It’s better in to live in your mother’s basement, drink beer and play video games all day than to major in English or sociology, go into debt and then live in the basement, says Aaron Clarey, author of Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major.
As student debt mounts, colleges and universities face pressure to disclose their graduates’ earnings, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.
Joyce English was about to start studying toward an associate degree she hoped would lead to a job as a consultant to healthcare companies around Tacoma, Wash., where she lives.
Then she discovered a database created by the state’s workforce training agency estimating what she’d earn with that degree versus how much she could make in other jobs with other majors and degrees from colleges and universities across the state.
. . . “You obviously want something out of your education,” says English, who changed her mind and is now majoring in what she learned is the more lucrative field of business management at Pierce College. “You don’t want to go into something that’s going to pay you less than it cost to go to college.”
Washington, Florida Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia have released wage information by major, degree and institutution. Colorado, Nevada and Texas will do so soon. Congress is considering a bill that would require every college to disclose the average annual earnings of its graduates.
“I can imagine some hard questions being asked” by parents, students and legislators armed with knowledge like this, says Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and president of College Measures, which is helping states create such earnings databases.
. . . nearly 90 percent of incoming freshmen say the main reason they enrolled in college was “to be able to get a better job,” UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute reports. “And probably 100 percent of their parents say that,” says Schneider.
“It’s the no-name comprehensives, the regional campuses, the third-tier not-for-profits—their business model is going to be held up and people are going to ask about it,” Schneider says. “ ‘Why are you charging me $40,000 a year? What’s the outcome at the end of the day? What am I getting for all this time and money?’ ”
Higher-education leaders worry students will shun the liberal arts in favor more lucrative majors.
“Follow your passion” should be the message, not “show me the money,” says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Your college decision should be about becoming an educated person—giving yourself a resource that will increase in value your entire life, finding something you care deeply about, and developing the skills to go on learning what you need to learn.”
Community colleges were supposes to be “democracy’s college,” writes Keith Kroll, an English professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. That “grand experiment” is coming to an end, Kroll writes. From President Obama on down, community colleges are seen as job training centers providing workers for local employers, not as places where students begin higher education.
Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of classes will be taught online, he predicts. Ninety percent of faculty will be part-timers who may never meet their students or each other.
In the community college of the future each department will have one full-time “faculty manager,” whose responsibilities will include distributing prepackaged, business-driven curricula and course syllabi; selecting the common textbook from which all faculty members will “teach”; scheduling and assigning classes . . . and managing the online grading program that all faculty will use to assess student performance. There will no longer be in-person department meetings, faculty representation on college committees, shared governance, or professional development . . . (faculty) will no longer be teachers, but technicians with no say in what they teach and how they teach.
English instructors will teach writing solely to give students the practical skills required by employers, he writes. Literature — indeed all the liberal arts — will be eliminated on grounds they have “no economic value.”
The revised mission statement of the Association of American Colleges and Universities is “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” I’m not sure what “inclusive excellence’ means.
“President Obama and many governors are pushing the idea of community colleges becoming workforce training centers,” writes Community College Dean. Funding is being shifted from general budgets to favored programs in “STEM fields or fields with presumed local employability.” It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. But, what about liberal arts? What about higher education?
If community colleges fail at their academic mission, it will increase social and economic segregation, argues Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
Literature, philosophy, art history, political science, and economics shouldn’t be the privilege of those who have money. They’re the shared (if contested) heritage of a culture, and they bespeak possibilities beyond the present. . . .
Community colleges’ vocational mission is important, he writes, but so is educating students who will transfer to complete a bachelor’s degree or more. Starting at a community college and transferring after two years is the best way to earn a four-year degree without crushing debt.
Politicians aren’t scheming to keep the poor barefoot and ignorant, whatever faculty members may suspect, the dean writes. To “keep the liberal arts available for students of limited means,” academics should frame their arguments around “cross-class contact, transfer and student debt.”
Liberal arts classes aren’t frills, writes Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College. Students prepare for success in the workforce by learning to write, analyze and solve problems in liberal arts classes.
Many Americans learn at a two-year college most of what they will ever learn—in a formal setting, at least—about writing, critical thinking, the history of our culture and civilization, the environment, and human behavior.
. . . Employers rank communication and analytical skills among the most important attributes they seek in new hires, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Perhaps those of us who teach those very skills at community colleges should embrace the integral role we play in preparing the nation’s workers rather than rejecting the idea of work-force development as somehow beneath us.
Communicating clearly in writing is a key to business success, so ”one of the best things we can do for students is to require them to write—a lot,” Jenkins argues.
Employers complain that many workers have difficulty thinking for themselves.
How many of us actually require our students to analyze material in an in-depth way (as opposed to providing them with convenient study sheets)? How many of us require them to draw inferences, make connections, reach and defend conclusions? Our liberal-arts courses are the ideal places to teach those cognitive skills that students need to be successful in the workplace.
Finally, liberal-arts instructors should connect what students are learning in class to the “real world.”
After years when policymakers weren’t paying much attention, community colleges are on the political radar, writes Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College,at the Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s good — but there’s a risk that community colleges will be judged unfairly by the same standards as selective four-year colleges.
An institution with an open-door policy, accepting high-school dropouts with GED’s, students returning to school after 20 years, and nonnative speakers, is simply not going to have the same output . . .
. . . for community colleges, graduation rates are not the sole indicators of success. Many of our students just take a course or two, or transfer after a year. Even those who do stay two years sometimes leave without bothering to pick up an associate’s degree.
The demand for “accountability” could lead to a national curriculum, Jenkins fears. That would make it hard for colleges to serve their communities. In Britain, “further education” colleges, which primarily offer vocational training, must wait years to get curriculum changes approved to meet local needs.
Jenkins also worries that community colleges have gained national attention as job training centers, not as places that teach the liberal arts.
Liberal-arts instructors “must make it clear that community colleges exist to educate the whole student, not just to crank out human widgets for the economic machine.”
Despite tales of college graduates working as cashiers, college is still worth it, argues Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce in Inside Higher Ed. Bureau of Labor Statistics data misses a shift in the economy: Employers are requiring postsecondary credentials for jobs that didn’t use to require a two- or four-year degree, he writes.
Examples in the white-collar world include increasing demand for college degrees among managers, health care workers, and a wide variety of office workers, from insurance agents to building inspectors. Examples in the blue- and pink-collar world include increasing degree requirements among production workers, health care technicians, and utility and transportation workers.
Simple, repetitive tasks have been automated. Workers need to perform more sophisticated tasks that require more skill, training and education, Carnevale writes. Employers are paying a wage premium to hire workers with college credentials.
Bartenders, cab drivers and janitors with bachelor’s degrees will move to better jobs, he writes. “Over a 10-year period, each cashier job has 13 incumbents who permanently leave the occupation; among medical doctors, that replacement rate is only one.”
There is a higher education bubble at the bachelor’s degree level, writes Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars. As the recession pushes more four-year graduates into low-level jobs, high school graduates are getting cagier about borrowing to take the traditional college path to a career.
More and more students are enrolling in lower-priced community colleges either to take a terminal associate’s degree or to transfer as juniors to a senior college. And online education is luring more and more students to the idea of gaining college credentials through part-time study while working full-time.
All it would take for higher education’s bubble to pop would be a significant increase in the percent of students defecting to community colleges or online programs. Perhaps as little as a ten percent shift would pose dramatic problems for the expensive second-tier private colleges.
Career colleges are growing rapidly, according to a new Carnegie Foundation report. The focus of higher education is shifting from liberal arts colleges to professional training programs in business, health, education and law.
The majority of the new institutions—77 percent—are from the private for-profit sector. The growth in public institutions and private not-for-profit institutions has been minimal, accounting for only 4 percent and 19 percent of the newly classified institutions respectively.
In addition, more two-year colleges are adding bachelor’s degree programs.
Many college students aren’t learning “critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills,” concludes a study by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. They followed undergraduates at a broad range of colleges and universities for four years.
Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event . . . The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.
Arum and Roksa’s book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, comes out this month.
Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called “higher order” thinking skills.
Combining the hours spent studying and in class, students devoted less than a fifth of their time each week to academic pursuits. By contrast, students spent 51 percent of their time — or 85 hours a week — socializing or in extracurricular activities.
Overall, students at highly selective schools made more gains than those at less selective schools, the study found. But there were “pockets of kids that are working hard and learning at very high rates” in each of the 24 colleges and universities, Arum said.
Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don’t preclude the possibility that such students “are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.”
Students who took courses that required lots of reading (more than 40 pages a week) and writing (more than 20 pages in a semester) showed higher rates of learning. In an average semester, a third of students did not take a reading-intensive class; half did not take a writing-intensive class.
“I think that higher education in general is not demanding enough of students — academics are simply of less importance than they were a generation ago,” said Howard Gardner, a Harvard education professor.
Learning was measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an essay test that asks students to solve real-world problems, “such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.”
The study found students who study alone outperform those who study in groups, notes David Glenn in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “That insight cuts against the grain of the recent trends toward collaborative and experiential learning.”
Studying in groups “seems to be difficult for students to pull off in a way that promotes learning, as opposed to being a social occasion,” Ms. Roksa said.
“A lot of institutions and actors in higher education have invested a lot in this idea of collaborative education,” Mr. Arum said. “These are very well-intentioned folks, and I know that they’ve been taken aback by what we found.”
George D. Kuh, a professor emeritus of higher education and founding director of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University, believes collaborative learning works for less-prepared students. The Arum-Roksa study didn’t ask if students study in groups by preference or because they’re given group assignments.
The researchers concede that point, but Arum adds, “If professors aren’t even being trained in traditional pedagogy, it’s a lot to ask them to pull off these more-complex collaborative models.”
He also doubts students who aren’t progressing on CLA are learning a great deal in their major. They’re not working hard enough, Arum says.
“Thirty-five percent of students report that they spend five or fewer hours per week studying alone. Do we really think that there is going to be a lot subject-specific learning when students are giving so little effort? I actually think that you’d find much the same pattern with subject-specific knowledge.”
Here are excerpts from Academically Adrift.
In Shakespeare with Power Tools, Erin Carlyle explains how St. Paul College in Minnesota made it to number one on the Washington Monthly’s list of the 50 best community colleges. Once a vocational high school, St. Paul is now a “community and technical college,” blending liberal arts programs with vocational classes.
About two-thirds of Saint Paul students are either first-generation college-goers, of color, from low-income families, or some combination of the three. Many are immigrants, reflecting the area’s high concentration of Somalis and Hmong. Students like that tend to drown in impersonal lectures. So Saint Paul classes are small, averaging nineteen students. Teachers roam the rooms, providing guidance as students work on individual assignments and group projects.
On the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, “nearly all of the students surveyed at Saint Paul said they had discussed ideas or readings from class with their instructors outside of class time. At most two-year schools, close to half of the students never do this.”
Ninety-three percent of Saint Paul students work with their instructors on activities other than coursework. Nationwide, about 70 percent of students at two-year schools say that they never do this. Ninety-eight percent of Saint Paul students say they’ve taught or tutored other students. Less than one-third of students nationwide have had the same experience.
St. Paul instructors in both trades and liberal arts classes stress problem solving.
Compared to other community colleges, the instructors at Saint Paul spend more time teaching students to evaluate and synthesize information, make judgments about it, and apply concepts to perform new skills. This is as true in vocational classes as it is in the traditional liberal arts disciplines.
. . . Saint Paul hasn’t just brought the hands-on ethos and intense student-faculty interaction of the trades to the liberal arts. It’s brought the critical thinking and wide perspective of the liberal arts to the trades.
Saint Paul’s graduation rate of 41 percent is well above the national average for community colleges. If a student is struggling, the instructor can send an online “early alert” to a “retention specialist,” who will contact the student to offer help.
Despite the high number of immigrant students, the college has decided to set high expectations, says Thomas Matos, director of student services. “ ‘You have to work for the grades you get in the classroom.’ And then we work to give them the services that support them.”