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College reality

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In a few weeks tens of thousands of young Americans will leave home and begin the “college experience”. As they descend on campuses across the country, they will be greeted by impressive buildings, acclaimed alumni, elaborate social functions, and luxury hotel-like accommodations. In addition to getting used to their new “homes”, these newly minted adults will be asked to select majors that prepare them for post college employment.

Interestingly, the university structure and incentives may not always be aligned with what is best for students.

Universities are broken into departments. Each department is responsible for running a profitable business or demonstrating that there is enough demand for its offerings that it would be foolish for the university to close the department. Departments like engineering generally have large research budgets, so they are less concerned about student enrollment than departments like the humanities and social sciences that have fewer research dollars.

As might be expected, the departments with fewest research dollars generally work hardest to convince students to select majors within their purview. Until 15-20 years ago, this model worked well, because it was possible to obtain high quality employment with a wide variety of university degrees.

Technology has improved access to information so much that many jobs related to compiling, organizing, and disseminating information have already been or are being eliminated. Careers that have been hardest hit are law, social sciences, and the humanities.

Since there are fewer job opportunities for people with these degrees, many college graduates find it difficult to procure jobs that pay a premium over what was available to them before they attended college.

This shift creates a dilemma for the parents of a child who did not develop a proclivity for math in high school. Does the parent have the resources to send the child to college so he/she can graduate without debt and go on to a job that he/she most likely could have obtained without attending college? Is it better to consider a high paying trade like plumbing or electricity, rather than expending money on college? Or is it wiser to encourage the child to go to a community college and learn math, so he/she has the skills to obtain a college degree with higher earning potential?

It is a tough decision, but is something that should be discussed before a family blindly spends large sums of money on a college education that does little to improve a child’s long term earning potential.

Preparing kids to change the rules

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

U.S. children are less creative than they were 30 years ago. Many people attribute this decline in inventiveness to over-scheduling of organized activities and emphasis on high-stakes testing and rote learning. These factors may be part of the reason children are unimaginative, but minimal exposure to “failure” and limited life experiences also keep U.S. kids from reaching their full creative potential.

To create, a person must be comfortable “failing” because “trial and error” is part of the innovative process. Many U.S. children are uncomfortable with “failure” because they have little exposure to it. In many cases, well-intentioned parents shield their kids from life’s tough lessons, because it is easier to solve problems for their children than to spend the time and energy necessary to help their children learn how to solve problems on their own.

Among other things, parents negotiate with coaches to get their children places on the best teams rather than encouraging their kids to work hard and talk with the coaches themselves. Parents talk with principals to negotiate grades rather than forcing their children to take responsibility for their performance. Too frequently, parents complain about “bullying” when another kid says something unkind on the playground rather than teaching their children how to overcome negativity.

As a result, the first thing parents need to do is set expectations and let their children learn by doing. This requires letting go and being available to coach as their children work to recover from life’s setbacks. Through this process children learn that there are consequences to actions, “failure” is a part of life, and success requires perseverance. Specifically, when things don’t work perfectly the first time, one can make adjustments until “failure” becomes “success”.

Another problem is parents are so worried about safety, that kids are isolated. This means children often lack the exposure required to come up with innovative solutions to a problem. Parents can easily address this issue by encouraging their children to take on activities outside of their peer group. Simple undertakings like participating in discussions with adults, welcoming a foreign exchange student, attending a history lecture, teaching a class, volunteering at the hospital, or working on a special project for a politician, all help broaden exposure.

Once children know how to recover from “failure” and have a broad understanding of how the world works, they should have the skills and the self-confidence to innovate.

College may no longer be necessary, high quality K-12 education is

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Even though psychologists have been talking about a lack of correlation between college degrees, course grades, and job performance for decades, most companies continue to rely on these credentials and marks to make hiring decisions.

In the past couple of years, however, a few companies have broken rank. Google, a Fortune 500 technology firm, and Ernst and Young U.K., part of one of the world’s largest accounting firms, have publicly announced they no longer require college degrees for employment.

Google’s chairman said the company is more interested in an applicant’s skills, ability to think in a logical way, work ethic, breadth of experience, public speaking abilities, and creativity. Ernst and Young said they are interested in talented individuals regardless of background.

This transformation is due, in large part, to free access of information through the Internet. Over five years ago Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, suggested that traditional university education, especially at fixed-place institutions will no longer be necessary, since most of the content will be available online for free.

The college experience is under additional pressure, because college costs are rising at a rate higher than inflation and a college degree no longer guarantees a solid middle-class income. In fact, the College Risk Report (collegeriskreport.com) suggests that the rate of return on most four-year college degrees is worse than 2-year degrees and in some instances worse than no degree at all.

There is a small group of students who receive full ride scholarships to attend college. For these students, the costs are so low that the four-year degree makes financial sense.

Some people assert that college is an excellent place to make contacts. This may be a valid claim for students who are outgoing and takes advantage of all the clubs, speakers, professors, and research opportunities available at a school, but is probably not the case for most students who meet few people outside their dorms and classes.

Without a traditional college education, strong K-12 schooling is imperative since this will be where kids learn basic skills, hone public speaking abilities, refine creative thinking, and develop logical problem solving capabilities. Work ethic can be developed at school, home or in extra-curricular activities like sports. Breadth of experience can occur at school or through outside clubs and activities.

This new employment paradigm suggests we need to worry more about high quality K-12 education and less about college.

Let your child learn about manipulation

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Manipulation is rampant in the digital age. It is easy for young people to be sucked into toxic personal relationships, political and social causes that are fronts for individuals and/or corporations that are attempting to gain power and money, and job situations where bosses or coworkers take advantage of them.

Most parents want to shelter their kids from these situations. Sheltering kids, however, may not be the best strategy. Instead it is better to empower kids, so they are not victims.

First, parents need to make sure their kids are confident, since it is harder for self-confident kids to be manipulated. Self-confidence is earned, not given, so is important to encourage children to explore many things and urge them to continue the activities that they enjoy and do well. In addition, it is essential that they learn the value of hard work. Also, it is imperative that the activities they selected are building self-confidence. Sometimes kids need to change activities as they grow to maintain healthy self-confidence.

The next step is to teach children how to identify a manipulative person, how to keep an emotional distance from such a person, and how to avoid personalization and self-blame. Then children need to learn how to turn the tables by asking probing questions and using time as a delay.

Finally parents need to allow controlled exposure. As counterintuitive as it sounds, kids need exposure to manipulators in safe environments, so they know when someone is trying to control them. In addition, kids need practice disarming a manipulator.

This means parents need to create learning opportunities. For example, a parent could consciously avoid speaking to school officials when a child’s classmate is “mean” on the playground, and instead help their child figure out how to handle situation him/herself. This playground practice should help prepare the child with more insidious manipulation that occurs when he/she is older.

As the child becomes more skilled at detecting and diverting manipulation, parents can gradually provide more exposure. By the time kids reach the teenage years, parents should expect them to discuss absences, homework, performance, and goals with coaches and teachers. In these conversations where will be many opportunities for the child to experience subtle and overt manipulation and to learn ways to remain in control.

Obviously there will be times parents have to step in, especially as when kids beginning interacting with adults, but parents should not be so protective that kids do not have an opportunity to learn.

Separate cooperative and basic skills education

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

Cooperative learning first gained traction as an instructional method in the 1970s and was widely implemented in K-12 classrooms by the 1990s. It is based on the premise that collaborative participation creates an enhanced learning experience. Proponents of this teaching strategy site improved student communication, heightened oral skill development, more advanced learning, and enhanced student responsibility.

Cooperative learning, however, is not without challenges. One of the biggest obstacles to effective cooperative learning is a negative group dynamic. Conflicts between individuals can reduce a group’s ability to work together and problems are magnified when members are too immature to adequately resolve conflicts. To make matters more challenging, personality mismatches can stall learning even when no overt conflicts are present. In addition, assertive students often move into leadership roles even when they are not best suited to direct a project.

Beyond personality issues, cooperative learning can also result in uneven workloads. When this type of learning is working efficiently, students support and inspire one another. Everyone has a similar workload and everyone learns. In many instances, however, more advanced students take over projects rather than spending extra time to help struggling students. In addition, unmotivated students often rely on more conscientious team members to complete required work. The result is not only an uneven workload but also uneven learning that leaves struggling students behind, permits lazy students to slide by, and allows more advanced students to stagnate.

Also, student evaluations for group assignments are challenging. It is often impossible to evaluate group members individually. This can result in all group members receiving the same grade regardless of how much they participated and contributed. In addition to artificially high or low marks, it is difficult to determine gaps in student understanding. This proficiency issue is particularly problematic in subjects like math, science, grammar, and writing where learning is cumulative.

It is not that the skills associated with cooperative learning are not important, but that the academic classroom may not be the best place to teach these skills. Instead of compromising basic learning in science, language arts, math, history, and foreign language we should consider using electives for collaborative activities. In addition, we should give students credit for sports, theater, makerspace (cooperative technical and art gatherings), and other group activities that occur after school hours. This approach would provide kids with an opportunity to build both basic educational and soft skills that are critical for success later in life.