Study hard, work hard

Young people are told they must earn a bachelor’s degree to get a good job, says Mike Rowe, who hosted Dirty Jobs. That’s not necessarily so.
(Photo via mikeroweWORKS)

As a high school student in the late ’70s, Rowe decided to go to community college, which he could afford, rather than going into debt at a four-year university. His counselor pointed to a poster urging students to “Work Smart, Not Hard.” The smiling “smart” person had a diploma.

It was “the worst advice in the history of the world,” Rowe says. “Skilled trades are in demand.”

He’s created a new poster that advises: “Work smart AND hard.” In Rowe’s version, the college graduate looks glum, while the worker is smiling.

On his Profoundly Disconnected web site, Rowe challenges the idea that college is right for everyone. His foundation gives trade school scholarships to students who show a strong work ethic and financial need.

Applicants must sign the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge (Skills & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo), notes Cost of College.

This includes the statement: “I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.”

Tech college puts work ethic on transcripts

Graduates of a Missouri technical college can show employers a transcript that includes a “job readiness” score and attendance as well as academic grades, reports Inside Higher EdLinn State Technical College hopes the new transcript will help students find jobs.

Instructors evaluate students’ job readiness and work ethic in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship.

Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.

Under work habits, a student who’s diligent, organized and takes pride in a job well done earns a 4. A 3 usually goes beyond the minimum and has a good attitude. At the 2 level, the student is improving but needs supervision. A 1 needs supervision. Under 0, the student is lazy, takes no pride in work, ignores warnings and “thinks minimum is maximum.”

Evaluating workplace readiness is just starting to catch on at a few colleges, reports Inside Higher EdAsheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina will issue grades and certificates for “soft skills,” such punctuality and teamwork, to help graduates find jobs.

Employers are complaining that new workers lack a strong work ethic, said Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president. The college worked with industry partners to decide which skills to evaluate.

Study: Parent aid lowers college grades

When parents pay their children’s college costs, students earn lower grades but are more likely to graduate, concludes a new study by Laura T. Hamilton, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced.

As parental aid increased, students’ GPAs decreased. “Students with parental support are best described as staying out of serious academic trouble, but dialing down their academic efforts,” Hamilton wrote.

Today’s college students spend an average of 28 hours a week on classes and studying — and 41 hours a week on social and recreational events, another study found.

According to Hamilton’s study, students with no parental aid in their first year of college had a 56.4 percent chance of graduating in five years, compared with 65.2 percent for students who received $12,000 in aid from their parents.

Grants and scholarships, work-study, student employment and veteran’s benefits do not have negative effects on student GPA, said Hamilton. Students may feel they’ve earned the money and take their responsibilities more seriously.

CC will evaluate ‘soft skills’

“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork will be factored into grades for many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed. Next year, the college will issue workplace readiness certificates in addition to traditional credentials.

Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.

A-B Tech will grade students on how they work with classmates in study groups and interact with instructors in professionally worded e-mails.

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services.

. . . Quinley said local employers are generally pleased with the technical and academic accomplishments of A-B Tech students. But soft skills can be a problem. For example, she said the college recent held a focus group with welding companies, where some participants said A-B Tech graduates were talented and got the welding part, but that some showed up late for work too often.

Students don’t pick up “soft skills” by osmosis, writes Community College Dean. Teaching students “the rules of the game”  is the egalitarian thing to do.

I’ve been to more than my share of employer advisory boards over the last dozen years, at three different colleges.  They’re remarkably consistent; every time, the feedback is that we’re doing well with the specific technical skills, but that many students arrive with serious gaps in communication, presentation and general employee conduct.

Students need to understand the importance of punctuality, meeting deadlines and communicating frustration in an acceptable way in the workplace, the dean writes.  “The odd blend of surface egalitarianism and deep hierarchy that defines many workplaces can be a minefield if you don’t know how to read it.”

Years ago, I did a series on welfare reform for the San Jose Mercury News. Two of the long-term welfare mothers we followed found jobs — and ran into trouble because they didn’t know unspoken workplace rules.

Is college worth it?

Is college worth it?, asks a Pew Research Center survey. Many Americans aren’t sure: 57% of those surveyed said the U.S. higher education system doesn’t provide good value for the money students and parents spend. Only 22 percent  believe that most people today can afford to pay for a college education.  

On the plus side, 86 percent of college graduates said college has been a good investment for them personally.  But that doesn’t include people who paid for a year or two of college, but left without completing a degree.

Four-year college graduates estimated they earn $20,000 more a year on average because of their degree.  Workers who didn’t attend college agreed that it costs them about $20,000 a year.  That’s very close to the wage gap reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010: $19,550.

College students are borrowing more: About half of those with substantial debt said it’s harder to pay other bills; a quarter said it has made it harder to buy a home and about a quarter said college debt has affected their career choices.

Most young adults who hadn’t completed college blamed high costs and the need to support a family.

While 94 percent of parents surveyed said they expect their child to attend college, getting a college education didn’t come in first when respondents were asked what it takes for a young person to succeed in life: 61 percent  said a good work ethic is very important, 57 percentsaid they need to know how to get along with people and just 42 percent said a college education is very important.

‘Why do I have an F?’

Why Do I Have an F? That’s the question Eliana Osborn hears after midterm grades go out. She teaches developmental English at Arizona Western College.

“Is there any way I can get my grade higher?” comes the plaintive e-mailed complaint. Yes, I reply. Come to class every week and do every assignment.

That is not the answer many of them want to hear. They want extra credit, chances to make up tests, magic points that appear out of nowhere just because they asked.

She lets students rewrite essays to improve their grade, even if that means rereading an essay through four revisions. But some don’t take advantage of the opportunity, yet wonder why the F remains an F.

Dislocating at a two-year college

Bill Green, CEO of Accenture, a $21 billion management consulting company, “champions community colleges, analytical skill training and young people with a fierce work ethic,” reports the Globe and Daily Mail. That’s because the plumber’s son started his education at a two-year college.

My Dad said, “You can always be a plumber – why don’t you try that college thing?” I was fortunate to have a year before college in which I could, as they say, find myself. I then had the great fortune of going to a two-year college. In U.S. two-year colleges, they not only educate, but also energize and inspire. I needed the education but I mostly needed the inspiration – that I could learn, I could grow – and I needed the confidence.

I’m a huge advocate of two-year colleges, not only as a place to get started, but also for an environment of dislocation. You will never have the same job for 30 years; you will not only need to get one skill but to re-skill. The two-year system is not only a good launch pad, it can also allow you to retool for another career.

. . . In U.S. business, we’re focusing now on how to repurpose the education system to get the talent you need. How do you add legitimacy to the community colleges, two-year programs and technical schools? How do you let credentials earned in those schools be transportable? Because the world is changing dramatically, we have to get more analytical thinking into the system.

At Dean College in Massachusetts, Green’s professors’ “took me by the hand and showed me the way.”