do the bourgeois work of planning for the future. And in some ways, those trends are reinforcing each other. A community cannot insist that its members work hard and plan for the future if there are no jobs available; the resulting erosion of work and education ethics makes unemployment worse.
Education — sending more kids to college, retraining people for new jobs –no longer seems to be the solution, she writes. College graduates are having trouble finding “solid employment.” Instead of making the workforce more productive, “we may just be forcing people to jump over a higher bar to gain access to a shrinking number of jobs.”
George Will also worries about the growing educational and economic divide.
Today, the dominant distinction defining socioeconomic class is between those with and without college degrees. Graduates earn 70 percent more than those with only high school diplomas. In 1980, the difference was just 30 percent.
Soon the crucial distinction will be between those with meaningful college degrees and those with worthless ones.
Education may not be the great equalizer, Will writes. ”Jerry Z. Muller, a Catholic University historian, argued in the March-April 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs that expanding equality of opportunity increases inequality because some people are simply better able than others to exploit opportunities. “
If you’re not a “rocket scientist,” skip college and become a plumber, advises New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s hard to farm that out … and it’s hard to automate that,” said the mayor. Plumbers make more than some college graduates, he added.
“College is a good investment” for most students, responded Mark Kantrowitz, a student aid specialist. “The only schools that cost $40,000 or $50,000 like the mayor said are elite schools,” he said. Students who aren’t rocket scientists typically go to less expensive colleges.
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.