‘College for all’ won’t lift the economy

Higher education and job training won’t revive the economy, write Arthur M. Cohen, Carrie B. Kisker and Florence B. Brawer in The Chronicle of Higher Education. We’re not facing a shortage of skilled workers. We’ve got a shortage of skilled jobs.

The article is adapted from the new edition of their book, The American Community College.
Full-time employment declined by 5.7 million from November 2007 to November 2011, they write. That doesn’t include people who gave up looking for a new job.

Sixty percent of jobs lost during the recession paid mid-level wages up to $21.13 per hour. Only 22 percent of “recovery” jobs pay as much. Some 58 percent of new jobs pay $7.69 to $13.83 per hour. In addition, there are more temporary workers than ever before.

Productivity gains in other countries are linked to apprenticeships and short-term technical and vocational training, not to additional years of schooling, they write.

The U.S. has few corporate-training and apprenticeship programs. That “creates a niche business opportunity for postsecondary institutions—community colleges and for-profit enterprises, especially—to provide worker training and curricula to upgrade skills.”

The completion agenda — 55 percent of Americans with college degrees by 2025 — boosts enrollments at community colleges and for-profit institutions, they write. “Businesses gain skilled workers at little or no cost.” But do workers really these these certificates and degrees?

The Current Population Survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau classifies more than 60 percent of all jobs as postsecondary, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports half as many: 31 percent. This wide discrepancy is because the CPS tallies the education levels of people who are currently working in various jobs, whereas the BLS statistics reflect the entry-level education requirements for those jobs (a classification that seems to change from year to year). Thus, the job held by a college-educated barista would be classified as postsecondary by the CPS but not by the BLS.

. . . The Economic Policy Institute’s review of job data shows that 52 percent of employed college graduates under the age of 24 are working in jobs that don’t require college degrees. Put another way, of the 21 million workers earning less than $10.01 per hour, 3.57 million hold college degrees and an additional 5.46 million have some college.

Higher education has many benefits, the authors write. “The individual learns to reason scientifically and think critically and gains a sense of historical perspective, an appreciation for aesthetics and cultural diversity, and access to training for the professions that require credentials.”

But it’s a myth that “all jobs will require higher education” by 2018, as an ad on the rear of Los Angeles buses now proclaims. “The sponsor? A local nonprofit group promoting its chain of preschools.”

Obama: Election will shape economy

Government action is needed to lift the economy, said President Obama in a campaign speech at  Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.

“There is one place I stand in complete agreement with Mr. Romney,” Mr. Obama said. “This election is about our economic future.”

. . . he called the election “the make-or-break moment for America’s middle class,” insisting that his economic proposals that call for investing in programs to help the middle class must “be our North Star.”

Speaking at a small manufacturing plant in Cincinnati, Mitt Romney delivered a “prebuttal” of Obama’s speech. “Don’t forget, he’s been president for three and a half years. And talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud,” Romney said. “If you want to see the results of his economic policy, look around Ohio, look around the country.”


Employers see higher ed as costly, stodgy

The nation’s higher education system is costly, unaccountable and unwilling to change, say business leaders interviewed for Hiring and Higher Education, a report by Public Agenda for the Committee for Economic Development (CED).

“There are growing and grave concerns about the system’s ability to remain a leader and produce the workforce our future economy demands,” said Steve Farkas, lead author of the Public Agenda report. “Business leaders told us that, if higher education fails to control costs and hold itself accountable for results, our colleges and universities will become less relevant, and our economy will suffer greatly.”

However, the business leaders praised community colleges as no-frills institutions that are able to adapt to new challenges and work with employers on job training.

The widely shared perception is that higher education is highly resistant to change, and that innovation and adaptability are hardly the forte of colleges and the administrators who run them. Some executives talked about experiences they had trying to work with their local colleges only to run up against a “can’t-do” system tied up by committees, paperwork requirements and institutional prerogatives.

“The colleges, as creative as they may be, lack innovation,” said one executive. “They’ve set up a certain structure, tenured staff, and because of that they’re opposed to change.”

Despite the high unemployment rate, it’s difficult to find skilled workers in some fields, the executives said.


$8 billion for ‘community career centers’

An $8 billion Community College to Career Fund will reward colleges that partner with local employers to train 2 million workers for high-demand, well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care and “green” tech. That’s if President Obama persuades Congress to pass his budget.  In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College yesterday, the president linked “America’s comeback” to investing in education.  “We can’t just cut our way into growth,” he said.

A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs – particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work. It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local government to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income community college students.

Despite the recession, some high-tech industries report shortages of skilled workers. As the economy recovers and baby boomers retire, there will be 2 million job openings in manufacturing through 2018, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. But there’s a catch, reports AP.

. . . these types of jobs frequently require the ability to operate complicated machinery and follow detailed instructions, as well as some expertise in subjects like math and statistics.

. . . Mark Schneider, the former U.S. commissioner of education statistics who now serves as vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said there’s no doubt that high-tech companies need skilled workers. But he said there are challenges with leaning heavily on community colleges. Many students enter community colleges lacking math skills. The sophisticated equipment needed for training is expensive, and there’s little known about the effectiveness of individual community colleges programs across the country, he said.

In particular, “green” job training programs have produced disappointing results.

Community colleges have been partnering with industry on job training for many years. “Community colleges understand the needs of local employers,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in a White House press conference yesterday. The fund would allow colleges to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, she said.  (I wanted to ask why taxpayers should fund training for employers, but I was too far back in the phone queue.)

“We will give community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoing President Obama’s line from the State of the Union speech.  We will create “an America built to last,” said Duncan. Also “an economy built to last.” And a workforce “built to last.”

President Obama’s past budgets have been “rife with unfilled promises” to community colleges, notes Inside Higher Ed.


Loan forgiveness favors the privileged

Forgiving student loans — a demand of most Occupy Wall Street protestors — is the worst idea ever, writes Wharton economist Justin Wolfers on the Freakonomics blog.

If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts.

Giving cash to poor people will yield a larger stimulus, since they’ll spend it all quickly, he adds.

It’s the second-worst idea, argues Ohio University economist Richard Vedder on National Review Online. Subsidized student loans are the worst, he writes.

Student loans haven’t increased economic opportunity for the poor, he writes.

In 1970, when federal student-loan and -grant programs were in their infancy, about 12 percent of college graduates came from the bottom one-fourth of the income distribution. . . . With the nation awash in nearly a trillion dollars in student-loan debt (more even than credit-card obligations), the proportion of bachelor’s-degree holders coming from the bottom one-fourth of the income distribution has fallen to around 7 percent.

It’s not fair to favor defaulters over graduates who’ve repaid their loans or to ask average taxpayers to pay more so college graduates from relatively prosperous families can pay less, Vedder writes.

From the wearethe99percent Tumblir:

I am 27 years old. I have a child, and my partner of 8 years and I both have jobs. I am TERRIFIED to graduate college, I will owe over 50,000 in student loan debt and I am having doubts my two A.S. degrees and my B.S. in Ecology will get me anywhere. We both work hard, but live paycheck to paycheck. We have no health insurance and hope we never get sick because we can’t afford to pay medical bills. All we wanted was to have decent paying jobs, decent medical care, and to be able to purchase a decent home for our child to grow up in. We are hard workers who DESERVE it! We are the 99%!!!

I am 27 years old. I have a child, and my partner of 8 years and I both have jobs. I am TERRIFIED to graduate college, I will owe over 50,000 in student loan debt and I am having doubts my two A.S. degrees and my B.S. in Ecology will get me anywhere. We both work hard, but live paycheck to paycheck. We have no health insurance and hope we never get sick because we can’t afford to pay medical bills. All we wanted was to have decent paying jobs, decent medical care, and to be able to purchase a decent home for our child to grow up in. We are hard workers who DESERVE it! We are the 99%!!!

College: ‘We’re a revenue generator’

Illinois taxpayers get a good return on their investment by supporting Lewis and Clark Community College, according to a study commissioned by the rural Illinois college. Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. estimates a 6 percent return on investment for local taxpayers, reports The Telegraph.

This means that for every dollar of state or local tax money invested in the college, the return will be $1.70, with an estimated payback of 18.4 years.

“Essentially what this study reveals is that Lewis and Clark is a revenue generator,” said Tom Wunderle, the college’s director of institutional planning and effectiveness. “We put back into our local economy each year more than we take in tax dollars.”

According to the consultants, positive economic returns are generally not expected from government investments, and an even smaller rate of return equal to 3 percent is considered favorable.

Completing an associate’s degree can increase earnings by $9,700 per year over the course of a lifetime, the study estimated. This represents a 17.4 percent rate of return on a student’s investment of time and money, with an 8.7-year payback period.

Lewis and Clark graduates become nurses, dental hygienists, police officers, firefighters, paralegals, automotive technicians and process operations technicians, among other professions.

“The majority of our graduates stay in the area,” President Dale Chapman said. “That is what really multiplies the impact we have economically on our district.”

The college also has boosted the local economy by developing training programs for ConocoPhillips and Olin Corporation.

Obama will visit Forsyth Tech

President Obama will tour biotech classrooms at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina today. He’ll discuss the grim economic news: Employers added only 39,000 jobs in November, far fewer than the 150,000 expected by economists, while the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent from 9.6 percent.

This our generation’s “Sputnik moment,” said Obama, calling for investing in math and science education, as the U.S. did in response to the Soviet challenge. But the National Defense Education Act, which increased federal spending after Sputnik, did not raise math and science scores, writes Andrew Coulson on Cato @ Liberty. He’s got graphs.

What they said at the summit

“Community colleges are not just the key to the future of their students. They are one of the keys to the future of our economy,” President Obama said at yesterday’s Community College Summit.

Colleges need to improve completion rates, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He questioned whether community colleges were set up to deal with a “21st century student” who might be a 28-year-old mother with three children and a job, reports CollegeBound.

A group that discussed college completion said that the average of five years to complete an associate’s degree makes time an enemy for students. Students need to understand the value of actually securing community college credentials, and there needs to be more attention to improved professional development for community college instructors, in the group’s view. The group recommended that developmental education use more technology to tailor basic skills-training to the needs of the students and to integrate the training into academic courses.

Participants in the financial-aid session discussed the fees and child care expenses that many students face.

It was suggested that the federal government rethink the work disincentive in awarding Pell Grants, consider ways to consolidate loan forms, and provide other forms of financial aid such as transportation and family support services. Providing virtual financial aid services was one idea, with Connecticut named as an example of best practices in that area.

Undersecretary of Education Martha J. Kanter stressed giving students clear, consistent advice on how to transfer and earn bachelor’s degrees.

Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, called for “building better networks with alumni, leveraging technology, improving retention, and giving faculty incentives to innovate.”

Not discussed today: the link between the K-12 system and community colleges. Improving access, smoothing the transition, and ramping up college readiness in high school did not make onto the radar of the summit.

Next year, the community college summit will be “virtual,” said Jill Biden, a community college instructor and host of the summit.

Obama: U.S. needs 8 million college grads

Economic recovery will require more college graduates, said President Obama in a speech today at the University of Texas in Austin, reports the Washington Post.

“Lifting graduation rates. Preparing our graduates to succeed in this economy. Making college affordable. That’s how we’ll put a higher education within reach for anyone who wants it.”

The president did not announce any new initiatives, but recast his goal of making the U.S. first in the world in college degrees as “the economic issue of our times.”

“It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have,” he said. “It’s an economic issue when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. It’s an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called leading the world in college graduates “the North Star for all of our educational initiatives.”

Currently, 40 percent of Americans between 25 and 34 have completed a two-year or four-year degree; Obama wants to boost that to 60 percent by 2020.

That would mean adding 11 million more college graduates to the ranks of that age cohort. Even assuming some additional graduates just from population growth, officials predicted the country will have to find a way to add more than 8 million new college graduates.

While 70 percent of high school graduates go directly to college, only 57 percent earn a degree within six years, reports the New York Times.

Education reformers have shifted the focus from sending more students to college to raising the completion rate, which includes vocational certificates as well as two-year and four-year degrees.

Is the economy demanding more college-educated workers? College is “worth it” for academically capable students, George Leef writes, but how valuable is college for mediocre and marginal students?

The economy is not clamoring for more C- students who’ve majored in Beer Studies at Fratmore College or West Nowhere State U. There should be a demand for workers who’ve learned job skills at low-cost community colleges.

Increasing educational attainment is not a magic bullet for economic growth,” writes Russ Whitehurst of Brookings

A growing body of research suggests that policymakers should pay more attention to the link between job opportunities and what people know and can do, rather than focusing on the blunt instrument of years of schooling or degrees obtained.  In international comparisons, for example, scores on tests of cognitive skills in literacy and mathematics are stronger predictors of economic output than years of schooling.  Within the U.S. there is evidence that for many young adults the receipt of an occupational certificate in a trade that is in demand will yield greater economic returns than the pursuit of a baccalaureate degree in the arts and sciences.

“One size does not fit all nations or all young adults,” Whitehurst writes.