Monday, June 20, 2011

I've moved to a new blog

I've closed up shop here and moved my blogging to Cost of College, where I write about the various costs that we face in the years before, during and after college.  My focus is on the financial as well as the academic factors, with an eye for exploring the trends in higher education that may profoundly affect our children’s lives in the coming years. I thank you for reading Education Quick Takes and invite you to check out my new location.

--  Grace

Friday, June 17, 2011

What to do between graduation and first job

In this NY Times piece, various experts advise college graduates unable to find jobs in their fields.

You do not want it to appear that you were idle during your time of unemployment.

Focus on "developing skills you need for employment and learning about your industry".    Research, taking advantage of your college's alumni network to talk with people in your industry.  Master relevant software, like Excel and PowerPoint.  If you are volunteering or working at any job, focus on the skills that transfer to your desired career.  Even the lowliest customer service jobs can provide training for a future professional track.  (I can attest to this.)

Take advantage of social media for networking.  For example, start tweeting or blogging about the latest research in your career interests.  Polish up your LinkedIn profile.

Start a business, any business, either high-tech or low tech.  Even a dog walking service can showcase your entrepreneurial bent.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is higher education on track to lose its credentialing monopoly?

Higher education may be at a crossroads, facing the possibility of losing its role as the main merchant of career credentialing.  Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote about this in her commentary on Peter Thiel's initiative to lure entrepreneurial students away from college.
Colleges have long been engaged in an odd deal with students and their parents. Paying for a college education — or taking on a huge amount of debt to finance an education — is a transaction in which most of the buyers and most of the sellers have fundamentally different understandings of the product....
In the college transaction, most parents think they’re buying their kids a credential, a better job and a ticket, economically speaking at least, to the American dream. Most college professors and administrators (the good ones, anyway) see their role as producing liberally educated, well-rounded individuals with an appreciation for certain kinds of knowledge. If they get a job after graduation, well, that’s nice, too.
The students, for the most part, are not quite sure where they fit into this bargain. Some will get caught up in what they learn and decide to go on to further education. But most will see college as an opportunity to have fun and then come out the other end of the pipeline with the stamp of approval they need to make a decent salary after graduation.
Here's a dirty little secret that's quickly becoming common knowledge.
Thanks to the wonders of grade inflation and the lack of a serious core curriculum, it is possible to get through Harvard and a number of other high-price universities acing your computer science classes and devoting very little effort to anything else.
College students are spending less time studying, graduating with minimal evidence of academic growth.   Their course work often consists of random bits of dumbed down fluff classes.
Beyond the top tier, there are also gaping holes in higher education. Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire. Maybe they too will get tired of using higher education as a credentialing system. Maybe it will be easier to recruit if they don’t have to be concerned about the overwhelming student debt of their new employees.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How much do parents influence their children?

Bryan Caplan and Amy Chua debate parenting styles....
Chua:  Some people don't need parental commitment, they will still come out great, but for others, parents can be critical in providing moral and academic guidance....
Caplan:  ...what the adoption and twin evidence says is that the feeling that parents are changing their kids is based on an illusion. There is a big short-run effect, but the long-run effect is very different....
Chua:  Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the west to be too permissive and indulgent.
Caplan:  Parents seem to think their kids are like clay, that you mould them into the right shape when they're wet. A better metaphor is that kids are like flexible plastic – they respond to pressure, but when you release the pressure they tend to pop back to their original shape.
Chua says her book is "a bit of a spoof", and my opinion is she purposefully went for the exaggerated tone as a way to sell more books.  But it's clear her perspective is one where a parent needs to exert more control and dominance than is typical among American families.

Most children need parental commitment, but to varying degrees.  Some kids need a heavier hand than others do, and we should keep in mind that our personal parenting experience may be vastly different from others we may criticize.  I never thought my own kids would benefit from corporal punishment, but I've seen others who seemed to respond well to an occasional whack to the behind.

Found at Instapundit

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Problems with study that claims groups are better than lectures for learning

Last month the NY Times reported on a study that showed interactive group instruction is superior to traditional lectures.
In one of the initiative’s most visible studies, Dr. Wieman’s team reports that students in an introductory college physics course did especially well on an exam after attending experimental, collaborative classes during the 12th week of the course. By contrast, students taking the same course from another instructor — who did not use the experimental approach and continued with lectures as usual — scored much lower on the same exam.
Not so fast.
Yet experts who reviewed the new report cautioned that it was not convincing enough to change teaching. The study has a variety of limitations, they said, some because of the difficulty of doing research in the dude-I-slept-through-class world of the freshman year of college, and others because of the study’s design. “The whole issue of how to draw on basic science and apply it in classrooms is a whole lot more complicated than they’re letting on,” said Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Willingham said that, among other concerns, the study was not controlled enough to tell which of the changes in teaching might have accounted for the difference in students’ scores
Here are Dr. Willingham's candid comments from his Facebook page.
There were a lot of problems with this study. The two methods compared were each tested in just ONE classroom--so no way of knowing whether the observed effects were just due to the teacher. The "group learning" condition was taught by a new teacher--the "lecture" was the same professor as had been teaching all semester. The critical test was opt-in, and lots of students decided not to take it--and the proportions were unequal across conditions. The study was a mess. I can't imagine why Science published it....
Studies like this are fine for what they are--they are really more pilot studies, or they could be useful as qualitative research. (I think qualitative research *is* really quite useful.) But it didn't have the strengths of qualitative research and was pitched as a quantitative study.
Other articles about this study:
The Economist
The Chronicle of Higher Ed

Monday, June 13, 2011

Perceptual learning by 'brain calisthenics'

Cognitive scientists have found that pattern-recognition exercises speed up learning by enabling students to develop a "gut instinct" for problem solving.
NY TimesFor about a month now, Wynn, 17, has been practicing at home using an unusual online program that prompts him to match graphs to equations, dozens upon dozens of them, and fast, often before he has time to work out the correct answer. An equation appears on the screen, and below it three graphs (or vice versa, a graph with three equations). He clicks on one and the screen flashes to tell him whether he’s right or wrong and jumps to the next problem.
“I’m much better at it,” he said, in a phone interview from his school, New Roads in Santa Monica, Calif. “In the beginning it was difficult, having to work so quickly; but you sort of get used to it, and in the end it’s more intuitive. It becomes more effortless.”
For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.
Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.
“When facing problems in real-life situations, the first question is always, ‘What am I looking at? What kind of problem is this?’ ” said Philip J. Kellman, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Any theory of how we learn presupposes perceptual knowledge — that we know which facts are relevant, that we know what to look for.”
The challenge for education, Dr. Kellman added, “is what do we need to do to make this happen efficiently?
Yes, this is the challenge.  Using pattern recognition exercises to grasp principles quickly sounds reasonable, but only if preceded by background knowledge gained through "bottom up" methods of instruction and practice.  Otherwise, this new "top down" method used by itself would seem to create rote knowledge that lacks meaning.

Joanne Jacobs makes a good point.
Reading the comments reminded me of the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. Every reader seems to think the research proves their theory: Kids need more practice; kids need to construct knowledge, kids need real-world examples, kids need visuals.
Daniel Willingham:
Pretty interesting, and a fairly solid research base. . .it's a little early to get super excited about it. . .and "brain calisthenics" is kind of misleading. . .

Friday, June 10, 2011

How's that urban studies degree working out for you?

This story comes from a comment on an article about which college majors do best in the job market. The writer has been gainfully employed for most of the time since she graduated college, but not in any jobs where she has used her degree. Her story sounds familiar.
I have a B.A. in Urban Studies (city planning). I graduated in 2003 (as a married mom of two, who was temporarily a stay at home mom, after working full time for years). I found another job a few months after my graduation, in the mortgage industry, making $30,000 a year. I left that job after a year and a half, when the bank went through massive downsizing, and announced that the entire division I worked in would be eliminated. I found another job as a research assistant with the national offices of a church, still not really using my degree, but making $35,000 a year.
I got laid off from that job in 2008, and was out of work for 5 months until I got a $10 a hour temp job with no benefits, with my local county. I worked in that job off and on for a year (got laid off once), until I found my current full-time job as an administrative assistant for a small nonprofit organization. I make a little less than $30,000 a year, still not using my degree. I would feel downright rich if I could find a job paying $50,000 a year.
I am convinced that college degrees have lost much of their value over the past decade, as employers have figured out that with the economy being so bad, college graduates will work for pennies, rather than go hungry.
My husband has a high school diploma, and works as a mechanical maintenance technician and welder for a factory, and makes significantly more money than I do. I have a brother who is a plumber, and owns his own small plumbing company, and who earns in the six figures.
I loved college, but nowadays I would recommend to any high school student who is considering a 4 year degree to instead either consider going into the trades or get an associates' degree in a high demand health field like nursing, and wait until when or even if the economy improves, and then go for the bachelor's degree.
Here's a graphic from the article, showing area studies as the lowest ranked college major.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reed College's unconventional grading policy

I was prompted to investigate Reed College's grading policies after I  saw this on a banner ad.
There are no grades on tests at Reed College if students get over a 'C'.
According to their website, students are not informed of any grades 'C' or higher unless they specifically request them.
Reed College encourages students to measure academic achievement by intellectual growth and by self-assessment of their grasp of course material. The college does not wish to divide students by labels of achievement. A conventional letter grade for each course is recorded for every student, but the registrar's office does not distribute grades to students, provided that work continues at satisfactory (C or higher) levels. Unsatisfactory grades are reported directly to the student and the student's adviser. Students may obtain their grades from their advisers or the course instructor if they wish to do so. Students may also order a transcript from the registrar's office.
Reed has the reputation of being a rigorous but laid back school, with a collegial rather than competitive atmosphere.  It is also known for an unusually relaxed attitude towards drug use by its students, but exactly how different it is compared to many other schools is difficult to know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pay $250 extra for 'academic success' but 'meaningful connections' are free

This notice came in the mail a few days ago, and when I read it I immediately felt a sense of unease in the pit of my stomach.  An eighth grader I know tried to offer comfort:  "They're only trying to make money off the parents".  Perhaps.

I thought the middle school had spent the last three years preparing students for the "rigors and academic challenges" of high school, teaching "technological skills, study skills and planning strategies".  Does their curriculum not emphasize note-taking, organizational skills, internet research and an interdisciplinary approach?  It seems that "reading, writing, listening and speaking for information and literary appreciation" should have been pretty well covered.
Actually, the  middle school mission statement does not specifically mention any of those things.  Here is their stated vision for the  students.
We see our students as individuals who are willing to take chances and challenge themselves in order to become valued members and leaders of their community.
We want our children to:
  • Set high standards
  • Take risks, become well-rounded, and explore new opportunities
  • Establish a prideful work ethic and exercise strong time management skills
  • Develop personal responsibility, a love of learning, and problem-solving strategies
  • Appreciate the connections between rules, rights, and responsibilities
  • Practice civility, tolerance, and respect
  • Understand and respect boundaries
  • Engage in healthy, meaningful social relationships
  • Develop meaningful connections to their community
There is no explicit mention of preparing students for the "rigors and academic challenges" of high school.  All those mission goals sound lovely, but I'd like it better if our middle school expressed a stronger focus on preparing our children for "academic success" in high school instead of highlighting abstract objectives like developing "meaningful connections".  After all,  words have consequences.
American middle schools have become the places “where academic achievement goes to die.”   --  Cheri Pierson Yecke

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

College presidents say public high schools doing worse preparing students for college

According to a 2011 survey of college presidents, today's students are not as well prepared as their collegiate counterparts of 10 years ago. A 58%-majority of college presidents say public high school students arrive at college less well prepared than students of a decade ago. Just 6% say public high schools are doing a better job at preparing students for college than a decade ago, while 36% say they are doing about the same job. Once the students are settled on campus, the outlook remains equally pessimistic. More than half of college presidents (52%) say today's students are studying less than students did a decade ago. Only 7% say students are studying more, and 40% say students are doing about the same amount of studying as college students did 10 years ago.
Doesn't sound very promising.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Using rent money to pay for dream school

A recent Pew survey tells us this.
In the eyes of parents, being able to pay for their children’s college education is just as important as being able to own a home or live comfortably in retirement. 
Now I read this story about a mother who would have had to use the family's rent money to pay her daughter's enrollment deposit for a private college that costs about $40,000 yearly to attend.
This spring Natasha van Doren, the mother of a prospective Southern New Hampshire University student, wrote an e-mail to Paul LeBlanc, its president. Her daughter, Mariah Mann, had fallen in love with the campus, she wrote, but there was a problem: Money was tight, and if Ms. van Doren sent in the needed $500 deposit, she would have only enough left over to pay half of her monthly rent. Ms. van Doren and Mr. LeBlanc traded several e-mails....
In his conversation with the mother, Mr. LeBlanc raised a point colleges all over the country wrestle with: Sometimes there is no good way for families to afford sending their children to the college of their choice.
Mr. LeBlanc advised that Mariah should consider attending community college for two years and then transfer to SNHU.  Doing that, she could avoid graduating with $40,000 in student loan debt.  But her mother was not satisfied with his answer.
The mother’s response, which Mr. LeBlanc included on his blog, read: “Does this mean my appeal did nothing? I always hear schools say that there is always a way to pay for school....
But until now, the message she heard everywhere was that college was a good investment, one worth borrowing for. “It’s hard to be able to admit you can’t help your kid to do some basic thing that’s like some rite of passage,” she said.
As it turns out, Ms. van Doren's daughter will be attending Marlboro College in the fall.  She estimates that, after figuring in the total aid package offered, she will graduate with about $40,000 in debt.  The cost of attendance at Marlbora College is about $49,000.  Neither SNHU nor Marlboro are nationally ranked among the top 100 colleges and are not considered selective in their admissions.

According to USNWR, over 90% of SNHU students are sorority/fraternity members.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Good news on job prospects for MBA graduates

Amid today's dismal jobs report comes positive news about the job market for MBA graduates.
After two years of sharp declines in hiring, M.B.A. students are having more success landing jobs, and getting them earlier, than during the depths of the financial crisis....
While there remain some pockets of weakness in industries such as health care, hiring at many traditional career destinations for M.B.A. graduates, including finance and consulting, are nearing pre-recession levels. Hiring is up by double-digits at consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and Accenture PLC, compared with 2008 troughs. Similar gains are being seen at financial-services companies, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.
Overall, 57% of full-time M.B.A. students in the U.S. had offers by mid-March, compared with 40% a year earlier, according to a Graduate Management Admission Council survey released last month of 905 companies and 127 business schools nationwide. And the improvement continues as the latest school year closes out.
Among the business schools reporting positive hiring results are Cornell, UVA and Michigan.
As more financial-services and consulting companies come back to campuses, competition for M.B.A. talent is also pushing salaries higher—though not quite in line with inflation. The average starting salary is expected to be to $91,433 this year, according to the GMAC survey.

This should be good news for all the parents paying for their children's MBA degrees.

College majors and job prospects


The majors with the worst placement records were area studies (44.7 percent in degree-requiring jobs) and humanities (45.4 percent).
I had to look up the definition of "area studies", the college major that ranks lowest in terms of both percent of graduates in jobs that require college degrees and median salary earned by graduates.  I've heard parents say that they refuse to pay for their child to major in anything that includes the word "studies".  From the CollegeBoard:
Area studies majors study the histories, politics, economics, and cultures of various areas of the world. They usually focus on a specific area, but sometimes compare two or more areas.

Are you going to college? Are you paying for someone to go to college? Then you might want to study this graph closely...
The implication is clear: If you’re going to college to get a job after college, you’re better off in a major that lends itself to an obvious job after college. Engineering, say, or teaching. A humanities or communications degree turns out to be a much tougher sell.

Earnings are analyzed for 171 majors.
"It does matter what you major in."
And the differences are striking: For workers whose highest degree is a bachelor's, median incomes ranged from $29,000 for counseling-psychology majors to $120,000 for petroleum-engineering majors. The data also revealed earnings differences within groups of similar majors. Within the category of business majors, for instance, business-economics majors had the highest median pay, $75,000....
Men outearn women in each group of majors, and nearly every individual major, in many cases significantly. For instance, men who majored in math earn a median of $75,000, while women earn a median of $54,000. Some of that can be explained by occupation, Mr. Carnevale said: Many of those women who major in math go on to be teachers. The only majors with which women earned more than men were visual and performing arts, physiology, and information sciences.

The economic value of a bachelor’s degree varies by college major. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that median earnings run from $29,000 for counseling-psychology majors to $120,000 for petroleum-engineering majors. Even when majors are looked at by groups, such as business or health, there is variation in pay depending on the specific major.

The typical lifetime earnings of engineering and computer science majors are 50 percent higher than those of humanities majors, according to an analysis by researchers at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce....
Most big, long-term investments -- a house, a security, a 401(k) plan -- come with more information than you can use. But a four-year degree, which is a $100,000 to $200,000 investment at many private and public schools, is a black hole of data.
It's becoming a black hole of cash, too. The price of a post-secondary education is rising even faster than health care costs. Four-year college student graduate with an average of $25,000 in loan debt ... and those are the success stories, since fewer than 60 percent of four-year college students graduate in six years, anyway.
Better data wouldn't cure education inflation, but it would be a good start. The government should require every college to post a standard fact sheet about its degrees, along the lines of Harvard University education economist Bridget Terry Long's paper. The fact sheet could include total cost of attendance (median and average), loan default rate by degree, six-year graduation rate, employment rate and median salary twelve months after graduation, and alumni satisfaction rate.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Art history graduate unable to find job moves back home

Days after I read it, my mind kept returning to this story about an art history major still unable to find a "decent" job three years after graduating from college.  2009 was a very tough year, especially if your major was art history.
Alone in the darkness, a sense of defeat courses through her body -- disappointment about her past and uncertainty about what lies ahead. This, she thinks to herself, is surely what failure feels like.
Six years ago, Malik fled this town for Syracuse University. Since graduating in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in art history, she has yet to find a decent job.
She hadn't planned on moving back home and, at the age of 23, never expected to return to her mother's house for an extended and open-ended period of time....
"At times, it really feels very personal, it really feels like I've failed," says Malik, standing in the kitchen of her mother's two-story stone house and recalling the eight weeks since she returned home....
After graduating from college, Malik moved to Boston. There, she worked as a nanny, sold books, and waited tables -- a series of dead-end jobs that didn't pay more than the minimum wage, didn't require a college degree, and weren't remotely related to what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Two months ago, she ran out of money and drove home from Boston to Lansdale, a middle-class suburb north of Philadelphia, her car brimming with the contents of post-college life: canned food, twinkle lights, potted plants. 
In the video accompanying the story, Sabrina sheds some light on how she arrived at her predicament:
"I imagined I would graduate with my degree, and how hard I worked and the contacts I had, I imagined I would end up in a museum or a gallery.  That has definitely been adjusted as it becomes clear that there are people who have masters above me who are looking for that same job and I have to adjust those expectations because of it."
Why this naivete?  Were art history majors finding good any jobs in their field before the 2009 recession hit?
She's hardly alone. Malik is part of a generation of 20-somethings that's experiencing what it's like to graduate from college, move back in with your parents, and then get stuck there. Though estimates vary, a recent study by Twentysomething Inc., a consulting firm specializing in marketing to young adults, predicted that of the 2 million graduates in the class of 2011, 85 percent will return home because they can't secure jobs that might give them more choices and more control over their lives....
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for younger workers with a college degree has more than doubled since the recession began four years ago -- from 3.5 percent in April of 2007 to 6.4 percent in April of this year.
For college graduates under the age of 25, finding stable work is a particular challenge. According to Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, about half, or 3.2 million, are "underutilized"  -- meaning they're unemployed, working part-time, or working a job outside of the college labor market, such as bartending or waiting tables.
Sabrina's mother paid $100,000 from savings and $20,000 from a loan to to send her daughter to Syracuse University.  Today, it's the mother who is making the loan payments while Sabrina struggles to pay on her $2,000 credit card debt.
Parents exert a powerful shaping force on their children's decisions to go to college, as well as which college to attend. In addition, they are often caught up in the emotional rush that a college education entails, further complicating an issue that has already become a financial minefield for the middle class.
"All along, I was going to make it work," explains Marilyn. "If I had to take out loans, I was going to do that."
Once Sabrina and Omar were admitted into the colleges of their dreams, Marilyn saw it as her personal responsibility to make sure they could attend -- even when it meant taking out additional loans in order to finance it. And while Marilyn says she doesn't regret her investment, she assumed that a $120,000 degree would at least translate into a decent-paying job for her daughter.
"One thing that terrifies parents more than budget deficits or a weak economy is job security for their kids. They're afraid they won't be able to pass along their middle class status to the next generation," says Anthony P. Carnevale, who directs Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. "In raising a child in America, the fear of failing is just enormous. Sending your kid to college used to pretty much guarantee their future success. It no longer necessarily works that way."
From a recent post
The vast majority of parents expect that their children will pursue a college education. Among those with one or more children under age 18, 94% expect at least one of their children will go to college.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More parents help pay for MBAs

Economic uncertainty, younger students going to business school instead of finding employment and the spiraling cost of tuition all seem to be factors in this change.
From 2003 to 2007, the number of prospective students who said they expect their parents to help them pay for business school doubled, and was approaching 40 percent in 2010, according to a 2011 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council....

"Any time there is economic uncertainty like there is now, there is a general reluctance to borrow," Chitty says. "Borrowing from Mom and Dad is going to seem a lot safer than borrowing from the government and taking on a loan which likely can't be discharged in bankruptcy and can follow you for the rest of your life."...
Driving the need for parental aid is an uptick in the business school pipeline of younger students, especially those in the 24-years-and-under age bracket, says Michelle Sparkman-Renz, GMAC's director of research communications....
U.S. students are less dependent on parental support than their European and Asian counterparts, but those under 24 still expect to finance about 20 percent of their degree with help from family. Students from ages 24 to 30 intend to have parents pay for about 10 percent of their tuition, GMAC says...

The spiraling cost of tuition is one of the reasons students may be relying more on parents to pay for business school, says Dan Thibeault, president and co-founder of Graduate Leverage, a student loan consolidation and debt management company in Waltham, Mass. Of the MBA students he works with, about 15 percent to 20 percent have $150,000 worth of debt when they graduate, he says.
"That was unheard-of five or six years ago. Maybe a student in a four-year dental program would borrow that much, but for a student to come out of a two-year MBA program with that much debt is almost shocking," he says. "It may lead a sympathetic parent to say, 'Wow, that is a suffocating amount of debt. I have to get involved.' " 
Source:  Bloomberg Businessweek

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fewer employers offer tuition reimbursement

College students hoping to receive graduate school tuition reimbursement from their future employers should take note of these trends.
More business students receive employer tuition assistance, but fewer employers offer the benefit and fewer still will pick up the whole tab.... 

Today's working MBA hopefuls are facing more rigorous selection criteria and tougher odds than the generation before them when it comes to getting an employer to pay their way through school. Research suggests employers have found new ways to make the most of their graduate tuition investments, and avoid being burned by fickle employees who accept the money and leave anyway.
A growing number of prospective students are without the benefit at all. In 2010, 56 percent of employers offered graduate school assistance, down from 69 percent in 2003, according to annual benefits data collected by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The group's data show an average steady decline in offerings of about 2 percent a year. For companies with 500 employees or more, 75 percent offered the benefit in 2010, down from 80 percent in 2007.
Meanwhile, use of such programs more than doubled between 1992 and 2007, according to a 2010 joint study by SHRM and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), with the biggest boost among employees seeking graduate degrees. Thirty-six percent of employees reporting tuition reimbursements in 2007 said they were pursuing a master's degree, vs. 21 percent in 1992. Business was the top area of study reported in the survey, which included management, accounting, finance, marketing, and business administration degrees....

One reason tuition reimbursement is on the decline is that employers no longer expect a return on their educational investment. Cappelli says few employers viewed tuition sponsorship as a program where they would see an actual return on their investment following a student's graduation. 
Source:  Bloomberg Businessweek

Monday, May 30, 2011

New York to end Regents test 'fishy' scoring

Responding to a suspicious spike in the number of students barely passing high school Regents exams, New York State education officials have ordered schools to end the longstanding but controversial practice of rescoring tests that fall just below the passing grade.
I previously posted about "something fishy" going on with New York Regents scores, and now the state has finally decided to end this questionable practice.
In recent years, statistics show, an unusually large number of students have obtained exactly the minimum score needed to pass the exams, which are required for graduation and are often graded by students’ own teachers.
For more than a decade, state regulations required schools to reread science and math Regents exams with scores within five points of the passing grade, which has shifted from 55 to 65 over those years. The purpose was to ensure that no student would fail to graduate because of a scoring mistake.
But in practice, schools began to reread barely failing exams in every subject, according to several investigations and anecdotal reports. And at times, the process shifted from a quality review to an all-out effort to find points to help students graduate. Five Regents exams — one each in science, math and English and two in social studies — are required for graduation.
State officials have acknowledged unusual scoring patterns, and earlier this month ruled that high schools could not rescore any “open-ended” questions, ones with written or essay answers, in which grading is more subjective. In a message to principals this week, the New York City Department of Education made it clear that rescoring multiple-choice questions was also prohibited.
The order is part of a wider effort by the city and the state to shore up the accuracy of the Regents and other standardized tests as they ask them to carry an ever-growing weight in a data-driven accountability system for schools. In the next several years, teachers will begin to be judged in part on how well students do on the Regents. They are already an important factor in other high-stakes decisions, including annual A-to-F city school report card grades, whether schools are closed for poor performance, and whether principals are praised or fired. 
Shouldn't the next thing be for New York to end the practice of teachers scoring their own tests, the ones that will be used to judge their performance?

ADDEDMs. Eyre writes:
I'm pretty sure that every single teacher who has ever scored a Regents exam has been asked to scrub at least once.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Increase class size while improving student achievement - it can be done

Eric Hanushek writes that if schools were allowed to lay off teachers based on effectiveness instead of based on LIFO (seniority rules mandated by New York State) they would be able to save money by increasing class sizes while improving student achievement levels.  Maybe it IS true that schools can "do more with less" and that a "leaner school system might just be a better one".
The economic downturn across the country has a lot of people talking about class size reduction. By and large, people are saying bigger classes would be a calamity for public schools. These discussions, while ever-tinged by politics, ignore both basic facts and research evidence....
This situation has led to hysterical news media coverage about enormous classes and testimonials about how it has simply become impossible to teach with so many students in one class. It has also prompted the class size reduction lobbyists to quote back their evidence with the twist of how this is the worst thing that could happen to schools....
But increasing class size means that some current teachers must be laid off, and here the schools have an advantage. They know how effective their teachers are, so they are not forced to lay off an average teacher. They can in fact lay off below average teachers.
When budget shortfalls necessitate reductions in force, laying off the weakest teachers would lead to dramatic improvements in student achievement. As I have described elsewhere, replacing the worst 5-8 percent of our teachers with average teachers would be expected to move student outcomes near to if not at the top of the international league tables for math and science performance. And this would have enormous benefits for the U.S. economy and for the students who now have greater skills when they enter the labor force.
But wouldn't the increased class sizes offset any gains? In simplest terms, no. The evidence has been rehashed many times. The latest Brookings study, for example, concludes once again that the small class size increases from the current fiscal pressures would be virtually undetectable. Part of the confusion over the outcomes arises from the unwillingness or inability of schools to make decisions based on the effectiveness of teachers. By applying last in, first out rules (LIFO for short) to any dismissals, schools almost completely eliminate the chance to improve the learning for our children. When you use seniority as the determining factor in layoffs, you let some of your best teachers go. And, because their salaries are lowest, you have to lay off a greater number of new teachers (as opposed to more senior teachers).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where will "credential inflation" take us?

...large numbers of college students are studying little and learning almost nothing of lasting benefit...
Although large numbers of college graduates are perilously weak in basic skills, there continues to be a significant earnings disparity between graduates and non-graduates.  George Leef  points out that job opportunities for non-credentialed employees have been dramatically diminishing over the years.
Many firms now require that applicants have college degrees, even for work that calls for nothing more than basic trainability.
But how's that working out for employers?  "Credential inflation" means the human resources receptionist must have a college degree, whether it's in communications, marketing or any other number of majors that typically maintain painfully low standards for graduation.  Companies are paying a premium for a credential that in many cases is providing relatively little value.

With the much ballyhooed "education bubble" upon us, causing the cost of a college education to reach stratospheric heights, will employers began a shift to bypass the standard credentials that have been devalued by higher education's focus on social rather than academic learning?  Will they attempt to find new ways to judge potential workers?  While I'm not predicting this will happen soon, I can envision a future where motivated, intelligent young people will be able to take advantage of online learning and other affordable options to gain credentials that will attract attention from innovative companies.  Companies may find that bypassing the inflated credentialing system can be a good way to shake things up as they attempt to survive and even thrive in our changing economy.

Salman Khan's words come to mind.
To the point about replacing universities, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.  But I think it’s an interesting idea and to think about that you have to realize that a university is about two things - it’s a credential and it’s learning.  I think Khan Academy is going to be able to really change how the learning part is done in a pretty significant way.  The credentialing part, getting your degree from Stanford or Harvard, that’ll probably be there for a little while.  I think if you fast forward ten years from now I mean it’s not going g to happen overnight   I mean this is social change happening. 10 years, 20 years, I think an employer would rather see your log from a site like Khan Academy where it doesn’t just get a 3.2 GPA in psychology it gets what you did , when you did it, how well you did it, how well were you able to help your peers, how consistently did you work,  wow, this guy worked 3 hours every day for 20 years on this stuff, this is a persistent kind of guy that I want working for me and we’ll be able to give people that type of analytics.  I think that can be a more powerful transcript than just a high level degree right now.
Found at Instapundit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Phonics skills chart from Scholastic

According to this chart from Scholastic, phonics skills are typically learned up until 6th grade, with many of the basics mastered by 3rd grade.
Not sure what kind of phonics activities you should start with? Confused about the levels of phonics instruction? Fuzzy on how to tell when a student has mastered a phonics task? Check out the chart below, created with the guidance of phonics expert Wiley Blevins.
Task Competency
Approximate Age of Mastery
Child can recognize letters by name.
Child can point to an "A" and call it an "A."
Child can recognize a few letters by sound.
Child can point to a "P" and say that it makes the sound /p/.
Child can recognize rhyming sounds and alliterations in simple words.
Adult asks child to name a word that sounds like "cat." Child says, "hat."
Child can identify when the first letter sound of a word is different from the first letter sound of another word.
Adult shows a picture of a sock, a sun, and a boat and asks which picture name begins with a different sound. Child says, "boat"
Child can blend simple word parts together to form a word. Child can also distinguish a lower-case letter from an upper-case letter.
Adult says /k/ /at/ and asks the child what word has been spelled. Child says, "cat."
Child can blend individual letter sounds together to form a word.
Kindergarten/ First Grade
Adult asks the child what word is made when these sounds are put together —/k/ /a/ /t/. Child responds, "cat."
Child can segment, or separate, a word sound by sound.
First Grade (Mid – to – late)
Adult asks the child what sounds make up the word "cat." Child responds, "/k/ /a/ /t/."
Child understands how changing letters in a word changes the sounds and the meaning.
First Grade
(Mid – to – late)
Child spells '"cat" and when asked is able to change the "c" to another letter to make a new word such as "bat."
Child can sound out one-syllable words with short and long vowel spellings.
First Grade
(Mid – to – late)
Child can sound out the words map, rain, and bean.
Child can sound out multisyllabic words.
Grades 3–6
Child can sound out the words sometimes, everything, customer, pilot, and remember.
Child can use prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots to sound out and define new words.
Grades 3–6
Child can sound out the words unhappy, repeating, telephone, and autograph.

It appears that certain groups of children especially benefit from explicit phonics instruction.  Some students, such as highly intelligent children with no learning disabilities may do fine without phonics lessons.  While there are some benefits that everyone can gain from phonics, it is probably not a critical curriculum component for many early readers.
TeacherVisionResearch has shown that systematic, explicit phonics instruction results in better growth in children's ability to comprehend what they read than non-systematic or no phonics instruction (Report of the National Reading Panel, 2000). Although many students (approximately 50%) will learn to read despite the instructional method employed, the other half who struggle will require systematic, explicit phonics instruction if they are to become successful readers.
"Programs including systematic instruction on letter-to-sound correspondences lead to higher achievement in both word recognition and spelling, at least in the early grades and especially for slower or economically disadvantaged students" (Adams, 1990).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

College educated people 'more likely to get married and stay married'

Washington PostResearchers increasingly are finding a connection between marriage and education. In 2009, 31 percent of brides had a college degree, up from 21 percent in 1996.
Marriage has become a much more selective institution in today’s society,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “People who are college-educated, more affluent or more religious are more likely to get married and stay married. People who are not are less likely to get married in the first place, and if they do marry, they’re more likely to divorce.”
The Marriage Project has found that people without a college degree are three times as likely to divorce in the first 10 years as those with a college degree. 

Of course, we knew this.  But this scenario does seem to have the makings of an increasingly divided society.

Monday, May 23, 2011

In reducing merit aid, Brandeis University is also improving yield

It is always in a university's best interest to improve its yield rate, defined as the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll.  A high yield rate not only makes for a more efficient admissions process, it also indirectly helps a college's ranking.  Although the USNWR rankings do not measure yield directly, they do factor in acceptance rate, which is inversely proportional to yield.  The more students accept a school's offer, the fewer offers it has to extend.  Acceptance rates are important and widely used in judging a school's selectivity.

From the Brandeis student newspaper:
According to Vice President of Enrollment Keenyn McFarlane, the number of merit scholarships offered to students has been gradually reduced in recent years and will be further reduced for the Class of 2015. The further reductions are due to the fact that many students offered merit aid in recent years declined attend the University.
According to McFarlane, the reduction of merit-based aid has been "ongoing" for "several years." McFarlane said that after reviewing the incoming class each year, the administrators in Enrollment found that they were more "effective" in being able to fund students when money was given in the form of need-based financial aid rather than merit scholarships since the number of students who received merit-based aid and matriculated into Brandeis has declined by 78 percent since 2006. McFarlane said the University also has a higher yield rate of matriculation when need-based aid is given rather than merit scholarships. The number of merit aid offered to accepted students has declined by 16 percent since 2006....
McFarlane said that giving money in the form of financial aid need rather than merit scholarships would be more in line with the "social justice philosophy" of Brandeis. "We want to be giving out money to those who need it," he said....
Additionally, McFarlane also said that he does not believe that the elimination of merit scholarships will affect the competitiveness of students applying to and attending Brandeis. McFarlane said that although the number of students with merit scholarships has declined, the performance of accepted students has not. According to statistics from the Office of Enrollment, the average SAT scores of students accepted in to Brandeis has remained near 1400 on a 1600 scale. The average SAT scores of students who have matriculated have remained in the mid-1300s.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I don't think this online college degree stuff is going away

If you think online degrees will remain just a niche, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences.
I noticed this writer first began to think about the higher education bubble when he started looking at colleges with his high school junior son.  Yup, I know the feeling.
There's a market-disrupting force at play in higher education that isn't so prevalent in housing: information technology. Specifically, readily available, much-lower-cost, Web-based alternatives to the standard fare. The Web's potential to let customers bypass the bricks-and-mortar status quo applies just as much to higher education as it does to book selling or stock trading.

Yes, a big part of the college value proposition is the on-campus experience -- the social as well as academic engagement, frat parties as well as chemistry labs. But for those who just want the knowledge, skills, and diploma, it's only a matter of time before online and other unconventional learning tracks become the norm rather than the exception. If you think online degrees and courses will remain just a niche or are a passing fancy, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences. College courses and degree programs delivered mostly online are cheaper, more convenient, and often more specialized than traditional programs, even if they don't (yet) bestow the same prestige.

Established universities are starting to step up. For example, a colleague of mine is now earning a master's degree in media management through the prestigious University of Missouri-Columbia school of journalism. The coursework, which spans about 36 semester hours, includes a discussion component analogous to class participation. Students do have to take a professional seminar on campus for three days, and they must defend their thesis in person, typically requiring a half-day on campus. Otherwise, it's all online. And she's doing it while holding down a full-time job.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Voters approved 'tightly controlled spending' in this year's school budgets School districts are crediting their strong communication efforts, detailed budget breakdowns and, above all else, tightly controlled spending for Tuesday's many one-sided votes for school budgets....
Overall, voters approved 48 out of 53 budget proposals in Westchester , Rockland and Putnam counties — the same number as last year. Budgets were defeated in Mahopac, North Rockland, Greenburgh Central 7 and, by overwhelming numbers, in Mount Vernon and East Ramapo.
Many spending plans for 2012-13 were approved by better than 2-to-1, signaling strong voter satisfaction with most districts' efforts to minimize tax increases during tough economic times.
Local districts proposed an average spending increase of 1.97 percent for next year and an average tax-levy increase of 2.6 percent....
Many districts have tried to make clear at what points spending cuts will require larger class sizes and compromise the quality of education that people have come to expect....
Jeff Diamond, who was elected Tuesday to the Blind Brook school board after offering detailed criticisms of school spending, said voters have little incentive to vote against budgets with small spending increases because school boards can adopt contingency budgets that are not much different.
"Voters need to recognize that the greatest impact they can have on budgets is to elect school board members who will do a good job," he said. 
I generally agree, although I'd like to see stronger communication efforts and more detailed budget breakdowns, as well as more advocacy for fundamental changes.

Paying for college is top priority for parents

In the eyes of parents, being able to pay for their children’s college education is just as important as being able to own a home or live comfortably in retirement. And it’s more important than being able to leave an inheritance to their children....
A parent’s own educational background does not have a significant impact on the importance they place on being able to provide for their children’s educational needs. Parents who never attended college are just as likely as those who earned a four-year college degree to say being able to pay for their children’s college education is extremely important.
The vast majority of parents expect that their children will pursue a college education. Among those with one or more children under age 18, 94% expect at least one of their children will go to college. There are no significant differences across racial or ethnic groups—white, black and Hispanic parents are equally likely to think their children will go to college. In addition, there is very little variance across income groups. While 99% of parents with annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher think their children will go to college, 93% of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 say the same, as do 91% of those making less than $30,000 a year. Again, parents’ own educational experience does not seem to influence the aspirations they have for their children. Parents who did not graduate from college (93%) are just as likely as college graduates (97%) to say their children will go to college.
The most surprising part of these results was that parents across the board have high expectations that their children will attend college.  However, these expectations are unrealistic according to the ACT study that found only 24% of high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  Colleges are adjusting, with 36% of first-year students taking at least one remedial class.  Meanwhile, high student loan default rates and graduation rates of under 50% suggest going to college is not the right path for everyone.

In a future post I'll address the issue of how many parents have actually started saving for college. 

(Cross posted at Kitchen Table Math )

Should taxpayers only fund college loans to academically proficient students?

This idea is attractive, although I can see where many would consider it heartless and unfair.  It's clear that many universities will not impose standards requiring their students to be college-ready, so perhaps the federal government could help by placing restrictions on the money it lends.  It could potentially raise academic standards and save some people from themselves.  The student loan rate is up to 40% among some two-year colleges, and student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
What the Department of Education does now is to give loans to every college student who demonstrates financial need without examining evidence of academic ability and other criteria of credit-worthiness.
Our current situation reminds me of the problems associated with the federal loan home loan programs that contributed to the housing crisis, where credit standards were lowered so that loans could be given to people who otherwise could not afford home ownership.

In Minding the Campus, Jackson Toby asks us to consider this proposal. 
Insert a risk-assessment component into all future student loans that includes past academic performance in order to maximize the likelihood of loan repayment and minimize defaults that add to the national debt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A few ideas on how colleges must change

Chronicle of Higher EducationAnd unless they rethink the way they do business, education experts say, some colleges will be forced to shutter.
"We're staring fundamental change in the face," said Stephen R. Portch, a former chancellor of the University System of Georgia. "Our system is bankrupt, and we've got to have a new model."...
To meet both the academic and financial challenges, colleges will have to rethink how they do business, Mr. Smith and others said. Among the ideas discussed: three-year degrees, year-round classes, online courses, adopting learning outcomes tied to real-world standards, and changing federal financial-aid policy to meet nontraditional students' needs.
What the conversation can't be about, said Nasser H. Paydar, chancellor of Indiana University East, is more money. "Universities just aren't going to get much more of it," says Mr. Paydar, who overhauled the budgeting process at his state university, putting spending decisions in the hands of deans and giving them incentives to be more entrepreneurial in seeking new sources of funds. 
Three-year degrees and more online courses seem to be very realistic changes that we'll see soon.

School budgets overwhelming approved in Westchester County

I think voters sent a message that they support the public schools and were pleased with this year's attempts to rein in costs.  Mount Vernon is one sad exception, a district with serious problems that transcend one budget being voted down.

Source:  The Journal News

'Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high.'

The Chronicle of Higher Education Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high. And low-income college graduates or those burdened by student-loan debt are questioning the value of their degrees, or saying the cost of college has delayed other life decisions....

Indeed, the general public is fairly shouting its concern about college costs in a companion survey of 2,142 Americans, ages 18 and older, by the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of those polled said college was out of reach for most people. Twenty-five years ago, six in 10 Americans felt that way, according to a survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The squeeze is real. College costs have been on the rise, increasing 50 percent over the last decade, Mr. Shi said. By contrast, family incomes actually fell between 2000 and 2009. Ask young adults why they're not enrolled in college or don't have a bachelor's degree, and the overwhelming response in the Pew survey: money....
The belief that college has become prohibitively expensive is shared across class and race lines, among Americans of all income levels, by those who went to college and those who didn't—by everyone, it seems, except college presidents.
Forty-two percent of university leaders, in fact, say most Americans are able to pay for a college degree, according to the Pew Research Center/Chronicle survey.
Why is there such a divergence of opinion between presidents and the public? For one, there's a certain amount of variance among college leaders, with those who typically serve low-income students more concerned about sticker shock. Nearly two-thirds of community-college presidents, for instance, called tuition unmanageable.
Some educators blame the gap on the failure of college officials to make the case about the whys of higher-education pricing. Students and parents, they argue, have a poor understanding of such practices as tuition discounting and don't fully appreciate the costs that go into a college degree, expenses that include faculty salaries and health insurance, remedial-writing labs, even climbing walls. "If they want to buy a Mercedes-Benz," said Stephen J. Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University, "we need to say why it costs more than a cheaper vehicle."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For some, a college degree is a 'bad bargain'

Some people are looking at the ROI (Return on Investment) of a college degree, and questioning its value.
Among the warning signs, a quarter of college graduates who earn less than $50,000 a year now say their degree was a bad bargain. A number of presidents say they have begun to see a trend of "trading down," of price-sensitive students and parents opting for more affordable institutions, such as community colleges or local public universities. They worry: Could some of those students opt out of higher education altogether?
Many jobs require college degrees simply because employers have decided a degree serves as a useful marker for a certain level of discipline and intelligence.  With the widespread belief that college academic standards have declined and with the price of college becoming increasingly unaffordable, will that change?
But whether ponying up for a degree leads to a fat paycheck seems to be a little unclear, at least to the average American. While a plurality of those surveyed maintained that the main purpose of college is to learn specific skills and knowledge for the workplace, a third of college graduates said their current job doesn't require a degree. Asked what it takes to succeed in the work world, respondents ranked a college education below a good work ethic, getting along with others, and skills acquired on the job.