Archive for ‘trends’

May 29, 2015

Is a gap year right for your child?

by Grace

Gap years have become more populare in the U.S.

… Prominent in Europe since the 1960s, the intentional and structured break from formal education before college is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.

Formally described as a time for “increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers”, in many cases a gap year’s most important benefit is simply to help a young person mature and be able to make better decisions about college plans.

While some gap programs cost about as much as a year of college, many other options are more affordable.  Sometimes a gap year is a time to earn extra money for college.  Simply living at home while working is a basic option, perhaps with classes or travel included for personal growth and preparation for college.  Other low-cost options include domestic or international travel along with internships.

Proper planning maximizes opportunities.

Before you design your gap year plan, sit down and really think about what interests you want to explore or what countries spark your interest. Combining an interest (such as learning Spanish) with a low-cost opportunity (such as Au Pairing in Spain) ensures your gap year will be meaningful to you as well as cost-effective.

WWOOF and Help Ex are two resources for matching students with farms, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and other options where volunteers receive room and board in exchange for work.  Dynamy’s program of mentored internships has been personally recommended in one situation I know.

Families are becoming more receptive to gap years, and many believe that it is a good way to lower the chances of college students wasting time and money in college while they try to figure things out.

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Naila Francis, “Gap years gain popularity as students seek purpose, passion”, The Intelligencer, July 13, 2014.

Julia Rogers, “An Affordable Gap Year”, My College Planning Team, November 6, 2014.

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April 28, 2015

New Arizona State University program lowers freshman year cost to $6,000

by Grace

A noteworthy initiative by a major university has the potential to cut costs dramatically for a student’s freshman year of college.

Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit.

In the new Global Freshman Academy, each credit will cost $200, but students will not have to pay until they pass the courses, which will be offered on the edX platform as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

“Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX. “If you have the will to learn, just bring your Internet connection and yourself, and you can get a year of college credit.”

Students can complete their freshman year for “less than $6,000″.

The new program will offer 12 courses — eight make up a freshman year — created by Arizona State professors. It will take an unlimited number of students. Neither Mr. Agarwal nor Mr. Crow would predict how many might enroll this year.

The only upfront cost will be $45 a course for an identity-verified certificate. Altogether, eight courses and a year of credit will cost less than $6,000.

Two common questions about online courses are addressed by this new venture.

Wednesday’s announcement, Agarwal said, is edX’s response to the two major points of criticism that have dogged MOOCs: that the completion rates are too low, and that the courses mostly benefit learners who have already earned advanced degrees.

The expectation is that motivation for credit will spur completion rates, and freshman courses will not attract college graduates.

How much human involvement will be required?

… Freshman composition will probably be one of the last to launch. Right now, he said, the university is planning on having “actual people” grade however many thousands of student essays such a MOOC would produce.

Other issues remain, including the problem that Freshman Academy does not qualify for federal financial aid.  The outcome for this new venture remains to be seen.  If it is successful, it could serve as a model for many other universities.

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Tamar Lewin, “Promising Full College Credit, Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program”, New York Times, April 22, 2015.

Carl Straumsheim, “MOOCs for (a Year’s) Credit”, Inside Higher Ed, April 23, 2015.

April 10, 2015

The Bell Curve revisited

by Grace

Last year Charles Murray reflected on the 20-year anniversary of his “extraordinarily influential and controversial book”, The Bell Curve.

Murray believes his book’s predictions about “all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles” are relevant today.  Here’s a quote from the book:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

  • An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
  • A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
  • A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. (p. 509)

It’s hard to dispute the relevance to today’s concerns.

… As technology becomes ever more complicated, and with an age of robotics on the horizon that could upend the labor market, we wonder if there will long be a valued place in society for people with low intelligence. Many already see a college degree as a necessity for a decent life. The continuing rise of cheap travel, opportunities for women, and college attendance has enabled the brightest people to increasingly segregate themselves socially, solidifying the “cognitive elite” Herrnstein and Murray wrote about. Racial and class gaps in test scores haven’t changed much and have often gotten worse, No Child Left Behind and Head Start be damned.

Murray did not claim that IQ differences between races are due solely to genetics.  Another quote from his book:

If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)

But he confesses to a satisfaction in his prediction that the politically correct position of “a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences” will soon be completely discredited.

On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

Murray believes the exposure of corruption in the social sciences is an important legacy of The Bell Curve.

… The reaction to “The Bell Curve” exposed a profound corruption of the social sciences that has prevailed since the 1960s. “The Bell Curve” is a relentlessly moderate book — both in its use of evidence and in its tone — and yet it was excoriated in remarkably personal and vicious ways, sometimes by eminent academicians who knew very well they were lying. Why? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of a political orthodoxy that has had only the most tenuous connection with empirical reality, and too many social scientists think that threats to the orthodoxy should be suppressed by any means necessary. Corruption is the only word for it.

One of the many controversies surrounding The Bell Curve was its connection to The Pioneer Fund, commonly described as a “neo-Nazi organization” and “hate group”.

Charles Murray defended the use of studies supported by the fund in his book The Bell Curve by saying: “Never mind that the relationship between the founder of the Pioneer Fund and today’s Pioneer Fund is roughly analogous to the relationship between Henry Ford’s antisemitism and today’s Ford Foundation. The charges have been made, they have wide currency, and some people will always believe that The Bell Curve rests on data concocted by neo-Nazi eugenicists.”

But that debate has not been resolved, as explained by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In fact, the Pioneer Fund’s ties to eugenics and white supremacy are not nearly as historically remote as Murray would have his readers believe. The president of the Pioneer Fund at the time The Bell Curve was written was Harry Weyher, who was a personal friend of the Fund’s founder, Wickliffe Draper, and shared his supposedly archaic views on race; just two months after the initial publication of The Bell Curve, Weyher gave an interview in which he argued, among other things, that desegregation had “wreck[ed] the school system.” Another of the Pioneer Fund’s board members at the time Murray was writing, John Trevor Jr., was also an officer of Coalition of Patriotic Societies, which, during his membership, was indicted for sedition over “pro-Nazi activities” and called for the release of all Nazi war criminals. Despite Murray’s claims, the Pioneer Fund continues to support “research” into race differences conducted by outright white supremacists.

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Natalie Scholl, “‘The Bell Curve’ 20 years later: A Q&A with Charles Murray”, AEIdeas, October 16, 2014.

Robert VerBruggen, “The Bell Curve’ Turns 20″, Real Clear Books, October 6, 2014.

April 3, 2015

Some things about education have not changed

by Grace

While I disagree with the title of a recent Huffington Post article proclaiming that “Everything is Different Now” in parenting, I do agree that many things have changed.

•  A higher level of parent involvement is required for academic success.

In the old days, the primary educational duties for parents were reading to your kid and making sure they got into a good school. There was a high level of trust and respect for external authorities -you assumed that teachers and principals knew best and operated with the best interest of your son or daughter in mind.

With sophisticated Internet “research” projects assigned in elementary grades and developmentally inappropriate organizational skills required in middle school, the student whose parents don’t step in to offer hands-on guidance may easily be left behind academically.

•  A college degree offers diminished opportunity for a secure middle-class life.

In the old days, if your kid got into college they could probably find a job. These days it’s not just about grades, SAT scores, and college admissions-the level of young adult underemployment and debt suggests that bargain is broken.

•  Children are more sheltered and given less freedom to learn independence.

… there is a lot less unsupervised play and less unstructured summer roaming. Given rational safety concerns, most kids are more sheltered and scheduled and less like to explore and learn independence….

I disagree that this trend has been driven by “rational” concerns, unless he means the concerns that parents will run into trouble with CPS.

•  Learning options have expanded.

… There has been a linear increase in formal education options and an exponential explosion of informal learning options.

•  Higher education costs have exploded.

… The bad news is that most post-secondary education is more expensive than ever. The good news is that there are more options….


The message of the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed is that these and other changes cry out for “another transformation” in education.

“What I find shocking is that schools aren’t preparing our kids for life in the 21st Century. Surrounded by innovation, our education system is stuck in the 19th Century,” said Ted Dintersmith, producer of Most Likely to Succeed. “The skills and capabilities our kids need going forward are either ignored or outright trampled.” Ted’s movie outlines the broken bargain of a traditional college prep education and employability.

Dintersmith criticizes that students have to learn “regurgitated facts” and take traditional tests like the SAT.  He offers alternatives.

Invent a science experiment, write a creative essay, come up with an interesting historical perspective on an event they care about.

But facts are important.

The point that Dintersmith and others seems to miss is that facts serve as the basis for innovative scientific experiments and knowledgeable historical perspectives.  This inconvenient truth is at the core of the trouble with many education reforms.

Students need a broad base of knowledge before they can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. 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).”

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Tom Vander Ark, “Everything is Different Now: Parenting for Powerful Learning”, Huffington Post, March 25, 2015.

Tom Vander Ark, “Most Likely To Succeed: A Film About What School Could Be”, Education Week, March 6, 2015.

April 1, 2015

Pharmacy graduates are finding a softer job market

by Grace

One of America’s most reliable professions is producing too many graduates and not enough jobs

A few years ago, students enrolling in college as pharmacy majors had high hopes about lucrative careers.  Now the outlook is not so rosy.

… Even as the economy struggled in the mid-aughts, pharmacy graduates easily found big salaries, 9-to-5 jobs, and the respect that came along with handling medications. Nicholas Popovich, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, tells me that, “Some signing bonuses even involved a car, that type of thing.”

While New Republic labeled pharmacy careers to be “on the verge of a crisis”, the details don’t necessarily indicate the problem has risen to crisis level.

  • There has been a 70% increase in first-professional PharmD degree graduates from 2001 to 2011 due to the opening of new pharmacy schools and the expansion of existing programs.
  • The aggregate demand index (ADI), a tool that tracks the difficulty of filling pharmacy positions nationally, had remained relatively steady at a level of ADI = 4 (moderate demand) from 2002 to 2008 but has had a downward trend closer to 3 (demand in balance with supply) in more recent years, with several states in the Northeast region having their ADI dip below 3.
  • The anticipated role expansion and demand for pharmacists to provide direct patient care services has not come to fruition, causing a lower than expected creation of new pharmacist jobs.
  • The bottom line is that the supply of new pharmacists seems to be outpacing the creation of new jobs because the role of pharmacists has not changed as expected when pharmacy workforce needs were projected in 2001.

The number of pharmacy schools has almost doubled over 20 years alongside exuberant predictions about a boom in jobs.

… PharmD students are cash cows, taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and often committing to a longer course of study…

Meanwhile, graduates dealing with average debt loads of over $130,000 find themselves in a growing competition for jobs.

The scarcity of jobs is regional, with the Northeast and New York in particular experiencing a surplus of pharmacists.

AGGREGATE DEMAND INDEX 10-YEAR TREND

20150329.COCPharmJobsTrend2

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 Katie Zavadski, “The Pharmacy School Bubble Is About to Burst”, New Republic, September 29, 2014.

Randy P. McDonough, “Improving patient care, securing our role in health care: The time is now!”, American Pharmacists Association, November 01, 2014.

March 31, 2015

Another white collar job disappears

by Grace

With the closing of the Chicago futures trading pit comes an end to a lucrative type of career that did not require a college degree.

Open-outcry futures trading, a profession that took root here in the mid-19th century, becoming part of the city’s identity and influencing trading systems around the world, is going extinct. Most of the futures pits inside the Chicago Board of Trade building, an Art Deco tower that looms over downtown’s LaSalle Street, are scheduled to close by July after being choked by a decade of technological advancement that has made face-to-face trading largely obsolete.

A college degree was not required for this white collar job.

Perhaps even more significant for Chicago is the disappearance of a career path that for over 150 years allowed scrappy teenagers and former high school athletes to hustle their way to wealth, or at least excitement. Futures trading — as distinguished from options trading, its more cerebral relative — was for many years a way for those with a blue-collar background to enter the white-collar world.

“It’s no longer a way for a working-class guy with street smarts and a huge native intelligence to make a lot of money,” said Caitlin Zaloom, a cultural anthropologist at New York University who has studied futures pits. “It’s now the domain of the kinds of technical specialists who are really winners in other parts of the economy as well.”

Another case of technological advancements destroying jobs, a process repeated throughout history.  But with the jobless recovery still a problem, it remains to be seen if replacement jobs for former traders and similar displaced workers will still provide a middle class living.

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William Aldenmarch, “As Silence Falls on Chicago Trading Pits, a Working-Class Portal Also Closes”, New York Times, March 24, 2015.

March 30, 2015

Number of foreign students in U.S. colleges has nearly doubled since 2005

by Grace

Valued for their tuition dollars and the diversity they offer, foreign students in U.S. colleges have nearly doubled their numbers over the last ten years.

American universities are enrolling unprecedented numbers of foreign students, prompted by the rise of an affluent class in China and generous scholarships offered by oil-rich Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.

Cash-strapped public universities also are driving the trend, aggressively recruiting students from abroad, especially undergraduates who pay a premium compared with in-state students.

There are 1.13 million foreign students in the U.S., the vast majority in college-degree programs, according to a report to be released Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security. That represents a 14% increase over last year, nearly 50% more than in 2010 and 85% more than in 2005.

The active recruitment of foreign students raises concerns that they are crowding out opportunities for U.S. students.

“There is a widespread notion that dollars are being spent on foreign students and that they are displacing U.S. students, even if in general that isn’t right,” said John Bound, a University of Michigan economist who has studied the influx.

Foreign tuition money subsidies U.S. students.

Schools need the tuition money.  One way to look at it is that full-pay international students actually help subsidize the education of U.S. students who receive financial aid.

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Miriam Jordan, “International Students Stream Into U.S. Colleges”, Wall Street Journal,  March 24, 2015.

March 20, 2015

The advantages of two-parent families are not obvious to everyone

by Grace

… universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent …

Megan McArdle writes about the importance of the two-parent family, a social institution offering a type of support for children that government cannot seem to match.

Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” has touched off a wave of print and digital commentary. The book chronicles a growing divide between the way affluent kids are raised, in two-parent homes whose parents invest heavily in educating their kids, and the very different, very unstable homes in which poorer kids generally grow up.

When the problems of single-parent families are debated, some will “argue that there are lots of good ways to raise kids outside the straitjacket of mid-century, middle-class mores”.

I have been trying to find a more delicate way to phrase this, but I can’t: This is nonsense. The advantages that two people raising their own biological or jointly adopted children have over “nontraditional” family arrangements are too obvious to need enumeration, but apparently mere obviousness is not enough to forestall contrary arguments, so let me enumerate them anyway.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent. Children will spend less time with their noncustodial parent, especially if that parent has other offspring. Add in conflict between the parents over money and time, and it can infect relationships with the children. As one researcher told me when I wrote an article on the state of modern marriage, you frequently see fathers investing time and money with the kids whose mother they get along with the best, while the other children struggle along on crumbs.

People often argue that extended families can substitute, but of course, two-parent families also have extended families — two of them — so single-parent families remain at a disadvantage, especially because other members of the extended family are often themselves struggling with the challenges of single parenthood. Extended families just can’t substitute for the benefits of a two-parent family. Government can’t, either; universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent, or one stretched too thin to give their kids enough time. Government can sand the rough edges off the economic hardship, of course, but even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home.

The share of American children born to single mothers has grown seven-fold since 1960.

More than 40 percent of American children are now born to unmarried parents, down from just five percent in 1960, according to Pew Research Center. Fifty years ago, the vast majority of adults — 72 percent — were married. The same is true for only about half of adults today. The declines in marriage are especially pronounced in families with lower earnings. Tying the knot is increasingly a marker of class status in America.

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Megan McArdle, “How Hollywood Can Save Our Families”, Bloomberg, March 17, 2015.

Seth Freed Wessler, “What Happened to the Middle-Class American Family?”, CNBC, March 18, 2015.

March 5, 2015

The higher education downsizing trend hits Sweet Briar College.

by Grace

Sweet Briar College announced Tuesday that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.

This closure “stunned many in higher education”.

Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a meaningful endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than drag out the process for several more years, as it could have done.

The future looked bleak for Sweet Briar, consistent with Moody’s dire predictions of a higher education “death spiral” that is considered “particularly acute at small, mid-tier private’ colleges“.

Too far from Starbucks

Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally, and eroding interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.

Families have a “declining interest” in paying big bucks for a lower-tier college education.  The annual cost of attending Sweet Briar College was $51,000 in 2013-14.  However, the school’s average discount on tuition had grown to 62%.  That was clearly unsustainable.

Here’s advice from Business Insider:

A college with a $94 million endowment is shutting its doors, and people in higher ed should be scared

ADDED:  Tennessee Temple University is closing

Students have the option to move to Piedmont with assured admittance and continue their education at a discounted price, but the merger effectively means that come May 1, Tennessee Temple University will no longer exist.

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Scott Jaschik, “Shocking Decision at Sweet Briar”, Inside Higher Ed, March 4, 2015.

February 11, 2015

‘master’s degree is the fastest-growing college credential’

by Grace

Master’s degrees are “as common now as bachelor’s degrees were in the 1960s”.

More than 16 million people in the US — about 8 percent of the population — now have a master’s, a 43 percent increase since 2002.

20150209.COCGrowthOfMasters

 

Forty years ago education was far and away the most popular major for a master’s degree, but today business has taken that spot.

20150209.COC1971PopularMasters  20150209.COC2012PopularMasters

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Are graduate programs exacerbating the student debt problem?

… The typical total debt for a borrower with an undergraduate and graduate degree is now more than $57,000, up from $40,200 in 2004. (This includes medical and law degrees.)

40% of all student debt comes from graduate degree programs,“even though graduate borrowers make up only 17 percent of all borrowers”.

Expanded loan forgiveness programs are “tailor-made for graduate students”.

Students who took out big loans for graduate school and those with higher incomes stand the most to gain financially under President Obama’s expansion of the federal government’s loan forgiveness program.

Lawyers, doctors and other highly trained professionals who utilized federal loans throughout their post-high school education could walk away with most or all of their graduate school debt forgiven by the federal government under the program, say experts.

Graduate students usually get their money’s worth.

… Almost regardless of undergraduate major, a graduate degree boosts earning power even further, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

But does this proliferation of master’s degrees produce wasteful credential inflation?

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Libby Nelson, “Master’s degrees are as common now as bachelor’s degrees were in the ’60s”, Vox, February 7, 2015.

Susan Ferrecho, “The surprising winners of Obama’s student-loan program”, Washington Examiner, June 12, 2014.

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