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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.

Forbes Ranks America’s Top Colleges by Value

Education News – Kristin Decarr

“Forbes has released their ninth annual ranking of the best colleges and universities in the country in an effort to answer the question of whether higher education is worth the cost. Caroline Howard writes for Forbes that at least for the 660 universities included on the list, higher education is worth the cost. The list is organized based on what students get out of their college experience rather than what helps to get students into college, such as high school class rank and SAT scores. With college being one of the most significant financial decisions of a person’s life, the magazine said as much information as possible should be offered on the topic. This includes things like the satisfaction level of undergraduates, how likely it is to graduate within four years, and job prospects.”(more)

The New Path To Harvard And Other Top Colleges

The Huffington Post – Osman Rashid

“The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) came out with a proposal a few days ago that parents of high school students can really get behind. Many parents have seen their kids enter high school only to be inundated with one-upmanship — comparing how many essays they are writing, how many AP classes they are taking, how many sports are they playing, how many extracurricular opportunities are they participating in and how much sleep they are [not] getting. This is the high school version of keeping up with the Joneses, and it has been shown to have truly dangerous effects on our children’s mental health…Starting with this new proposal from HGSE, colleges are finally stepping up and saying that it is quality — not quantity — that matters…Also, for the first time, colleges are saying they want to see a good track record of community engagement, not just academic engagement.”(more)

6 Education Stories To Watch In 2016

nprEd – Claudio Sanchez

“Claudio Sanchez is the senior member of the NPR Ed team, with more than 25 years on the education beat. We asked him for his list of the top stories he’ll be watching in 2016.”(more)

Hip-Hop Vocab: The Lexicon Is In The Lyrics

NPR Ed – Joe Palca

“Austin Martin, a junior at Brown University, stands in front of an eighth-grade class at Community Preparatory School in Providence, R.I. He’s here to test out the website he developed, which he hopes will help junior and senior high school students learn the vocabulary they’ll need for their college entrance exams. He starts the class by connecting his laptop to a projector, and then he veers off the traditional path, away from rote memorization — and toward rap music…The program is called Rhymes with Reason. He’s using rap lyrics to teach vocabulary, in the hope that some will connect more to popular music than they do to static words on a page.”(more)

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)