Archive for ‘college majors’

September 24, 2014

Negative consequences of believing the STEM shortage myth

by Grace

In his book Falling Behind: Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent, author Michael Teitelbaum challenges the commonly held belief that the United States suffers from a shortage of STEM workers.

The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce….

A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.

Although some STEM fields are booming and employers find it difficult to fill professional positions, by no means is that true across the board.

Teitelbaum lists five episodes of STEM ‘“alarm/boom/bust” cycles since World War II’ where in all cases government policies intended to address false claims of shortages only exacerbated the problem.

… Each lasted about 10 to 15 years, and was initiated by alarms of “shortages,” followed by policies to increase the supply of scientists and engineers. Unfortunately most were followed by painful busts—mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts that inflicted severe damage to careers of both mature professionals and the booming numbers of emerging graduates, while also discouraging new entrants to these fields.

The current administration has fallen into the same trap, pushing for more STEM graduates who may actually find jobs in short supply.  This year New York began allocating taxpayer funds to encourage college students to pursue STEM majors.

Ignoring “science-based evidence” produces “large unintended costs”.

Ironically the vigorous claims of shortages concern occupations in science and engineering, yet manage to ignore or reject most of the science-based evidence on the subject. The repeated past cycles of “alarm/boom/bust” have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities. In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired.

George Leef is another critic of these government interventions.

… Strong business and educational groups lobby for nice-sounding policies that benefit themselves, frequently employing dubious arguments and misleading claims. The costs of the resulting pro-STEM policies are dispersed among the public, and fall particularly hard on the unfortunate individuals who invest a lot of money and years of their lives in pursuit of credentials that are apt to become almost worthless.

———

Michael S. Teitelbaum, “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage”, The Atlantic, March 19 2014.

George Leef, “True Or False: America Desperately Needs More STEM Workers”, Forbes, June 6, 2014.

September 4, 2014

Women value high grades over high salaries

by Grace

Female college students seem to value good grades over high salaries.  This premise lead Catherine Rampell to advise women to “embrace the B’s in college to make more later”.

A message to the nation’s women: Stop trying to be straight-A students.

No, not because you might intimidate easily emasculated future husbands. Because, by focusing so much on grades, you might be limiting your earning and learning potential.

The college majors that tend to lead to the most profitable professions are also the stingiest about awarding A’s. Science departments grade, on a four-point scale, an average of 0.4 points lower than humanities departments, according to a 2010 analysis of national grading data by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. And two new research studies suggest that women might be abandoning these lucrative disciplines precisely because they’re terrified of getting B’s.

Slipping grades seem to discourage women from pursuing their chosen careers while men were not similarly deterred.

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, has been examining why so few women major in her field. The majority of new college grads are female, yet women receive only 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees in economics each year.

Goldin looked at how grades awarded in an introductory economics class affected the chance that a student would ultimately major in the subject. She found that the likelihood a woman would major in economics dropped steadily as her grade fell: Women who received a B in Econ 101, for example, were about half as likely as women who received A’s to stick with the discipline. The same discouragement gradient didn’t exist for men. Of Econ 101 students, men who received A’s were about equally as likely as men who received B’s to concentrate in the dismal science.

Another research project, led by Peter Arcidiacono at Duke University, is finding similar trends in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Other research confirms that perfectionism holds women back in the workplace.

… The perils of feminine self-doubt — and how they impact women’s professional aspirations — are the subject of a new book, The Confidence Code, by journalists (and recovering self-doubters) Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

———

Catherine Rampell, “Women should embrace the B’s in college to make more later”, Washington Post, March 10, 2014

Jessica Bennett, “It’s Not You, It’s Science: How Perfectionism Holds Women Back”, Time, April 22, 2014.

July 28, 2014

Right-tail gender disparity of SAT math scores

by Grace

Could this be one of the reasons women are underrepresented in engineering and computer science?

20140722.COCWomenMathSAT1

2. Chart of the Day above illustrates graphically one of the reasons that women are under-represented in the more mathematically intensive STEM fields like engineering and computer science. In 2013, boys out-performed girls for perfect scores of 800 on the math SAT test by a male-female ratio of 1.88 to 1 (188 boys for every 100 girls), and for a near-perfect score of 790 by a ratio of exactly 2 to 1.

These facts make some people uncomfortable, as shown by the criticism Larry Summers received when he remarked on the right-tail disparity in men’s math scores.

———

Mark J. Perry, “Monday afternoon linkage”, Carpe Diem, July 21, 2014.

Tags:
June 25, 2014

Some college majors offer ‘more shelter from economic storms than others’

by Grace

Picking the “right” college major shields graduates from some of the bad luck of graduating during a recession.

… Those who major in subjects that command higher salaries, like engineering and finance, increase their earnings advantage when they graduate into a recession. And those who major in subjects that lead to lower-paying jobs, like philosophy and music, are even more disadvantaged than in normal economic times.

A philosophy major takes a harder hit than a finance major during a recession.

Take finance majors. In normal economic times, they earn 24 percent more than the average college major when they are one year out of college. But in a recession, they earn 32 percent more than the average. At the other end of the earnings spectrum, religion and philosophy majors earn 42 percent less than the average major their first year out of college, and 55 percent less during a recession.

But the latest recession hit all graduates more than previous ones did.

In the Great Recession, though, the benefits to high-earning majors were muted, according to the most recent data collected by the Yale economists Lisa Kahn, Joseph Altonji and Jamin Speer. They were less sheltered because the recession affected the economy so broadly, Ms. Kahn said.

Should this news affect the selection of a college major?  Yes.

… yet another variable for students to keep in mind as they weigh which career to pursue.

Related:  “Recent college graduates suffering worst unemployment rates in 50 years” (Cost of College)

———

Claire Cain Miller, “A College Major Matters Even More in a Recession”, New York Times, June 20, 2014.

June 24, 2014

Only about 55% of the college wage premium comes from actually attending college

by Grace

The Cato Institute recently hosted a forum on the question, “Is College Worth It”?

Featuring Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute; Beth Akers, Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution; and Neal McCluskey, Associate Director, Center For Educational Freedom, Cato Institute; moderated by Chip Bishop, Director of Student Programs, Cato Institute.

Soaring tuition and student debt, the rise of high-tech alternatives, and a persistently sluggish economy have provoked a startling question: “Is college worth it?” It’s a question that raises many others: Must I go to college to learn skills I’ll need for my career? Is just getting a degree — any degree — the key to my future prosperity? Should higher education be about marketable skills, or is it about personal fulfillment and expanding human knowledge? These questions disconcert students, parents, and taxpayers alike….

According to Caplan, who took the podium first, approximately 55% of the college wage premium is attributable to the college degree.  The individual student is actually responsible for a significant percentage of the higher wages attributed to college graduates.

College grads typically arrive on campus with big labor market advantages. The typical college grad was unusually employable even before they started college.

The choice of major and the probability of graduation are two important factors that influence the college premium.

20140620.COCIsCollegeWorthItB1


The ‘concert effect’

Caplan also discusses the “concert effect” caused by the growing rate of college completion.  Similar to what happens at a concert when some members of the audience stand up, everyone else has to follow in order to enjoy the performance.  Can you see better when you stand up?  Not really, but you are forced to stand because everyone else is doing the same.  Does a college degree make you a better employee?  Not really, but we feel compelled to go to college because “everyone” else is doing it.

The forum podcast is available at the Cato site.  More topics are covered, including the sheepskin effect, why college professors never have to check IDs, and how college is a four-year party for most students.

 Related:  “Let’s be clear, going to college is not always ‘worth it’” (Cost of College)

June 18, 2014

It’s not really a STEM gender gap, but a ‘TE’ gender gap

by Grace

Randy Olson graphed the percentage of bachelor’s degrees conferred to women by major.

20140617.COCSTEMDegreesWomen1

The only STEM gender gaps are in computer science and engineering.

Surprisingly to me, most of the STEM majors aren’t doing as bad gender disparity-wise as I expected. 40-45% of the degrees in Math, Statistics, and the Physical Sciences were conferred to women in 2012. Even better, a majority of Biology degrees in 2012 (58%) were earned by women. This data tells me that we don’t really have a STEM gender gap in the U.S.: we have an ET gender gap!

If we actually have a shortage in skilled engineering and technology employees, this gender gap matters.

This ET gender gap has severe consequences. Computer Science and Engineering majors have stagnated at less than 10% of all degrees conferred in the U.S. for the past decade, while the demand for employees with programming and engineering skills continue to outpace the supply every year…

Provided that far more women attend college than men, it seems the best way to meet the U.S.’s growing need for skilled programmers and engineers is to focus on recruiting more women — of any race or ethnicity — into Computer Science and Engineering majors. The big question, of course, is “How?” With the constant issues of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination against women in these male-dominated majors, we have quite a tough task on our hands.

Looking at the historical trends, maybe we have something to learn from Architecture and the Physical Sciences, given that they were in our position only 40 years ago.

Geology, my field of study, has a similar story of declining gender imbalance.

… Between 1974 and 2000, geoscience degrees awarded to women rose from ~17% to 45% (AGI, 2001).

How did it happen?

Interestingly, the rise in women pursuing geoscience degrees coincided with a sharp decline in oil prices that decimated high-paying oil industry opportunities for geologists.  At the same time, an increased interest in environmental issues pushed up the need for geologists to work in that area, often at jobs paid by government dollars either directly or indirectly.  I think more women are attracted to those types of jobs than to the more rough-and-tumble ones in the oil or mining industries.  I don’t see the possibility of a similar change in computer science or engineering where women would become newly attracted to those fields, thus shrinking the current gender gap.

Among the comments at Olson’s post was a suggestion that more female mentors were needed.   And there was this:

When computer science programs incorporate soft skill training into the course content, i.e. communication, inclusion in a group, importance of teamwork, sexual harassment etc, you will see a change. Women have to see what the possibilities are for them in a field long term. If what they are seeing is a male dominated field, with people who do not communicate well, and who do not welcome them to the table, I don’t blame them for not choosing computer science. Women want to work where they are welcomed, where they can use both right and left brain skills.

Extensive group work and writing about math are examples of “soft” skills recently introduced in K-12 education, at least partly implemented as a means of improving the achievement levels of girls in math.  I don’t believe the overall outcomes of this experimentation have been particularly positive, but perhaps it would work better at the college level.

———

Randy Olson, “Percentage of Bachelor’s degrees conferred to women, by major (1970-2012)”, Randal S. Olson, June 14, 2014.

Dallas D. Rhodes, “Generational and Cyclical Demographic Change in The Geological Society of America”, GSA Today, November 2008.

June 16, 2014

Obama takes a dig at the humanities

by Grace

President Obama jokes that you can BS your way through humanities courses.

And the thing about the humanities was, you could kind of talk your way through classes, which you couldn’t do in math and science, right?”

However, there may be a huge grain of truth in the president’s joke.  That’s why it was funny, or maybe not so funny.

The problem with a liberal arts degree is that ‘rigor has weakened’

… the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market….

The problem is employers have found liberal arts graduates ‘didn’t learn much in school’.

… Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.

You can “kind of talk your way through” many classes, but not usually STEM classes.

In contrast to liberal arts studies, many STEM and similar vocational majors that focus on teaching specific content have not watered down their curriculum.

Related:  “The growing distinction between ‘meaningful’ and ‘worthless” college degrees” (Cost of College)

———

“Obama Derides Humanities Majors”, Washington Free Beacon, June 10, 2014 .

Tags:
June 9, 2014

‘Useless’ college degrees

by Grace

Randye Hoder explains “Why I Let My Daughter Get a ‘Useless’ College Degree”.

Hoder, whose daughter is an American Studies major, had tired of trying to “rationalize how Emma’s chosen path will turn into a steady paycheck”.

Yet the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve decided to be honest. “I’m not sure what Emma is going to do,” I now say. “But she’s gotten a great education and has really found her passion — and I know those things will serve her well over the course of her life.”

But what about supporting yourself after graduation, and paying off student loans?  Is following your passion restricted to rich people who can rely on their parents to supplement their lifestyle after graduation?

The trend is to measure the value a college education by the salaries of recent graduates.

It has become practically quaint these days to think of institutions of higher learning as places that teach students to think critically and analytically, read widely and write well. More and more, schools are being measured by, among other things, the salaries of their recent graduates. The Obama Administration has only reinforced this bias by proposing to rank colleges based, in part, on how much money graduates earn.

A rigorous liberal arts education can pay substantial dividends in the form of a satisfying and lucrative career.  Okay, maybe not always lucrative.  It’s arguable.  But the point is that liberal arts core skills are useful in the workplace, especially considering that the workplace is constantly changing.  Unfortunately, there is a serious problem with this idea.

In theory, a college liberal arts degree is a valuable commodity in the job market. In reality, the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market.

Anyway, I’m curious to know if Hoder’s daughter ever found a job.  I’d like to know what kinds of jobs liberal arts graduates are getting these days.  Based on what I’ve seen, many of them who see a dismal job market decide to go on to graduate school.

Related:  “Colleges are promoting the liberal arts as a path to a good career” (Cost of College)

———

Randye Hoder, “Why I Let My Daughter Get a ‘Useless’ College Degree”, Time, January 16, 2014.

March 4, 2014

Fundamental communication skills are more important than ‘new media’ skills for journalists

by Grace

Journalism instructors assign much more value to a degree in the discipline than do practicing journalists, according to a new Poynter study.

20140301.COCJournalismDegreeImportance1

Some 96 percent of journalism educators believe that a journalism degree is very important or extremely important when it comes to understanding the value of journalism. By contrast, 57 percent of media professionals believe that a journalism degree is key to understanding the value of their field.

Perhaps even more significant, more than 80 percent of educators say a journalism degree is extremely important when it comes to learning news gathering skills, compared to 25 percent of media professionals. One in five media professionals finds a degree in the discipline is not at all important or only slightly important in learning news gathering.

Should journalism school place more focus on teaching “new multimedia skills”?

Finberg, who authored the study, attributed the discrepancy in part to a kind of digital divide between journalism school curriculums and what’s expected of journalists in the field. Working journalists feel the demand for new multimedia skills that may or may not be part of traditional journalism coursework, he said, leading them to question the value of degrees in the discipline.

Or should they simply concentrate more on fundamental skills?

But given that modern journalism is a kind of moving target, experts said, programs can’t afford to lose sight of the fundamentals: good storytelling and strong writing and problem-solving skills.

“It is in no way possible for journalism schools to keep up with all the industry changes because journalism itself isn’t keeping with the technological changes,” said Sonny Albarado, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and projects editor at the ArkansasDemocrat-Gazette. “It’s important to be exposed to whatever the dominant or latest technology is, but that varies from place to place.”

Albarado said he prefers to hire reporters with journalism degrees, due to their training, but he wouldn’t exclude applicants with English degrees, for example.

Ultimately, he said, “I just want somebody who can write and think critically – and spell.”

The new media skills are relatively easy to acquire, but fundamental writing skills and critical thinking usually take years to learn.

It seems that a rigorous liberal arts education would be an excellent way to prepare for a journalism career.  Nate Silver thinks economics or math are good majors for journalists to meet the increasing importance of data-driven reporting.

Related: With the rise of robo-reporters, what is the outlook for jobs in journalism? (Cost of College)

February 18, 2014

Free tuition at New York state universities for top STEM students?

by Grace

The proposed New York State budget includes a provision to offer free tuition to top students who choose to major in STEM fields.

“New this year under the governor’s budget proposal, some students at the top of their classes will have a chance to skip tuition payments entirely. Those who plan to major in a field related to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects would receive free tuition to any SUNY or CUNY institution, as long as they remain in the state for five years after graduation to pursue their careers. The $8 million budget line is intended to help reverse the “brain drain” of the best and brightest from New York State.”

Students must graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class to qualify for the scholarships.

Details must be worked out.

Final budget approval is expected this spring.  Questions have been raised about how the requirement to stay in the state for five years after graduation would affect students who wish to attend graduate school.  One estimate predicts funding is only sufficient for 166 four-year scholarships, so it is possible that demand will be greater than supply.

Related:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 179 other followers

%d bloggers like this: