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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.

Vocational Training Works Pays Off More for Boys Than for Girls

Education News – Kristin Decarr

“New research out of Cornell University suggests that whether high schools decide to focus on offering college preparation courses or vocational training could profoundly affect young women. Lead author April Sutton found that while blue-collar training without a focus on college preparation may result in blue-collar jobs for men, women are instead punished when entering the workforce. “This has been a real blind spot in the public discussion: the assumption that men and women would equally benefit from high school training for local blue-collar jobs,” Sutton said…Researchers suggest that the issue needs additional attention as both political parties begin to consider pushing blue-collar related vocational training. They add that careful attention needs to be considered for women, as the hourly gender wage gap for high school graduates between the ages of 25 and 28 was found to be 22%, with women making 78 cents for every dollar made by a man.”(more)

The Skills Schools Aren’t Teaching But Must

The Huffington Post – Michael R. Bloomberg & Jamie Dimon

“The U.S. presidential campaign has focused a great deal on the need to expand economic opportunity, but candidates in both parties have not said enough about how they would achieve it. While helping more students go to college has been a topic of discussion and is a vitally important goal, what about those who do not go — or who drop out of high school? They are largely being ignored…Long-term, broad-based economic growth depends on a strong and expanding middle class that is open to all Americans, not just college graduates. That is only possible if we reinvent vocational programs so that they are aligned with macroeconomic trends, growing local industries and jobs that offer opportunities for advancement.”(more)

Report: Career and Technical Education Programs Can Boost Graduation, Wages

The 74 – Matt Barnum

“Taking more career and technical education (CTE) courses helps students graduate from high school, get a job, and earn more money, according to a report released today by the Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. Written by University of Connecticut professor Shaun Dougherty, the report examines Arkansas’s required CTE program and recommends that other states borrow from its approach…The findings come amid ongoing debates about how high schools can best prepare students for postgraduate success, whether college is “for everyone,” and to what extent schools should create different academic and job preparation tracks…The study’s main finding is striking: “The more CTE courses students take, the better their education and labor market outcomes.”…On balance, the report is clearly good news for CTE advocates, but it also has its limits.”(more)

Is college the best option?

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

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.

 

Britain Looks to Reinvigorate Apprenticeships, Vocational Education

Education News – Raymond Scott

“State schools in England will soon be required to spend as much time on vocational training as they do on academic subjects for students interested in landing an apprenticeship after their studies. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said that England’s education system should “level the playing field” by offering students all the options available to them. A new law will require the schools allow apprenticeship providers to advise and connect with young students to rub out an “outdated snobbery” against technical education.”(more)