Archive for April, 2013

April 30, 2013

Families paying for college tuition have been hardest hit by inflation

by Grace

It’s clear to see which group has been hurt the most by rising inflation over the last 30 years.


Inflation disproportionately affects specific groups of people, with families paying college tuition among those who have been hit the hardest.

The increase has been ‘staggering’.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) has risen 179 percent since 1980, college tuition and fees have increased nearly five times more— a staggering 893 percent.

If we use our imagination and apply the staggering inflation rate of higher education to other consumer items, it would mean that a pair of jeans that cost $12 in 1980 would cost about $120 today, and a house that sold for $125,000 back then would sell for about $1.2 million today.  The unfortunate reality is that college tuition of $1,600 in 1980 is priced at about $16,000 today.

HT Joanne Jacobs


April 29, 2013

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

by Grace

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.

Liberal arts skills are profitable for college graduates

It turns out that employers are looking for the skills that liberal-arts studies instill — critical thinking, logical reasoning, clear writing.  College graduates who tested best at liberal-arts skills were “far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest.

The problem is employers have found liberal arts graduatesdidn’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.

The National Association of Educational Progress indicates that literary proficiency among adults with “some” college is declining. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of the 2011 book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” found that 36% of college students made no discernible progress in the ability to think and analyze critically after four years in school.

You can minor in “Social and Economic Justice” without ever studying economics.

For many students, college is a smorgasbord of easy courses chosen for their lack of academic rigor. There is no serious “core curriculum.” Students spend limited time studying. Faculty and administrators make matters worse by allowing students to fill up their time with courses like UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Dogs and People: From Prehistory to the Urbanized Future” and “Music in Motion: American Popular Music and Dance.” When students can get a minor in “Social and Economic Justice” without ever taking a course in the economics department, it’s hardly surprising that businesses aren’t lining up to hire them.

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


April 26, 2013

Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions

by Grace

The number of college applications continues to increase and admission rates continue to decrease, with 2013 decisions leaving some students ‘a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded”’.

The New York Times recently reported 2013 acceptance rates for about 75 colleges.

Applicant pools are growing larger; the University of Southern California received more than 47,000 applications this year. That’s 10,000 more students than just two years ago, when this year’s applicants were sophomores.

Colleges are also becoming more selective. The Ivy League reported an admit rate that dipped to 5.79 percent at Harvard this year. Stanford accepted 5.69 percent of its more than 38,800 applicants. The University of Chicago accepted only 8.8 percent of its more than 30,300 applicants.

Why are so many good students denied admission?

There are various reasons for this: Colleges concerned about their rankings are appearing more selective (and appealing) than ever. Admission officers often select students who are likely to enroll. And, of course, the huge volume of applications dictates that there just isn’t enough room for every good student who applies.

Unexpected outcomes have reinforced the sometimes unpredictable nature of the “holistic”college application process.

There are other reasons for the outcomes, all of which make holistic college admissions a complex, unpredictable process. So if you are a student or a parent who is scratching your head as you review the chart, just know that you’re not alone. Our student bloggers are a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded” about the admission decisions, too.

One particularly frustrated parent:

I’ll scream if I hear the word “holistic” at a college info session again….

Dan Edmonds argues that higher selectivity is a myth.

What many parents and students don’t realize is that increasing numbers of applications isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s harder to get into a selective school; rather, it’s a sign of changes in behavior among high school seniors. More and more people who aren’t necessarily qualified are applying to top schools, inflating the application numbers while not seriously impacting admissions. In fact, it has arguably become easier to get into a selective school, though it may be harder to get into a particular selective school.

This helps explain why students feel pressured to apply to so many schools, with the average student applying to more than nine colleges this past fall.

Our high school guidance counselor keeps saying there is no need to panic.

… there are more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country, and many of them offer an excellent education and admit the majority of students who apply. But as interest increases at selective institutions, it may help disappointed applicants to know that thousands of smart, talented, qualified students had to be turned away.

April 25, 2013

How to get more high-achieving, poor students to attend selective colleges

by Grace

Most high-achieving students from low-income families are not attending top colleges, and top colleges are not aggressively recruiting these students.

Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges, according to the analysis, conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford and Christopher Avery of Harvard, two longtime education researchers. Among top students in the highest income quartile, that figure was 78 percent.

The findings underscore that elite public and private colleges, despite a stated desire to recruit an economically diverse group of students, have largely failed to do so.

Racial diversity is a higher priority than socioeconomic diversity in college recruiting efforts.

Colleges currently give little or no advantage in the admissions process to low-income students, compared with more affluent students of the same race, other research has found….

The solution – inform students about their college options.

Sending basic information to low-income, high-achieving high school students increased their enrollment rate in top colleges.

Among a control group of low-income students with SAT scores good enough to attend top colleges — but who did not receive the information packets — only 30 percent gained admission to a college matching their academic qualifications. Among a similar group of students who did receive a packet, 54 percent gained admission, according to the researchers, Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford and Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia.

College counseling on the cheap, with an emphasis on affordability

Ms. Hoxby and Ms. Turner designed the 40,000 information packets they mailed — as well as follow-up material — as a low-cost, customized version of the college counseling that upper-income students take for granted. The packets explained application deadlines and student qualifications at a range of colleges. Students also received coupons to waive application fees — which had a particularly big effect. “We wanted students to find schools for themselves,” Ms. Hoxby said.

The College Board may soon begin replicating this strategy as a way to match low-income students with colleges that match their academic profile.

A little more help may be needed
Based on some reader comments in the quoted articles and on my own limited experience working with low-income students, many of them also need a mentor to help handle the many details involved in the college application process.  This is something that affluent helicopter parents typically do for their own children.

Related:  Fewer poor students at top colleges (Cost of College)


April 24, 2013

Quick Links – Online learning similar to charter schools; financial literacy instruction doesn’t help much; high school grads avoiding college

by Grace

‘ Online learning faces many of the same obstacles that charter schools do.’

… It also has to overcome the same legitimate concerns about how to assess quality of a product offered by largely untested companies. Skeptics are right to note that many, perhaps most, of the online education providers out there won’t survive the decade—competition is intense, the technologies are new and changing rapidly, and not everyone can be a winner. Someone will be the of the ed-tech boom. That prospect is alarming to the traditional school bureaucracy, which tends to make contracts with vendors that span years or decades. They’re not set up to contract with firms offering services for a monthly fee that can be canceled at any time. And parents are rightly concerned about the long-term value of a degree from

In a perfect world, both online learning and charter schools would only be imposed on our children after rigorous testing and screening to be assured of their efficacy.  But in the real world, repeated unproven “innovations” are inflicted on students – No Child Left Behind being one of the latest examples.  So it is inevitable that some lucky students will continue to reap the benefits from the best of education’s innovations (think Amazon) and some unfortunate ones will suffer from the worst (think


Financial literacy education doesn’t seem to work.

U.S. students who’d taken personal finance or money management courses weren’t more financially savvy than those who hadn’t, according to a study by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Maybe innumeracy is part of the problem, and schools should focus more on better math education.

New York State requires some personal finance instruction as part of its Economics, the Enterprise System, and Finance, a half-semester high school course taken senior year.  It uses course content from the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.


Smaller Share of High School Grads Going to College

The college enrollment rate — the share of recent U.S. high-school graduates enrolling in college or a university in the same year — dropped in 2012 to 66.2%, the lowest level since 2006, the Labor Department said in a report on Wednesday. For 2012 graduates, the rate dropped for both men and women, to 61.3% from 64.6% in 2011, and 71.3% from 72.3%, respectively.

The findings suggest some high-school graduates are becoming more confident about their job prospects after years of hiding out by going to college. When the economy sank into recession between 2007 and 2009, the college enrollment rate rose steadily to a record high of 70.1%. The implosion of America’s construction industry, for example, meant fewer jobs for young men looking for work right out of high school. Now it appears some of these young graduates are going on the job market again.

Of course, finding a job isn’t that much easier. America’s job-market recovery remains uneven: The unemployment rate is still unusually high at 7.6%, and the economy added only 88,000 jobs last month — the weakest job gains since June 2012.

Perhaps the rising cost of higher education is a factor.

April 23, 2013

Do we have a student loan crisis?

by Grace

While it’s unlikely that student loans on their own have created a crisis, they do seem to be a drag on our struggling economy.

When the The Atlantic looked at the student loan “crisis”, some of the numbers are alarming.

… The cost of college has spiked 150 percent since 1995, compared with a 50 percent increase in the cost of other goods and services. Last year, outstanding student loans soared to nearly $1 trillion—a 300 percent jump since 2003. College is an undeniably risky investment, seemingly more so than ever. But are rising debt levels a national crisis?

But their infographic presented a more balanced look at some of the numbers, with the first three sections making the argument that the averages do not support the idea of a crisis.


Not a crisis, but problematic for a struggling economy

Updated 2012 numbers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York report

The paper starts by noting that student debt has grown dramatically over the last decade — some 43 percent of Americans under the age of 25 had student debt in 2012, with the average debt burden now $20,326. By contrast, back in 2003, just 25 percent of younger Americans had debt, and the average burden was $10,649.

Younger Americans with student debt are less likely to buy homes and automobiles, holding back spending that has typically fueled past economic growth.

… it looks like rising student debt really might be eating into the housing and auto markets. If so, that could have big implications for the U.S. economy. Auto and housing sales have been a huge driver of growth these past few years, though auto sales are still well below their peak. (Analysts are expecting around 15 to 15.5 million sales in 2013, versus an average of 16.6 million per year during the 2000s.) If younger Americans are retreating from those markets, that could help slow down the recovery.

Related:  College debt levels higher than all other types of consumer loans (Cost of College)

April 22, 2013

For 2013 graduates, ‘college hiring to remain relatively flat’

by Grace

Consistent with a jobless recovery, 2013 college graduates see only a modest uptick in new jobs despite last year’s rosy predictions.

The economy might be improving, but few employers are hiring more new college graduates.

In fact, the hiring situation for new graduates looks about the same as last year, which is to say not very good, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Broadly, projections for hiring plummeted in 2009 but have ticked upward since then. Yet, there is only supposed to be a 2.1 percent increase in hiring graduates from the class of 2013. That’s the smallest increase in five years.

It’s nowhere near last year’s survey estimate that indicated a 13 percent increase in the hiring of recent graduates.

Demand is higher for jobs related to technology, healthcare, education, and business, and lower for graduates in the humanities and social sciences.


In light of  reports about curtailed school funding increases and an oversupply of teachers, it would be prudent for students to look into the details about exactly what types of jobs are included in the “educational services” category.

Salary increases vary substantially.

The college Class of 2013 commands an overall starting salary of $44,928—up 5.3 percent over the average starting salary their Class of 2012 counterparts realized ($42,666).

Figure 1: Average Salaries by Discipline*

Category 2013 Average Salary 2012 Average Salary Percent Change
Business $54,234 $50,633 7.1%
Communications $43,145 $41,550 3.8%
Computer Science $59,977 $57,529 4.3%
Education $40,480 $38,524 5.1%
Engineering $62,535 $60,151 4.0%
Health Sciences $49,713 $45,442 9.4%
Humanities & Social Sciences $37,058 $36,371 1.9%
Math & Sciences $42,724 $41,430 3.1%
Overall $44,928 $42,666 5.3%

*Source: April 2013 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Related:  Don’t pick a college major based on today’s hot jobs (Cost of College)

April 19, 2013

In their college search, students need to look beyond ‘average net price’

by Grace

Even with its flaws, the Net Price Calculator (NPC) offers low-income students a better indication of college affordability than the College Scorecard does.  However, sometimes finding a college’s NPC is not easy.

Limited value in using a college’s average net price

Because it uses average net prices as a measure of affordability, the recently introduced College Scorecard may discourage low-income students from applying to high-priced schools.  Low-income students do not pay “average” prices.  For that matter, high-income students don’t either.

There’s just one problem: no student is average.

Consider a low-income applicant to the University of Pennsylvania, a school with a high sticker price. At Penn, a full-price student pays $59,600 (including tuition, room & board, and other fees) and a low-income student with a full scholarship pays $0. The average net price across these two students is $29,800. (As it happens, Penn’s reported average net price is $20,592.) Just like high sticker prices, high average net price can mislead students from modest circumstances looking for affordable college options. Many colleges – particularly prestigious schools with high sticker prices – are committed to building socioeconomically diverse student bodies. At such schools, students’ individualized net prices can vary significantly depending on their financial circumstances.

NPC figures offer a better measure of affordability.

… Like the College Scorecard, NPCs offer key financial information to students and families prior to application and matriculation. The College Board’s 2012 study revealed that more than half of college-bound seniors from lower-income and middle-income families still rule out colleges on the basis of sticker price, but with the advent of NPCs, students from all backgrounds can identify affordable college options before they decide where to apply.

… Instead of discussing financial aid after students have received acceptance letters in senior spring, counselors can help students build application lists in junior spring that take financial aid into account. With the Scorecard’s average net prices, high schools students are left with yet another one-size-fits-all ranking of affordability; in short, it is not much better than the starting “sticker price.”


For low-income students like Cristina, the College Scorecard misses the mark – sometimes by a big margin. As with sticker prices, these average net prices can indicate to low-income students that they will find neither financial support nor a warm welcome at selective schools.

But NRC calculators are often not user friendly.

A report issued by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) in October 2012 asserted that “net-price calculators are still not reliably easy for prospective college students and their families to find, use, and compare,” noting (among other issues) that many schools post NPCs on obscure web pages.

Although NPC links are included in both the College Scorecard and the Department of Education’s College Navigator, it turns out that many do not connect to the right location.

A solution:  College Abacus will soon have a consolidated set of links to all NPCs for U.S. colleges and universities.

At College Abacus, we are closing the gap between legislation – and its goals – and the actual needs of students, parents, and counselors around the United States. We are taking on the task of aggregating the net price calculators into a single, student-friendly tool. With the help of a grant provided by the Gates Foundation’s College Knowledge Challenge, we expect College Abacus to expand from its current group of 4,000+ schools to include all US colleges and universities by September 2013.

Related:  ‘Tips for Using Net Price Calculators’ (Cost of College)

April 18, 2013

Is this the ‘definitive guide’ to the college grad job market?

by Grace

Jordan Weissmann wants to set us straight about the job market for college graduates.  He thinks the press has been overly pessimistic about the value of a college degree, and he offers a “definitive guide” summarized in five points.

(1) They’re Better Off Than High School Grads … 

(2) … But They’re Still Hurting

(3) Underemployment Has Grown…

(4) … But by Less Than You Think

(5) Don’t Worry About College; Worry About the Economy

Conflicting data
The supporting details can be read in the linked article, with dueling data sometimes making the case for valid arguments on either side of the optimistic/pessimistic divide. Weissmann refers to several data sources, and all have their limitations and are subject to interpretation.  (For example, the unemployment rates for recent college graduates vary significantly depending on source and method of measuring.)

Very importantly, career prospects vary according to individual circumstances because the college premium depends on factors like college major, ability bias, and reputation of college.  And Weissmann’s last point may be the most instrumental in affecting the college graduate job market.  A booming economy makes every college degree more valuable.  Prosperity covers all sorts of sins, and helps win elections.  Remember this?

It’s the economy, stupid.

April 17, 2013

Quick Links – Women avoid science careers; electronic portfolios; Wisconsin’s ‘post-union era’

by Grace

‘Women With Both High Math and Verbal Ability Appear Less Likely to Choose Science Careers Because Their Dual Skills Confer More Career Options’ (University of Pittsburgh)

Study also finds that women with high math skills and only moderate verbal ability are the ones who appear more likely to choose STEM careers

Why are women with more options turning away from STEM careers?  Are they being steered away from these careers, or are they making choices based on their own interests?


Electronic portfolios are becoming more accepted by employers.

Job seekers are increasingly using electronic portfolios as a way to:

  • showcase achievement
  • demonstrate learning and experience
  • give and receive peer feedback (privately or publicly)
  • achieve promotion, and much more.

Some universities host e-portfolios for their students, or other sites and resources can be used.  Clemson University has an ePortfolio Program with a gallery of  examples.


In a ‘post-union era’, Wisconsin aims to reward ‘hard-working, high-achieving, and outstanding’ state employees.

After the “virtual elimination of collective bargaining and automatic dues collections” invalidated union contracts for Wisconsin state employees, the compensation system has changed from one that mandated automatic pay raises for all employees.

Bigger raises for fewer people

Under the discretionary merit pay program, fewer  employees received raises compared to the old collective bargaining agreement; the average raise was more money.

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