Archive for ‘value of college’

May 21, 2015

A college degree is often just a screening tool for employers

by Grace

The sole value of a college degree may be in how it “positions you better in the job market” even if you learned very little from your time in school.

All that the favorable job statistics for college graduates tell us is that having a degree positions you better in the job market compared with people who do not have those credentials….

A college degree is a credential used for screening out job applicants.

… Many employers who need workers for jobs that require only basic abilities and a decent attitude now screen out people who don’t have college degrees. Companies looking to hire for positions such as sales supervisor and rental car agent, for instance, often state that they’ll only consider applicants who’ve graduated from college. What they studied or how well they did is largely beside the point.

How much college graduates learned is often beside the point.  

The individual who studies, say, chemical engineering and thereby acquires the essential background for a career in that field probably gets a splendid return on the time and money spent on college. But on the other hand, the individual who leaves high school with weak skills and scant interest in academic work, enrolls in school with low standards (perhaps a “party school”), chooses an easy major and breezes along to a degree four or five years later is likely to end up working in a low-skill job that an intelligent high schooler could do. That person, even though employed, is getting a negligible return—possibly even negative—on his college investment.

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George Leef, ‘Jobs data cannot prove that college is a “good investment”‘, The John William Pope Center, February 25, 2015.

March 23, 2015

College has become a very expensive entitlement

by Grace

Has a college education become a very expensive and less meaningful entitlement?

Due to government subsidies and cheerleading about the supposed benefits of additional years of formal schooling, over the last 50 years we have transformed higher education.

What had formerly been a rather inexpensive service that a small percentage of the populace thought worth striving for has been transformed into a very expensive one that’s now widely regarded as an entitlement. Thanks to government “help,” the cost of college has soared, but at the same time, academic standards have eroded and at many institutions, the curriculum has turned into a hodge-podge of narrow, trendy courses.

George Leef calls it a bad case of “credentialitis”.

That is, young Americans now go to college just for whatever “access” their credentials will provide, not because they want to learn anything or because they want to acquire useful skills. Credentialitis wastes resources, burdens taxpayers, leaves many students struggling with debt, but does nothing to improve our productivity or competitiveness.

The federal government is overly involved.

Leef believes the solution is for the federal government to downsize its role.  That’s certainly not the current trend, where a newly introduced Student Aid Bill of Rights guarantees the “resources needed to pay for college” for everyone.

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George Leef, “What Has Federal Higher Ed Policy Given Us? A Bad Case Of Credentialitis”, Forbes, March 17, 2015.

March 18, 2015

Education may be free but the credential is not

by Grace

Guillaume Dumas attended classes, made friends, and networked on some of America’s most prestigious campuses—for free….

The schools included Yale, Brown, UC Berkeley, and Stanford.  But he did not obtain what is arguably the most valuable part of an elite college education.

… Most people go to college primarily to get a piece of paper, and learning is something that happens incidentally….

Economist Bryan Caplan, who has extensively studied the college wage premium, elaborates on the signaling benefit of a degree, derived largely from actually receiving a diploma.

… Most of the financial reward of education comes from finishing degrees. Since diplomas used to be written on sheepskin, this finding is known as the “sheepskin effect.”

Researchers usually interpret sheepskin effects as signaling. If finishing your last year of college sharply boosts your income, the reason probably isn’t that colleges withhold the financially lucrative material until your senior year.

College professors don’t usually need to police their classrooms to prevent people like Dumas from sitting in on classes because lectures and assignments are not the most valuable components of what they are offering.  Those components are mostly steps on the road to the real reward — a college degree.

Students who never enrolled, or perhaps more significantly never paid for their courses, are not a concern for colleges.

Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill, explained why his university wasn’t worried about this sort of activity. “Not a lot of people will go through all of this without having some sort of credentials attached to it,” he says….

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Joe Pinskermar, “The Man Who Snuck Into the Ivy League Without Paying a Thing”, The Atlantic, March 5, 2015.

Bryan Caplan, “The Present Value of a Sheepskin”, EconLog, January 20, 2012.

March 9, 2015

Highly educated U.S. millennials lag behind foreign peers in key skills

by Grace

The most highly educated generation in the United States compares poorly with international peers in literacy and numeracy skills.

Despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous generation, America’s millennials, on average, demonstrate weak skills in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. This finding from a new study by Educational Testing Service (ETS) raises the question of whether we can thrive as a nation when a large segment of our society lacks the skills required for higher-level employment and meaningful engagement in our democracy.

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future uses data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to compare the U.S. to 21 other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The report focuses on young adults born after 1980 who were 16–34 years of age at the time of the assessment. PIAAC measured adult skills across three domains: literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technology-rich environment (PS-TRE).

They also compare poorly with earlier generations in the U.S. 

… Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys. As a country, simply providing more education may not be the answer. There needs to be a greater focus on skills — not just educational attainment — or we are likely to experience adverse consequences that could undermine the fabric of our democracy and community.

Even the best and the brightest in the U.S. compare poorly with their international peers.

Additionally, the data reveal that even our best performing and most educated millennials, those who are native born, and those with the greatest economic advantage in relative terms, do not perform favorably in comparison to their peers internationally. In fact, in numeracy, the U.S.’s top performing millennials scored lower than top-performing millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries, indicating that the skills challenge is systemic. Low-scoring U.S. millennials ranked last and scored lower than their peers in 19 participating countries.

Have we misplaced our faith in more years of schooling, degrees, credentials, and certificates”?

Most troubling is that our faith in more years of schooling, degrees, credentials, and certificates to produce better outcomes is vividly shown to be misplaced. More time in school is not producing Americans with more or better skills. The people who will work, earn, support families, create jobs, make policy, take leadership positions, and be entrusted generally with protecting, defending, and continuing our democracy are less prepared to do so than any generation in American history.

America’s millenials are “overeducated and unprepared”

This may be related:

Baby Boomers’ kids are doing worse than their parents

The Typical Millennial Is $2,000 Poorer Than His Parents at This Age

More young people are living in poverty and fewer have jobs compared their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers, in 1980.

Even though a higher percentage of today’s young people have college degrees, more live in poverty.

Also:  Lack of learning in college is a reason for poor job prospects

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Madeline J. Goodman, Anita M. Sands, Richard J. Coley, America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future, Educational Testing Service, February 2015.

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March 3, 2015

Lack of learning in college is a reason for poor job prospects

by Grace

Recent college graduates may not realize that a reason for their faltering careers could be because they have been “hamstrung by their lack of learning” in school.  But deciding how to assess what they learned in college is not straightforward.

A follow-up study from the authors of “Academically Adrift,” a book that showed how “many students experience ‘limited or no learning’” in college, tracked the same students into their lives after graduation.  As part of the original study , students had taken the Collegiate Learning Assessment (C.L.A.), “a test of critical thinking, analytic reasoning and communications skills”.

Even after statistically controlling for students’ sociodemographic characteristics, college majors and college selectivity, those who finished school with high C.L.A. scores were significantly less likely to be unemployed than those who had low C.L.A. scores. The difference was even larger when it came to success in the workplace. Low-C.L.A. graduates were twice as likely as high-C.L.A. graduates to lose their jobs between 2010 and 2011, suggesting that employers can tell who got a good college education and who didn’t. Low-C.L.A. graduates were also 50 percent more likely to end up in an unskilled occupation, and were less likely to be satisfied with their jobs.ge, they improved less than half of one standard deviation. For many, the results were much worse. One-third improved by less than a single point on a 100-point scale during four years of college.

The C.L.A. has gained the support of employers who say grades can be misleading and that they have grown skeptical of college credentials”.

Even as students spend more on tuition—and take on increasing debt to pay for it—they are earning diplomas whose value is harder to calculate. Studies show that grade-point averages, or GPAs, have been rising steadily for decades, but employers feel many new graduates aren’t prepared for the workforce.

Over a hundred colleges participate in CLA+, a test-based program that enables graduates to prove their skills to potential employers.  Some schools like California Polytechnic State University promote this test for its benefits to individual students, while other schools focus more on the CLA+ an assessment that shows the overall return on value they provide.

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is in the middle of a battle having to do with the CLA+ at his school.

Two years into the job, Daniels has arrived at a major impasse with Purdue’s faculty: how to prove that students are actually learning something while at the university. Backed by Purdue’s Board of Trustees and inspired by the work of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (the authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses) and others who argue that undergraduates aren’t learning crucial critical thinking skills, Daniels says the university must be accountable to students, parents, taxpayers and policy makers. He’s tasked a faculty body with choosing just how Purdue will assess gains in critical thinking and other skills after four years there, and he wants to start the assessment process soon — by the fall.

Purdue wants the student growth assessment “for the same reason that hundreds of other universities are already doing this — that research has shown that in some cases little to no intellectual growth occurs during the college years,” … “And the marketplace is saying emphatically that they find far too many college graduates lacking in critical thinking and communication skills and problem solving, etcetera.”

The CLA+ is not free of controversy.

… A 2013 study, for example, found that student performance on such tests varies widely based on motivation for taking the test. In other words, a student who has no reason to do well on the test might not take it seriously, and therefore can skew the results negatively for the institution. Others have questioned the appropriateness of basing assessment on small groups of students and whether the gains are likely to be notable at a university like Purdue that admits well-prepared students.

The most popular comment from the Purdue article made a good point.

Yes. It is time that universities and colleges follow the NCLB model on testing because it has worked so well….

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Kevin Carey, “The Economic Price of Colleges’ Failures”, New York Times, September 2, 2014.

Douglas Belkin, “Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT?”, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2013.

Colleen Flaherty, “Test Anxiety”, Inside Higher Ed, January 28, 2015.

February 16, 2015

Scott Walker — destroyer or savior of higher education?

by Grace

In defending his proposal to cut Wisconsin’s higher education budget by $300 million over two years, Governor Scott Walker admonished professors to “work harder”.

“Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests,” …

Maybe he should have focused more on administrative costs, which have far outpaced instructional costs in American universities.

But now comes word from UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the cuts would come in the form of layoffs of administrative personnel”.

Deans, directors and department heads will be responsible for making decisions on how budget cuts are allocated, but administrative units will take will take larger cuts in an effort to preserve educational functions, she said.

It seems that common sense may prevail, but concern remains that the governor and possible presidential candidate may be trying to kill liberal arts education.

Walker proposed to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. He apparently wanted to strip out its frills (stuff like “extended training,” “public service,” improving “the human condition,” and “the search for truth”) and inject it with a more practical goal: meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker later backtracked and ‘blamed the changes on a last-minute “drafting error”‘.  But skeptics remain suspicious that liberal arts will increasingly take a back seat to vocational programs.

Liberal-arts and humanities programs at public universities are increasingly under siege as state legislatures cut the institutions’ funding, forcing school administrators to make tough decisions about what to eliminate. The obvious targets are the programs that yield a lower return on investment—at least in a concrete, monetary sense—and are more nebulous in their impact on the economy. What sounds like it has more dollar signs and productivity attached to it: philosophy or America’s favorite new acronym, STEM?

Maybe these critics should also focus on New York’s Democratic Governor Cuomo, who has pushed for increased funding of vocational programs in state colleges, and incentivized partnerships between business and schools that promote workforce training through his START-UP NY initiative.  Cuomo also established a STEM scholarship program last year.

I have not heard of any states pouring additional resources into liberal arts higher education.  Which may be a shame, but is understandable.

This workforce-centric approach “is designed for short-term learning and long-term disaster.”

The problem is that, unlike most STEM fields, universities have lowered standards for liberal arts education.

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.

So the question is, who is actually trying to kill liberal arts education?

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Lucy McCalmont, “Scott Walker urges professors to work harder”, Politico, January 29, 2015.

Ann Althouse, “How will the University of Wisconsin—Madison absorb something like $90 million in cuts from Scott Walker’s new budget?”, Althouse, February 12, 2015.

Alia Wongfeb, “The Governor Who (Maybe) Tried to Kill Liberal-Arts Education”, Atlantic, February 11, 2015.

October 20, 2014

You probably need a college degree to get hired as a secretary.

by Grace

Only college graduates need apply for secretarial jobs.

More than half of employers now require a college credential for all jobs, and nearly one-third now hire college graduates for jobs that previously went to high-school graduates, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 hiring managers. Labor-market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies recently found that 65% of postings for executive secretaries and assistants call for bachelor’s degrees, but just 19% of current secretaries have such credentials.

I recently heard about a long-time secretary who had been laid off and could not find another job because she did not have a college degree.

But a degree doesn’t necessarily make a candidate more qualified, it’s often just a way to screen applicants.

Few hiring managers say that college graduates are more qualified than nongrads for jobs in retail and warehouses, but as long as the job market is tight, employers say they can afford to be picky.

No wonder “parents push their kids to go to college”.

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Melissa Korn, “A Bit of College Can Be Worse Than None at All”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2014.

October 15, 2014

Before starting college, consider your chances of actually getting a degree

by Grace

20141013.COCNotGraduatingCollege1

 

A dual penalty for dropping out of college

Those students may find themselves doubly damned: cut out of consideration for professional-track jobs, and starting their careers years behind their peers who entered the workforce with just high-school diplomas. Many have student loans to boot.

September 9, 2014

Look at this chart before enrolling in college

by Grace

The bottom quarter of earners with a college degree don’t make more money than the average high school graduate. And this hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

20140908.COCBottomQuarterCollegeGrads1


This chart may explain why “college isn’t for everyone”, but additional considerations are important.

… First, we don’t know for sure how much money this bottom quarter of degree-holding earners would have made without their college education. Furthermore, much of this could boil down to career choice: there are many jobs that require a degree but don’t pay very well. If someone earns a degree for reasons beyond making more money, it could be that the upfront investment is worthwhile regardless.

“On ‘average’, it’s still worth going to college”, but be careful about making personal decisions on the “average” case.

Here’s some good advice:

In the meantime, students who are unsure of what they want to study or do are probably best advised to be very cost-conscious when choosing a college, and to be unafraid to wait until they are sure how they will use their degree before they start to pursue one.

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Chris Matthews, “Why college isn’t for everyone, explained in a single chart”, Fortune, September 5, 2014.

July 23, 2014

Sarah Lawrence College will rate itself on the value it provides students

by Grace

Sarah Lawrence College has developed a way to assess the value it offers its students.

… The faculty came up with six abilities they think every Sarah Lawrence graduate should have….

  1. Ability to think analytically about the material.
  2. Ability to express ideas effectively through written communication.
  3. Ability to exchange ideas effectively through oral communication.
  4. Ability to bring innovation to the work.
  5. Ability to envisage and carry through a project independently, with appropriate guidance.
  6. Ability to accept and act on critique to improve work.

These measures serve as an antidote to the Obama administration’s upcoming rating system, which will measure things like cost, graduation rates, and salaries of graduates.  Obama’s new system has generated controversy, particularly since poor scores could mean the loss of federal financial aid.

Sarah Lawrence developed a “web-based assessment platform, designed to measure student performance against these critical abilities”.  Advisors meet regularly with students to evaluate their progress.

20140718.COCSarahLawrenceCriticalAbilities
Students can learn if they’re getting “their money’s worth”.

That’s a different measure of the value of an education than, say, student loan debt or earnings after graduation — the sorts of things the Obama administration is considering as part of its ratings plan. Students and parents are right to ask if they’re getting their money’s worth, says the college’s president, Karen Lawrence. After financial aid, the average cost of a Sarah Lawrence education is almost $43,000 a year.

“People are worried about cost,” Lawrence says. “We understand that.”

And they’re worried about getting jobs after graduation. But she says the abilities that the new assessment measures—critical thinking and innovation and collaboration—are the same ones employers say they’re looking for.

I have a feeling every Sarah Lawrence graduate will be rated highly.

The idea behind Sarah Lawrence’s assessment is laudable, but I must say I’m a bit skeptical about the way they measure student performance.  Shouldn’t they have an objective third party doing the assessment?

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Amy Scott, “What do students actually learn in college?”, Marketplace, April 22, 2014.

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