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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Should you major in drama, anthropology, nursing or mechanical engineering? Majors matter when it comes to earnings and employment, reports the Bay Area News Group. With a bachelor’s in drama, a recent graduate can expect to earn $25,000 a year. Anthropology majors average $27,000 with 12.6 percent unemployment. Nursing graduates start at $48,000, while mechanical engineers can expect to earn $57,000 just out of college.
With experience, pharmaceutical and engineering majors nearly triple the salaries of arts majors.
What’s the Value of an Associate Degree? asks an important question but doesn’t provide useful answers, argues Donald E. Heller, dean of the Michigan State education school, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Nexus/AIR report relies on earnings data from PayScale, which are based on self-reporting, writes Heller. That data may not be accurate.
For example, according to the study, the community college with the highest reported starting salary was Colorado Northwestern Community College, at $57,637. That is 39 percent above the average of the other 578 institutions in the study. Does this tell us that Colorado Northwestern is 39 percent “better” than the average community college in the nation? Not at all, because we know nothing about the validity of the earnings data from PayScale. The company’s Web site shows that the earnings estimates for that college are based on the reports of just 21 individuals: four who reported annual salaries and 17 who reported hourly wages. It is impossible to tell how many of these 21 reported a starting salary. Do we want to pass judgment about that institution—or any other institution in the study—based on so few data points?
In addition, comparing the earnings of community college graduates with high school graduates doesn’t show whether the community college produced a high return on investment, writes Heller. Community college students “most likely have characteristics that distinguish them from those who choose not to enroll in postsecondary education,” such as greater ambition and academic ability. (The same is true of all those studies showing the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree.)
MOOCs (massive open online courses) are red hot in higher education, reports Time. A third of college administrators think residential campuses will become obsolete. State legislators are pushing for-credit MOOCs to cut college costs. But, how much are MOOC students learning?
“At this point, there’s just no way to really know whether they’re effective or not,” said Shanna Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which has produced some of the most recent scholarship about online education.
Enrollment in online college courses of all kinds increased by 29 percent from 2010 through 2012, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. However, completion rates are low. Only about 10 percent of people who sign up for a MOOC complete the course.
Advocates say that’s because there are no admissions requirements and the courses are free; they compare it to borrowing a book from the library and browsing it casually or returning it unread.
In addition, completers don’t earn college credits. In a survey by Qualtrics and Instructure, two-thirds of MOOC students said they’d be more likely to complete a MOOC if they could get college credit or a certificate of completion. That still not widely available, notes Time.
Until it is, said Jaggars, it will be hard to measure the effectiveness of MOOCs—a Catch-22, since without knowing their effectiveness, it’s unlikely colleges will give academic credit for them.
To study what happens when students get credit for online courses, Teachers College looked at online courses at community colleges in Virginia and Washington State that were not MOOCs—since tuition was charged and credit given—but were like them in other ways. The results were not encouraging. Thirty-two percent of the students in online courses in Virginia quit before finishing, compared with 19 percent of classmates in conventional classrooms. The equivalent numbers in Washington State were 18 percent versus 10 percent. Online students were also less likely to get at least a C, less likely to return for the subsequent semester, and ultimately less likely to graduate.
San Jose State’s experiment with for-credit MOOCs was suspended in response to very low pass rates. Pass rates improved significantly in the summer semester, but “a closer look showed that more than half of the summer students already had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to none of the students who took online courses in the spring.” Even then, more summer registrants dropped out than in traditional classes.
“In general, students don’t do as well in online courses as they do in conventional courses,” said Jaggars. “A lot of that has to do with the engagement. There’s just less of it in online courses.”
Despite all this, 77 percent of academic leaders think online education is as good as face-to-face classes or better, Babson found. Four in 10 said their schools plan to offer MOOCs within three years, according to a survey by the IT company Enterasys.
In a new Gallup poll, 13 percent said employers see an online degree as better than a traditional degree, while 49 percent said the online degree has less value for employers. Online education gives students more options and provides good value for the money, but is less rigorous, most respondents said.
Having a bachelor’s degree or higher, on average, increases earnings 69 percent for men and 70 percent for women in 2011 over those individuals ages 25 to 34 who only completed high school. By comparison, in 2008, higher education led to a 74 percent income advantage for men and 79 percent for women, according to the College Board’s latest research.
In 2011, full-time workers with a four-year degree averaged $56,600 a year, $21,000 more than the median earnings of a high school graduate. Workers with a two-year degree averaged $44,800. Workers with “some college” but no degree earned 14 percent more than those who’d finished high school but never enrolled in college.
The 2012 unemployment rate was 4.1 percent for college graduates age 25 to 34 and 11.2 percent for workers with just a high school education.
College-educated adults are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, to volunteer, to vote and to avoid smoking and obesity.
Seventy-eight percent of full-time, traditional-age students earn a degree or certificate in six years, College Board found.
The payoff for a typical student doesn’t provide much information to individuals, Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research told Inside Higher Ed.
If the median is a snapshot of students at all institutions and in all degree programs with vastly different backgrounds, a data report like the College Board’s draws a “relentlessly optimistic picture of the return on high education, based on averages,” said Schneider, who has conducted a report on the variance of earnings for college graduates.
It’s not clear whether college graduates succeed because they’re more educated, because they were more capable and motivated to start with or because employers won’t give non-graduates a chance.
If colleges and universities are judged by former students’ earnings, community colleges are bound to look bad, writes Matt Reed in Inside Higher Ed.
Sarah graduates from her local community college. For years, while she’s getting a bachelor’s and medical degree, her earnings are low. Eventually, she’s a high-paid physician. “At what point do we count her earnings?,” asks Reed. Does the community college get any credit for her success?
Basically, no. Someone who earns an AA on the way to a BA is counted only as a four-year graduate by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, he writes. The most successful community college graduates don’t count as community college graduates.
Community colleges provide workforce credentials, often to adult students, and transfer degrees, usually to traditional-age students. Higher-achieving students usually go for transfer degrees, but they won’t earn more till they complete a bachelor’s degree.
. . . community colleges are subject to a brutal and systematic bias when the question of graduates’ earnings comes up. The higher-achieving, higher-salary students are excluded from the count, since they show up as bachelor’s degree grads. . . . The students who deliberately targeted lower-paying jobs — often due to time pressure — do show up, though. Then we get compared to the four-year colleges — many of whose graduates started at community colleges — unfavorably. This is madness.
Community colleges can’t be compared to four-year universities, unless there’s a way to factor in student characteristics and look at the value added. Community colleges (and for-profit colleges) enroll many high-risk students with weak academic skills. Most are juggling jobs and family responsibilities. It’s not Harvard. It’s not even Enormous State University.
Most Americans say their job doesn’t require a college degree, according to a new Gallup poll. But employers often do. Four in ten college graduates don’t use their degree on the job, points out Walter Russell Mead on The American Interest.
Employers often require degrees to show applicants’ determination and work ethic, Mead writes. Academic skills don’t count. That wastes students’ time and money.
We need to separate job training from education, writes Mead. Let career-minded students learn the job skills they need — quickly and inexpensively.
. . . reduce dumb bachelor’s degree requirements, so that job seekers and employers could be brought together based on aptitude and achievement tests rather than meaningless but expensive paper credentials.
A liberal education is “valuable in itself,” Mead writes. “Rather than force all college students into a bizarre hybrid of liberal education and skill training, we need to figure out how to make a true education more widely available to those who want it, including adults who wish to continue their education later in life.”
The Texas State Technical College system will be funded based on graduates’ earnings rather than enrollment, starting on Sept. 1. The “value-added accountability funding formula” analyzes the difference between graduates’ income five years after graduating and the minimum wage to calculate how many dollars go to the technical colleges.
No young person should “spend life drifting from one low-skilled, minimum-wage job to the next,” said House Speaker Joe Straus in advocating for the funding change, reports the New York Times. But technical education isn’t expanding. ”Texas State Technical College West Texas — one of the four institutions that make up the state’s college system dedicated to technical education and work force development — has been shrinking.”
In 2007, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, more than 10,500 students were taking classes through T.S.T.C. West Texas, which has campuses in Brownwood, Abilene, Breckenridge and Sweetwater. Five years later, the school’s enrollment was about 1,500.
The college’s administrators say the decrease reflects a recalibration of the state’s approach to offering technical education.
. . . “What is education worth? That is really at the heart of the accountability debate,” said Michael Reeser, the former president of the West Texas campuses and current chancellor of the T.S.T.C. System.
. . . The other T.S.T.C. schools have also experienced recent dips in enrollment, though not as significantly as in West Texas. Mr. Reeser said that was because West Texas has been the test case for the new model and has been preparing for the transition since the concept was first floated in 2007.
The West Texas campuses have eliminated some programs: Digital media was popular, but didn’t lead to local jobs; agricultural technology did lead to good jobs but didn’t attract students. In addition, the West Texas campuses outsourced general academic courses to community colleges. And the nursing program lost students when it was placed on conditional approval status by the Texas Board of Nursing in 2012.