Archive for ‘value of college’

April 2, 2014

Don’t ignore student characteristics when measuring college ROI

by Grace

Most reports that claim to measure the value of a college degree do not control for a vital factor — the student.  They fail to account for what Bryan Caplan calls the “ability bias“.  This bias favors personal traits like intelligence, work ethic, and conformity — traits typically valued by selective schools as well as by employers seeking candidates for high-income jobs.

Psychology professor and author Christopher Chabris explains how the recent PayScale College ROI Report means very little unless ability bias is factored into the equation.

This means that the Return in this “ROI” depends on much more than the Investment. It also depends on who is doing the investing. In fact, it is far from trivial to figure out the true ROI of going to Harvard versus Wayland Baptist versus Nicholls State versus not attending college at all. To figure this out, you would have to control in the analysis for all the characteristics that make students at different colleges different from one another, and different from students who don’t go to college. Factors like cognitive ability, ambition, work habits, parental income and education, where the students went to high school, what grades they got, and many others are likely to be important. In fact, those other factors could be so important that they wind up explaining more of the variation in income between people than is explained by going to college—let alone which particular college people go to.

Even controlling for data we might be able to obtain, like the average SAT score of students who attend each college, or their average parental income, would not completely solve the problem, because there could be factors that we can’t measure that have an important effect. Only by randomly assigning students to different colleges (or to directly entering the workforce after high school) would we get a fair estimate of the true ROI (measured in money—which of course leaves aside all the other benefits one might get from college that don’t show up in your paychecks for the ensuing 20 years).

Look beyond the school name when predicting financial success.

While a degree from Harvard certainly has the signalling capacity and network connections that can boost earnings opportunities for its graduates, the characteristics of the students who enroll there figure prominently in determining future employment success.  Families should keep this in mind when they find their children shut out of admission to elite universities.  It’s not all about the school.

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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.

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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 12, 2014

Bad advice for college students

by Grace

Take a course called “Politicizing Beyoncé”.

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That’s Walter Russell Mead’s first bit of bad advice for college students.  Here’s more.

… Enroll in a college you can’t afford. Take really easy, fun courses. Don’t worry about marketable skills. Blame society for the consequences (unemployment) of your attitude problem. Then demand the government (or your parents) bail you out. We guarantee you all the misery you could ever want.

Mead wrote his advice after learning that Rutgers Department of Women and Gender Studies is offering the Beyonce course, which “will explore race, gender and sexuality in America via Beyonce’s music”.

College can be a time for fun and exploration, but students who are going into deep debt for their higher education should carefully consider which courses will show up on a transcript.

If you were to ask today’s employers what new college graduates are lacking, the skills to create a “grand narrative” around one’s own life and persona wouldn’t make the list. And a hefty dose of Beyoncé-inspired narcissism won’t exactly help with that pesky “sense of entitlement” problem employers keep complaining about.

I happen to enjoy watching Beyonce perform, but I really don’t want to pay $2,000 for my kid to take a class exploring her music.  On the other hand, I can see the possible value in adding an easy “A” to the credential that will enhance the odds for lucrative employment.

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

February 7, 2014

The growing distinction between ‘meaningful’ and ‘worthless” college degrees

by Grace

As American college completion rates continue to climb, George Will foresees a time when society will sharply distinguish “between those with meaningful college degrees and those with worthless ones”.

Today, the dominant distinction defining socioeconomic class is between those with and without college degrees. Graduates earn 70 percent more than those with only high school diplomas. In 1980, the difference was just 30 percent.

Soon the crucial distinction will be between those with meaningful college degrees and those with worthless ones. Many colleges are becoming less demanding as they become more expensive: They rake in money — much of it from government-subsidized tuition grants — by taking in many marginally qualified students who are motivated only to acquire a credential and who learn little.

Today’s “college students are learning less than they used to”.

Lindsey reported that in 1961, full-time college students reported studying 25 hours a week on average; by 2003, average studying time had fallen to 13 hours. Half of today’s students take no courses requiring more than 20 pages of writing in a semester. Given the role of practice in developing expertise, “the conclusion that college students are learning less than they used to seems unavoidable.” Small wonder those with college degrees occupying jobs that do not require a high school diploma include 1.4 million retail salespeople and cashiers, half a million waiters, bartenders and janitors, and many more.

Most college graduates are underemployed

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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.

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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.

December 23, 2013

The jobs gap between college and high school graduates continues to grow

by Grace

College graduates continue to fare the best in this feeble economic recovery.

College graduates claimed the bulk of last month’s job gains, while high-school grads with no college lost jobs, highlighting a persistent divide in the recovery.

While both groups have seen improvements in unemployment rates, 3.4% for college grads and 7.3% for high school grads with no college, there is general agreement that progress has been slow.

Underemployment is a problem.

… Of course, though college grads are getting the lion’s share of the jobs, it doesn’t mean those are good jobs. Overall employment gains have come from lower wage jobs, with many graduates underemployed.

The divergence in jobs growth is clear.

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Among all segments of workers sorted by educational attainment, college graduates are the only group that has more people employed today than when the recession started.

The number of college-educated workers with jobs has risen by 9.1 percent since the beginning of the recession. Those with a high school diploma and no further education are practically a mirror image, with employment down 9 percent on net. For workers without even a high school diploma, employment levels have fallen 14.1 percent.

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December 16, 2013

Why parents push their kids to go to college

by Grace

The pressure to attend college is high.

I have written about how the “college for all” movement is misguided, and how “too many college graduates are chasing too few college-level jobs“.  Yet I concede that I wholly understand most parents’ strong desire for their children to go to college.  A recent want ad for what some young people might consider a dream job highlights this dilemma.

A major television network is seeking a Music Coordinator for one of its talk shows.  The responsibilities include handling all the various details involved in arranging for musical guests.  Specific details are described in the job posting partly reproduced below.  Requirements include at least one year of related experience and a college degree.  I suspect that one or two young people I know would be very interested in this job.

College degree is required.

As can be imagined, there are many young music enthusiasts with years of experience working with bands and music venues who could capably handle this job.  Because they were busy devoting so much time and energy to the music business, some never completed college.  It’s easy to see how a person fitting this profile could be the ideal candidate for this network position.  In addition to extensive experience, this person would bring a great enthusiasm for the music business to this job.

This Music Coordinator job could be the entree to a satisfying career in the field of musical entertainment.

But with no college degree, any chances at this dream job are minuscule.  The hiring manager really can’t be blamed for only considering candidates who have graduated from college.  As a practical matter, it helps winnow the huge volume of applications.  Plus it acts a signalling device, at the very least indicating the candidate had the discipline and intelligence needed to get through four years of college.  And when so many job seekers are college graduates, the decision to hire someone who lacks a degree could be hard to justify to upper management.

So there we are.  Often the best advice is to just go get that college degree, even if it means majoring in film studies, gender studies, music appreciation, or whatever.  Just do it.


Here is the job that requires a college degree:

JOB TITLE Music Coordinator
BUSINESS SEGMENT NBC Entertainment
CITY New York
RESPONSIBILITIES Responsibilities:

  • Coordinate Guest Bands for Talk Show
  • Connect with Production Managers to discuss and coordinate stage plot, backline, ordering supplemental equipment, pick up and delivery, band riders etc.
  • Help set-up band equipment
  • Help break down band equipment
  • Secure paperwork and approvals for payment
QUALIFICATIONS/REQUIREMENTS Qualifications:

  • College Degree required
  • 1+ years professional music production work experience required
  • Must be proficient on Mac

 Eligibility Requirements:

  • You must be willing to submit to a background investigation as part of the selection process
  • Must have ability to work flexible hours due to the production schedule of the show; including weekends and evenings when necessary
  • References from previous employers required
  • Ability to work in a fast paced environment, multi-task and be agreeable to changes
DESIRED CHARACTERISTICS Desired Characteristics

  • Strong interpersonal and organizational skills
  • Knowledge and interest in music is a plus
  • Technical knowledge of music production equipment a plus

Related:  College graduates who majored in fine arts are not doomed to a life of poverty (Cost of College)

November 18, 2013

College students think they’re ready for the workplace, but employers disagree

by Grace

College students consider themselves well prepared for the workplace, but hiring managers disagree.

Nearly 80% of current college students say they’re “very” or “completely” prepared to put their organization skills to work, just 54% of hiring managers who’ve interviewed recent grads would agree, according to a survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of education company Chegg. …

Some of the biggest disagreements are about the students’ ability to prioritize, write well, collaborate, persuade, manage projects, and communicate.

… The biggest mismatch came in students’ ability to communicate with bosses and clients—70% of students thought they were primed for the challenge; only 44% of recruiters agreed.

Schools don’t seem to be doing a good job of teaching critical thinking.

“The notion that college graduates exit universities and lack the ability to clearly organize and communicate information suggests institutions are failing to meet their mandate of forming critical thinkers,” according to the report’s author….

Ruth Brothers, consultant and former human-resources executive, believes students need “more hands-on, applied learning” and coaching on interview skills.

How about if schools focus more on teaching “factual knowledge”, which is “intimately intertwined” with critical thinking skills, as a way to close this job skills gap.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Interviewing skills may be the least of these students’ problems.

Related:  Five skills that will help you find and keep a job after college (Cost of College)

November 4, 2013

The expected retirement age for today’s college graduates is 73

by Grace

College debt pushes retirement age for today’s college graduates to 73.

Having to spend “the first ten years (or more) of their careers paying off their hefty loans” will mean a postponed retirement for “debt-straddled” college graduates.

With the total amount of outstanding student debt approaching $1 trillion, the plight of debt-straddled college students is more important than ever. In the past 30 years, not only has the number of high school graduates enrolled in four-year universities increased by 11%, but college tuition has also soared over 200%. As more students attend college at a cost higher than ever before, Millennials have increasingly turned to loans to help finance their education. While much of the college debt dialogue is over immediate issues like employment and repayment, there is another glaring challenge that graduates will have to deal with for years to come: retirement.

When will students be able to retire given that many are spending the first ten years (or more) of their careers paying off their hefty loans? NerdWallet conducted a study that examined the financial profile of a typical college graduate and found that while retirement is certainly not impossible, for most it will have to wait until their early to mid 70s— over 10 years later than the current average retirement age of 61.

Starting late to save for retirement

Clearly, student debt has an impact on retirement outcomes. Currently, the average retirement age is 61. But for most of today’s college grads, the realistic retirement age will be closer to their mid-70s. Given an average life expectancy of 84, this will leave only 10-12 years for people to spend in retirement. The main reason for this is that although the median college graduate leaves with a seemingly manageable $23,300 debt load, 7% of a student’s earnings go toward yearly loan payments of $2,858 for the first ten years of his or her career. This prevents any meaningful contributions toward retirement. In fact, by the age of 33, when the typical college grad has finally paid off their standard 10-year loans, he or she can only be expected to have saved $2,466 for retirement—over $30,000 less than if the student had graduated with no debt. Even worse, the foregone savings carry a serious opportunity cost, as this money would have been earning a compounded rate of return every year until retirement. At the projected retirement age of 73, the lost savings directly attributable to student debt is $115,096, nearly 28% of total retirement savings.

GRADUATE RETIREMENT OUTCOMES

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Average retirement age is on the upswing.

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College debt just exacerbates the trend for some people.


The college wage premium may not offset lost retirement savings.

On average, the college wage premium may offset the lost retirement savings caused by paying down student debt.  But on an individual basis, results may vary.  Any boost in income related to a college degree is highly dependent on the field of study and the student’s ability.  For example, how much of a wage premium will the C-average, ethnic studies college graduate actually receive?

Related:  The challenge of paying for college and saving for retirement at the same time (Cost of College)

October 15, 2013

College-educated households are gaining in economic clout

by Grace

College-educated households account for a growing share of income. a trend associated with an overall increase in the number of college graduates,  a growing college wage premium, and changing marriage patterns.

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For the first time on record, households headed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree received nearly a majority (49.7%) of aggregate U.S. household income; nearly one out of every two dollars went to the college educated.  In 2012 one-in-three households was college educated, so, put another way, half of the aggregate U.S. income goes to one third of the households.

While most of the income gain is due to the growth in the percentage of college-educated households, the growing wage premium and the state of marriage  may also be influencing the disproportionate income growth among this group.

COLLEGE WAGE PREMIUM – The college wage premium has been growing, from a ratio of about 1.7 in 1991 to almost 2.0 in 2010.

Earnings of four-year college-educated workers remain nearly twice those of high school-educated workers.

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MARRIAGE –

… College-educated households are more likely to be married and thus more likely to have secondary earners contributing to household income.

… “assortative mating” … married college-educated persons are more likely to have a college-educated spouse. Thus, they are more likely to have a spouse with high earnings.


Growing divisions?

These trends seem consistent with the idea of a growing class divide in our country.  Although it’s doubtful that economic and political divisions completely overlap, it is notable that the growing concentration of economic power among the college-educated elite coincides with what the Washington Post describes as “deeply embedded divisions in America’s politics”.

Related:  Non-marital births by education level as part of the growing class divide (Cost of College)

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