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College reality

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


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.

The SAT, now the No. 2 college test, pushes to reclaim supremacy

The Washington Post – Nick Anderson

“The SAT, once the nation’s dominant college admission exam, fell behind the ACT in recent years after its rival locked up huge swaths of the market through contracts to provide testing in public schools and more students in the Washington area and elsewhere realized that top colleges and universities would accept either test. Now the SAT’s owner, the College Board, has mounted a comeback in its bid to regain supremacy as a new version of the venerable test is about to be rolled out nationwide in March…The new version, debuting on March 5, will eliminate penalties for guessing, make its essay component optional and jettison much of the fancy vocabulary, known as “SAT words,” that led generations of students to prepare for test day with piles of flash cards. It will also return the SAT’s maximum score, now 2400, to the iconic 1600.”(more)

ACT Introduces New STEM College Readiness Benchmark; Results Reveal Limited Readiness for College STEM Coursework

ACT – Staff Writer

“Relatively few STEM-interested students are well prepared to succeed in college STEM courses, according to The Condition of STEM 2015, released today by ACT. The report shows that only 26 percent of ACT-tested 2015 graduates who were interested in STEM met or surpassed the new ACT STEM College Readiness Benchmark. The benchmark, which makes its debut in this report, is an indicator of whether a student is well prepared for the types of first-year college courses required for a college STEM-related major. “These findings confirm the conclusions we drew from our Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015 report—namely, that the country needs to take strong, urgent action to avoid a looming crisis in college and career readiness,” said Marten Roorda, ACT chief executive officer. “This is especially troubling in the important area of STEM, which has a growing impact on the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy.””(more)

New SAT prompts a scramble as students worry about which admission test to take

The Washington Post – Nick Anderson and Moriah Balingit

“Like millions of college-bound juniors, Tatiana Davidson faces a stressful question this fall with an unusually tricky set of possible answers: Which college admissions exam should she take? Her multiple choices came into sharper focus this week with the debut of a major revision to the preliminary college test known as the PSAT/NMSQT. The options are:
A) The current version of the SAT, with a maximum score of 2400;
B) The new version, to debut in March, with a maximum of 1600;
C) The ACT, more widely used nationwide, with a top mark of 36; or
D) Some combination of the above.
None of the choices is wrong…”(more)

Why is High School Achievement Flat?

Education Next – Michael J. Petrilli

“The latest SAT scores came out on Thursday, and as I remarked to Nick Anderson at the Washington Post, education reform appears to be hitting a wall in high school. In truth, we already knew this. The SATs aren’t even the best gauge—not all students take them, and those who do are hardly representative. But a variety of sources show much the same thing. Twelfth-grade NAEP: Flat. Long-term NAEP for seventeen-year-olds: Flat. ACT scores: Flat. Percentage of college-ready graduates: Flat. What makes this so disappointing is that NAEP shows respectable gains for younger students, especially in fourth grade and particularly in math. Yet these early gains seem to evaporate as kids get older. Here’s what that looks like using data from the long-term trend NAEP for three recent student cohorts. Progress at ages nine and thirteen hasn’t translated into progress at age seventeen.”(more)

Is This The Beginning Of The End For The SAT And ACT?

NPR Ed – Claudio Sanchez

“The most reliable predictors of college success are a high school student’s GPA and the rigor of the courses taken. Critics of the SAT and ACT have long argued that these tests are nothing more than sorting tools that help institutions deal with large numbers of applicants…Is this the beginning of the end for the SAT and ACT? Probably not. Filtering tens of thousands of applicants without the help of these powerhouse tests is a daunting and expensive task for larger schools. And most of the nation’s best, most-selective institutions still rely on them.”(more)