Archive for ‘college majors’

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.

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

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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)

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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.

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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)

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

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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)

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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.

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January 14, 2014

Best growth outlook is for low-paying jobs

by Grace

The outlook for jobs does not hold up much hope for some college graduates.

Elder care and other low-wage jobs will be among the fastest growing career fields over the next decade. Postal carriers and journalists might have a harder time finding work.

The fastest growing job for the next decade requires no formal education and pays an average annual income of $19,940.

Personal-care aide will be the fastest growing job from 2012 to 2022, among categories with more than 25,000 positions, the Labor Department said in a new report. The field will grow by nearly 50% to 1.8 million jobs.

The gloomy prospect for postal workers and reporters is directly tied to technology advances.  Email has replaced most paper letters, and the rise of robo-reporters has cut into the need for human writers.

Postal and media sectors are likely to shed jobs in the next decade.

Employment among U.S. Postal Service workers is expected to decline 28%.Reporter and correspondent jobs will contract nearly 14%.

Here’s a look at journalism jobs pulled from the Wall Street Journal “sortable table of the career fields that will grow and shrink in the next decade”

20140112.COCJournalismJobs1

Since my college kid is seeking a job in journalism, I had a brief panicked moment before I realized the job levels are reported in thousands!  Maybe I can find slight comfort in looking at jobs with even fewer projected job openings, such as film editors, high school history teachers, and chemical engineers.  However, in terms of expected percent changes for jobs requiring a college degree, journalists rank right at the bottom of the list.

December 30, 2013

Most college graduates are underemployed

by Grace

Most college graduates are underemployed, as shown by the chart on the left.  The chart on the right shows that the vast majority of college graduates are working in fields unrelated to their undergraduate major.

20131228.COCCollegeDegreeNotRequired1

This comes from research produced by Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

… We utilize newly available census data that identify both an individual’s level of education and, for college graduates, undergraduate college major. We construct two measures of what we call job matching for those with a bachelor’s degree. Our first measure, which we refer to as college degree matching, determines whether an undergraduate degree holder is working in an occupation that requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Our second measure, which we call college major matching, gauges the quality of a job match by identifying whether a person is working in a job that corresponds to that person’s undergraduate major. For example, consider a college graduate who majored in Communications. If this person worked as a public relations manager, an occupation that both requires a college degree and relates directly to a Communications major, we would classify this person as matching along both measures. By contrast, if this person worked as a retail salesperson, he or she would be classified as not matching along either measure.

Being overqualified is sometimes the only way to secure employment and pave the way for future career growth.

This data does not necessarily support the argument that a college degree is a waste of time and money for most.  In a perverse way, it actually supports the importance of going to college.  In this jobless economic recovery we have too many college graduates chasing too few college-level jobs, so employers can screen out job applicants who lack a college background.  Those retail salespeople, office receptionists, or any number of similar workers with college degrees were probably helped in gaining employment by the fact they had demonstrated the persistence and intelligence needed to complete four years of higher education.  It also helps their chances of future career and income growth.

A law school graduate blogging about “the loss of my last shred of dignity” while working at a store counter selling cologne is featured in a Business Insider story.

The blog’s anonymous author graduated from a law school that was in the top 50 ranked by U.S. News and World Report. He was on law review and even got a summer position at a firm after his second year. He didn’t get a job offer though.

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