Students like STEM, but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Community colleges are filled with young women who “think they’re going to be nurses” but won’t be, a researcher once told me. They don’t have the math or science foundation.

First-generation college students often focus on nursing because they’re not aware of their alternatives, writes Matt Reed, a community college dean. A colleague told him her job is to “talk students out of nursing.”

From the strawberry fields to computer science

Brian De Anda helps to write programming code as his fellow students look on at the Hartnell College Alisal Campus in Salinas. From left are, De Anda, Daniel Diaz, Thang Fenton, Monse Hernandez and Mateo Sixtos. (Patrick Tehan)

“We’re only one hour away from Silicon Valley, but we might as well be on the other side of the planet,” says Zahi Kanaan-Atallah, dean of advanced technology at Hartnell Community College in Salinas. The college is trying to move farmworkers’ children to a computer science degree in three years, reports Joe Rodriguez in the San Jose Mercury News.

When Mateo Sixtos drives to his computer science classes every weekday, he takes a good, hard look at the strawberry fields he first worked when he was only 10 years old. Even back then, he aced a California state math test, posting college level scores. But the young boy still had to join his parents in the fields to pick “la fruta del diablo” — the devil’s fruit.

“It’s a reminder to me,” Sixtos says, ” if I don’t study, this is where I’m going to end up.”

Sixtos, now 18, and about 30 others are the first students in the Computer Science and Information Technology Bachelor’s Degree in 3 Years program, or CSIT-in-3. Hartnell partnered with Cal State Monterey Bay with funding from a Japanese-American orchid grower.

Andy Matsui, the orchid grower, has given dozens of scholarships to low-income students from Monterey County high schools, but “almost none” earned a degree in four years, he says. Rising tuition forced students to work too many hours or drop out. He decided to fund an accelerated degree program for low-income students, pledging $2.9 million in scholarships for the first three years, or about $30,000 for each student by graduation.

Hartnell computer instructor Joe Welch and Sathya Narayanan, director of  Monterey Bay’s computer science and technology program, came up with a plan. They’d put CSIT students in a supportive, highly structured program at Hartnell, then transition them to upper-division classes at Cal State Monterey Bay.

 Students in the program take the same courses at the same time, do the same assignments, write the same papers and take the same tests.

. . .  A full-time counselor keeps them on track. On “enrichment Fridays,” they share their worries in small support groups.

Instructors hope to persuade Silicon Valley companies to provide paid summer internships. It’s a struggle: Companies usually hire only from elite schools. “I tell them our students will outwork anybody,” says Welch.

Three years to a computer science degree

Leticia Sanchez hopes to qualify for a high-tech job so her farmworker mother can retire, reports NPR in Out Of The Fields And Into Computer Science Classes. Sanchez grew up in California’s Salinas Valley, the “Salad Bowl of the World.”
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She signed up for CSIT-In-3, a three-year bachelor’s degree program in computer science and information technology. California State University, Monterey Bay, and Hartnell Community College created the for young adults in the Salinas Valley who don’t fit the traditional profile of a programmer.

Most of the students are Latino and about one-third are women. To boost the success rate, CSIT-In-3 designs each student’s schedule, says co-director Sathya Narayanan. “In the beginning of the semester, they will be told what classes they are going to be in. You focus on your academics. You focus on studying.”

Splitting classes between the community college and a four-year school — and finishing in three years — keeps the cost of the degree under $12,000. Most students receive full scholarships.

Without that financial help, 18-year-old Mateo Sixtos would have to continue working in the fields while going to school, and that would make finishing in three years unlikely.

“Agriculture is a hard thing,” Sixtos says. “It’s 10 hours every day under the sun, and it’s very difficult because your back is hurting all day.”

Students must maintain a B average. “It’s not enough that the students graduate,” co-director Joe Welch says. “It’s a success if they graduate, and Google is standing at the doors.”

AEI: Studies exaggerate college payoff

Going to college and picking the right major will increase your earnings, but not as much as you think, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad of the American Enterprise Institute. Recent high-profile studies confuse correlation and causation, they argue. “Simply because two things tend to occur together — such as college attendance and higher incomes — does not necessarily mean that one causes the other.”

In a recent study, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project conducted a seemingly simple cost-benefit analysis: While four years of college today can cost in excess of $100,000, a typical college graduate earns roughly $13,000 more per year than a high school graduate. They conclude that, despite rising tuition costs, the annual “return” to college education tops 16 percent, far exceeding investments such as stocks or bonds.

First, going to college isn’t the same as graduating from college, write Biggs and Haddad.  Only 58 percent of people began college in 2004 had graduated six years later.  Mediocre students — the sort who aren’t sure whether to go to college or find a job — do much worse.

Second, high school graduates who enroll in college are quite different from those who don’t.

High school students who go on to college took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college, either because they contribute directly to higher pay or because they proxy for other factors that do. How much a college education increases the incomes of those who attend is a different question than the simple difference in earnings between college grads and individuals with only a high school diploma.

Using the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth it is possible to control for these and other differences between college grads and the rest of us. Once you control for both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics, the earnings boost attributable to college attendance is cut in half.

Studies on the best-paying college majors also are flawed, they write.  The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University reports that four-year graduates in engineering, mathematics or computer science have median earnings that top $70,000, while graduates in the arts, education or social work earn less than $47,000. The choice of major also “determines unemployment,” Georgetown advises.

However, engineering majors start out ahead of arts majors, Biggs and Haddad write.

. . . high school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores. But  SAT scores almost certainly are correlated with higher incomes regardless of college major chosen. Similarly, high-paying jobs also entail longer work hours. Numerous studies . . . have found that controlling for SAT scores, hours worked and other factors explains most of the pay differences that initially appear to be driven by choice of college major.

Young people considering their futures need to remember that they’re not average. Individual characteristics — intelligence, work ethic, interests — will determine their future. Bill Gates dropped out of college and did OK. Are you Bill Gates? Nurses with associate degrees make good money. If you faint at the sight of blood, that’s not your best choice.

Boston colleges will ‘blend’ with edX

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” class, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Beginning in spring, Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and MassBay Community College’s greater Boston campuses will offer a modified version of edX’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming,” an online class based on MIT’s introductory computer science course.

Community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support, while three MIT professors will teach the online course.

The Gates Foundation is supporting the collaboration with a million-dollar grant.

“At the end of the day, the purely online experience doesn’t capture the in-person interaction that we all care about,” said Anant Agarwal, edX president and an MIT professor.

EdX currently offers nine online courses open to hundreds of thousands of students around the world.  Agarwal plans to offer more blended courses, particularly at community colleges.

Colleges will design competency-based, self-paced courses

Community college students will be able to demonstrate competency to earn credits in self-paced classes, reports the Texas Tribune. It’s the Western Governors University model — but classes will include classroom instruction as well as online learning.

WGU Texas and three community colleges — Sinclair Community College in Ohio, Broward College in Florida and Texas’ own Austin Community College — have received a shared $12 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop curricula for key technology fields that allow students to move at their own pace in courses that aren’t purely internet based.

ACC hopes to offer self-paced computer programming courses as early as the fall of 2013. Students who earn an associate’s degree will be able to go on to WGU Texas for a bachelor’s degree.

(ACC President Richard Rhodes) said using “competency units” rather than credit hours would allow the school to be more responsive to the region’s workforce needs. If, for example, a company wanted employees to acquire certain skills quickly, they might be able to “invert the degree” by teaching the requested skills first and then later adding general education requirements necessary for an associate’s degree.

Computer science students could earn 11 industry certifications, an associate degree and a bachelor’s, says Mark David Milliron, chancellor of WGU Texas, a former Gates Foundation official.

The competency model could expand to other majors, Rhodes says.