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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.

Is college the best option?

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


With all the changes in the workplace, the adage that a university degree always provides the best employment options is no longer true.

Sometimes a college education is the answer and other times a trade career makes more sense.

If you like math and/or science and have an interest in accounting, engineering, or nursing a university education is an excellent option. There is so much demand for graduates in these fields that you do not need to attend a high profile private university to have job offers. Also, the salaries are such that students can pay off loans quickly.

If you excel in math and/or science, but you can’t imagine a career in accounting, engineering, or nursing a university education could still be wise decision if you are willing to double major. In this case, the accounting, engineering, or nursing degree would serve as an insurance policy in the case you are unable to find employment in the field you want to pursue.

If science or math is not your cup of tea, college may not be the best financial option. While some subjects are fascinating, employment realities make them poor degree choices. In sociology, for example, there are only 2400 jobs, so employers can demand graduate degrees from the most prestigious (high cost) universities. Other majors, like elementary education, have plenty of job openings, but offer low pay.

As a result, it is wise to ask some questions. What is the median pay for graduates in the field? How many jobs are available? Do I have the financial means to cover the cost of the education? If I cannot get a job in the field I study, what will I do? If I take out a loan and am not able to get a job, how will you make the payments?

If the pay is low or you do not have a way of supporting yourself or if you cannot get a job in the field, a trade career may be a better option. Electricians, plumbers, and aviation mechanics make very good salaries – much better than many college graduates. These careers require no post-secondary education and allow early entry into the workforce which means there is more long-term earning potential.

As a result, it is important to approach post secondary education in a rational way. Think critically about your interests and abilities and remember a college education only makes sense when it gives you financial freedom.


The Proof Liberal Arts Colleges Need?

Inside Higher Ed – Scott Jaschik

“Before Richard A. Detweiler’s presentation here Thursday at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, he asked audience members why they had selected his session, in which he had promised to present data about the long-term impact of having studied at a liberal arts college. The audience members…talked about looking for evidence to bolster their efforts to defend the liberal arts…Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, may have just provided some. He presented early results from a research study (that eventually he hopes to turn into a book) about the long-term impact of having attended a liberal arts college or experienced qualities associated with liberal arts education…The study’s initial results suggest that one can prove that a liberal arts-style education can be associated with greater odds, compared to others with bachelor’s degrees, on such qualities as being a leader, being seen as ethical, appreciating arts and culture and leading a fulfilling and happy life.”(more)

College Free, Connections Costly?

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


In the End of the University As We Know It, Nathan Harden asserts that access to a college-level education will be free and available to everyone on the planet; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; the residential college experience will all but disappear; ten of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; and well-known and and respected universities like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard will enroll ten of millions of students.


Are Harden’s forecasts likely?


Technology has removed the geographic and time barriers to education. Students can listen to lectures real-time or save them for later viewing. Textbooks are available in electronic format. Groups can meet electronically for academic exchanges. Exams can be given electronically and will become accurate assessments of student proficiency as security issues are resolved.


Universities can and are extending their reach to students around the world at a fraction of the cost of what it takes to bring professors and students together on a physical college campus. A free college education is unlikely, but a very low cost college alternative is almost a certainty.


Technology has rendered many bachelor’s degrees useless. Rather than no bachelor’s degree, the degree will probably change form and name to note a broader, more well rounded education (advanced technical, humanities blend). The narrowing bachelor’s degree requirements will mean many students will opt for specialized, job specific, course-by-course certifications rather than a bachelor’s degree.


Technology has and will continue to change the classroom model. Professors can effectively lecture to millions of students at one time. This means only a small number of the best teaching professionals will be employed. In this new environment, prestige will be important. Top schools like MIT and Stanford will have millions of students and many lesser known schools will be forced to close.


Research at top universities will probably continue. The professors that had to endure teaching assignments to conduct cutting edge research will be able to spend all their time in the lab.


It is unlikely that the residential college experience will completely vanish. However, it will probably be limited to high profile universities and be embraced by a small segment of the population that is willing to pay a premium for contacts and networking.


With the radical changes coming to post secondary education, parents should think carefully about where their children attend college. In addition, parents may want to avoid prepaid college programs and allocate funds to high-quality primary and secondary education.


Graduates of four-year universities flock to community colleges for job skills

The Hechinger Report – Matt Krupnick

“Liliana Ibarra’s bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washington State University couldn’t save her from the unemployment line. Now she’s banking on the idea that something else can: community college…A surprising one out of every 14 of the people who attend community colleges — widely regarded as low-tuition options for the less-well-prepared — has already earned a bachelor’s degree, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.”(more)

Increasing Education Opportunities For Minorities In STEM

Forbes – Maria Klawe

“African-American, Latino and Native American students still lag far behind their white and Asian counterparts in terms of participation in math, science and engineering fields. While these underrepresented groups have made some modest gains over the last several decades, their progress has been extremely slow. Worse, over the last decade African Americans’ progress in attaining bachelor’s degrees in engineering, mathematics, computer science and physics has stalled or even reversed. Increasing diversity in STEM presents a number of challenges.”(more)