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.