Gainful employment for all

Gainful employment regulations are baaaaaaaack. The Obama administration will try again to regulate career training programs — primarily at for-profit colleges — that leave students in debt they don’t earn enough to repay. 

The draft “includes standards for debt-to-earnings rates and other language that could generate significant debate,” reports the Washington Post. The Education Department estimates that 9 percent of career training programs could fail to meet the new standards.

The White House push is too narrow, argues Reihan Salam on Reuters.

The Department of Education plans to identify vocational programs that leave their average graduate paying a high share of their earnings in loan payments (8 percent or more of total earnings, 20 percent or more of discretionary earnings) as well as those with a high average loan default rate (of 30 percent or more). Programs that cross these red lines in two out of three years will lose the right to offer their students federal financial aid.

Curbing the abuses of this sector could do some good. But career training programs represent a small subset of the higher education universe. If we take a somewhat wider view, it seems pretty puzzling that, say, business or engineering majors at four-year colleges and universities aren’t being treated as enrollees in vocational programs.

Many recent college graduates are underemployed and unable to pay back student loans, Salam argues. Most thought their degree would lead to a good job.

If the regulation were applied to all of higher education, programs like a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a law degree from George Washington University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University, would all be penalized,” complains Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the for-profits’ trade association.

Why not “protect consumers from the least effective post-secondary programs” in all branches of  higher education?, asks Salam. Whether it’s overpriced paralegal training at a career college or an overpriced bachelor’s in film studies from a private nonprofit college, the borrower is likely to default.

For-profit students like teaching, but not costs

Current and former for-profit college students like their school’s quality, but not the high costs, reports Public Agenda. Alumni aren’t certain their degree was worth it.

Students and alumni “agree that their schools have caring instructors, keep class sizes small, and give effective guidance (though alumni are slightly less enthusiastic),” according to the survey. Current students say they’re making good progress in their course of study.

However, students and alumni say their schools are expensive, and nearly half of current students say they worry “a lot” about taking on too much debt.  

A third of alumni say their degree “really wasn’t worth it.” Another 30 percent say their degree’s value “remains to be seen” and 37 percent say their degree was “well worth it.”

About half of the employers surveyed see few differences between for-profit and not-for-profit colleges. The rest see public institutions as superior. However, many employers aren’t clear about which colleges are for-profit or non-profit.

Many students don’t realize they’re attending a “for-profit” school. 

Like community colleges, for-profit colleges draw many low-income students, notes Public Agenda.  These “economically vulnerable” students are not “comparative shoppers.” Just 39 percent of for-profit undergraduates and 32 percent of for-profit alumni had considered more than one school before they enrolled at their current institutions. Even fewer considered a non-profit alternative. Community college students show similar patterns.

Pew: Not going to college is costly

The cost of not going to college is rising, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education,” the report finds. The gap is widening between four-year college graduates and high school graduates.
Rising Earnings Disparity Between Young Adults with And Without a College Degree
Millennial college graduates ages 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $45,500, while high school-only young adults average $28,000. The $17,500 gap is a record. College-educated Millennials also are more likely to be employed full time (89% vs. 82%) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8% vs. 12.2%).

Median earnings for college graduates haven’t increased much in since 1986, but less-educated workers are doing much worse than in the past.

Young people today are far more likely to be living in poverty, Pew reports. Among those ages 25 to 32, 22% with only a high school diploma are living in poverty, compared with 6% of college-educated young adults.

In contrast, only 7% of Baby Boomers who had only a high school diploma were in poverty in 1979 when they were in their late 20s and early 30s.

College Days, Reconsidered

Despite rising college costs, 72% of four-year graduates said college has paid off; 17% believe it will pay off in the future. Even among the two-thirds of college-educated Millennials with student loans, 86% say their degrees have been worth it or expect that they will be in the future.

Graduates had some regrets: Many said they wished they’d gained work experience and studied more in college.

Unfortunately, Pew combines Millennials with associate degrees, certificates or “some college” but no credential in one category. There’s a huge gap between people with a few community college courses, those who’ve earned a vocational certificate and those who’ve earned an associate degree in a vocational field. (Associate degrees in general education typically don’t raise earnings significantly unless the student transfers and completes a bachelor’s degree.)

Students want steady ‘jobs of the past’

The “jobs of the future” will require hustle, creativity and entrepreneurialism. Today’s community college students are “too tired to hustle,” writes Nicole Matos, who teaches English at the College of DuPage in the Chicago suburbs. They want steady jobs with set hours, job security and pensions. They want the jobs of the past.

Flipping through a semester’s worth of self-introductions is like an obituary pamphlet for Old Economy employment. Again and again, they express a desire for mostly public or public-ish, long-term, safe and stable, even unionized, positions: firefighting, criminal justice, firefighting, nursing, nursing, teaching, teaching, teaching, radiology, firefighting, criminal justice.

A few students write about business or computer science, but they don’t want to start a company or freelance.

There’s just the longing for a job where you do one thing, easily described, for a long term, and get predictably and sufficiently paid for what you do.

Her students don’t believe that hustle pays off, writes Matos. “The problem with making your own luck is that it requires so much previous luck.” Young people who start out in “shelter mode,” don’t “have the excess emotional capacity to take future self-driven employment by the balls.” Her students want to work in jobs someone else created.

Post-college tests would help job seekers

Post-college tests could help non-elite college graduates demonstrate their competence, writes Richard Vedder. A Ohio University economics professor, Vedder runs the Center on College Affordability and Productivity.

Right now a student graduating from, say, California State University at Fresno, Kansas State University, or the State University of New York at Brockport with a 3.3 average has a tough time getting considered for a good job. These schools, while by no means considered academic disasters or diploma mills, accept kids that were mostly above average but not exceptionally good high school students. A 3.3 average once denoted “a well above average student” but does not anymore in this era of grade inflation. In short, absent more information, this hypothetical student would be considered “a so-so student from a so-so university,” perhaps not worth employers investing human resource department dollars to carefully assess and interview.

Enter the CLA + and the new Gallup-Purdue Index. Our hypothetical student can take the CLA+ and employers can see quickly and inexpensively how he or she fares relative to, say, a 3.1 student graduating from the University of Virginia, UCLA, or Swarthmore College, far more selective institutions. On the basis of those test results, some of the students at the less selective universities will manage to get interviews and serious consideration by employers.

The Gallup-Purdue Index will survey recent graduates on how they’re doing in the job market and other factors, such as community engagement.

In 1960, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. adults were college graduates; now more than 30 percent have four-year degrees. The average student then earned a mix of B’s and C’s. Now, college students study less, but earn higher grades, writes Vedder. As a signal of academic diligence and ability, the non-elite college degree is losing value, he argues. Hard-working, capable students need alternatives.

College bubble will pop

A college degree is “the ticket to the middle class,” according to President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and most parents and high school counselors, write Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart in a Wall Street Journal commentary. But the college bubble will pop, they predict. As college costs rise, graduates’ earning advantage is declining.

Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).

A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.

Meanwhile, the cost of college has increased 16.5% in 2012 dollars since 2006.

A 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found many more college graduates are working as retail sales clerks, cab drivers and janitors. Underemployment has risen for recent college graduates since the recession, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports.

Employers want to hire graduates of top universities and graduates with master’s degrees, write Vedder and Denhart. But a bachelor’s degree no longer signals “best and brightest.”

Today, with over 30% with degrees, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American—not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers’ perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.

As demand for a high-priced not-so-higher education falls, colleges will have to “constrain costs,” they write. In addition, “colleges must bow to new benchmarks assessing their worth.” There’s too much competition from online education to resist, even if it means “poorly endowed and undistinguished schools may bite the dust.”

Enrollment continues to rise at traditional four-year universities, notes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. “All of the declines happened in the troubled for-profit sector, which has cut back somewhat on enrolling clearly under-qualified students in an effort to clean up its image, and community colleges, which have been grappling with overcrowding in recent years.”

The jobs gap

The jobs gap between college and high school graduates continues to grow, writes Grace at Cost of College. While many recent college graduates are underemployed, that beats having no job at all.


College pays — $11

30-Year-Old Has Earned $11 More Than He Would Have Without College Education headlines The Onion. It’s a parody that’s all too close to reality.

“After accounting for the cost of tuition, four years of lost earning potential, and the minimal increase in salary an undergraduate degree provides,” 30-year-old Patrick Moorhouse of Dublin, Ohio has raised his earnings by $11, reports The Onion. Moorhouse’s more prestigious first-choice college would have led to $54 more in earnings, said researcher Ken Overton.

“If Patrick had started working straight out of high school, he would have had slightly fewer job options than he does now, but living at home instead of a dorm or student apartment even just those first two years would have added at least $16,000 in total savings, which pretty much evens things out.”

However, it’s impossible to “put a price on the 12 Post-WWII European History lectures Moorhouse attended junior year,” the study noted.

Debt hits $29,400 for 2012 grads

Seventy-one percent of last year’s college graduates were in debt with an average of $29,400 in student loans per borrower, reports the Project on College Debt. The debt load increased by 10.5 percent from the year before, according to Student Debt and the Class of 2012.debt

Graduates will have trouble paying back their loans: 18.3 percent of young college graduates are unemployed or working fewer hours than they wish. However, low earners can qualify for income-based repayment, which links repayment to earnings, and Pay As You Earn,  which forgives unpaid debt in 20 years rather than 25.

The report’s recommendations include increasing need-based grants, improving financial aid information and limiting aid eligibility at college with low graduation rates. 

Nearly three-quarters of Americans worry about college costs, according to a Bellevue University survey.  Fifty-five percent said they’d pursue a degree if it wouldn’t put them into debt; 40 percent said obtaining more education is worth taking on more debt.

In another survey, 42 percent of young people blame colleges and universities for rising student debt and 30 percent blame the federal government.

Whites doubt college degree’s value

While whites are skeptical about a college degree’s value, Latinos and blacks believe higher education is essential, writes Ronald Brownstein. The divergence shows up in a new College Board/National Journal Next America Poll.

Jason Parkinson, a 29-year-old electrician from Cleveland, doesn’t consider it much of a handicap that he never obtained a four-year college degree after high school. “It doesn’t do any good anymore,” he says. “You get a four-year degree, you work at a fast-food restaurant. You can go to trades and manufacturing…. I’m not big on going to college for a career that might not even be there in 10 years.”

Jose Stathas, a 47-year-old assistant to the owner at a pottery company in Buena Park, Calif., didn’t finish college either, but he believes he would be better off if he had. “I don’t have a four-year degree, and I’ve learned the hard way that it can affect how much you make,” he says. “It gives you opportunities to get jobs in the competitive marketplace we have now.”

Parkinson is white. Stathas is Hispanic.

“While minorities worry more than whites about affording the cost of higher education, they are more likely to see a payoff from the investment,” writes Brownstein.

college value

Most Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans said “young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.” Slightly fewer than half of whites agreed.

Minorities were also far more likely than whites to say the economy would benefit if the United States meets President Obama’s goal of increasing by half the share of Americans with postsecondary degrees through 2020. “The higher the education mark, the more competitive we’re going to be in the world economy,” Stathas said. “There’s a lot of talk of the rise and fall of the U.S. Unless we step it up a notch, there are going to be parts of the world that eat our lunch.”

Minorities are more likely than whites to support spending more to improve the availability and affordability of higher education.  ”Whites and Asians were far more likely than Hispanics and African-Americans to argue that the best way to control mounting student-loan debt is for colleges to hold down costs, rather than for government to provide greater financial assistance,” Brownstein reports.