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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.

Helping More Americans Complete College: New Proposals for Success

The Huffington Post – John B. King Jr. & Shaun Donovan

“Today’s good-paying jobs increasingly require a high-quality post-secondary degree or credential…Today, only 60 percent of those enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs complete their education. Even for those who do complete, at least one-third take longer than expected to graduate, forcing them to bear additional costs and leave school with higher debt burdens…We need more students completing college on a faster track, which will lower their costs of college and likely reduce their student debt. The President, through proposals to be released in his forthcoming budget, is pushing to support more students reaching this goal by proposing $2 billion in additional Pell Grants next year for students working towards their degrees…3 million students next year could benefit..”(more)

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)

When I Grow Up: 5 Lessons Scientists Would Share with Their Younger Selves

Scientific American – Amanda Baker

“Just like anyone who works in science communication, I spend a fair amount of my time reading and thinking about the best ways to encourage an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in younger audiences. Every year there are new programs, new games, and new classroom tools which try to take the natural enthusiasm for science that blossoms in elementary schools and carry it through middle and high school and into future STEM careers. With each new program you can find people, both in and out of current STEM careers, who express how much they would have loved that program when they had been kids. But that got me wondering – if these programs did not exist when the current population of new scientists and engineers were in school, what factors eventually led them to STEM degrees and careers when they were young. So I asked them. I reached out to eight of my colleagues who are currently in STEM fields and asked them a series of questions about their childhood interests in science, school experiences, and roadblocks that they faced on their path from elementary school to their current positions…Their feedback covered not only what drew them to science, but also what had almost pushed them away. Below I have consolidated the feedback into five main points, including the advice they would give their middle school selves if they could do it all again.”(more)

The New College Degree: In an Unbundled World, Curation is King

edSurge – Matt Pittinsky and Mike Buttry

“In recent months, we have witnessed the success of books and articles predicting massive shifts in the way students will experience and complete post-secondary education. Costs will be reduced and outcomes improved, writers argue, when higher ed is unbundled, meaning students pick and choose from a degree’s component parts. Career advancers, unburdened by general education requirements or a fixed course of study, will acquire skills and badges in real-time. The value of the degree, as a curated set of academic experiences, will diminish. We see the future somewhat differently.”(more)

The Leaky Pipeline

Inside Higher Ed – Paul Fain

“The national college completion push has stalled, with graduation rates now going the wrong direction. Perhaps the best way to turn the tide, a new coalition argues, is to fix the inefficient and often neglected transfer pipeline from community colleges to four-year institutions…the groups say the leaky transfer pipeline contributes to higher education’s equity gap, which is growing. That’s because research shows community college students who transfer to four-year institutions are more likely to be from low-income backgrounds than are their peers who first enroll in bachelor’s degree programs, even at nonselective colleges. And while 80 percent of community college students say they eventually want to earn a bachelor’s degree, few ever do.”(more)