Thursday, May 28, 2015

Articles for May 28, 2015

Deciding to Go to College (New America Foundation) [PDF]
The first brief in the series on results from the College Decisions Survey, this article covers why students choose to go to college, the factors they use to apply to a specific college, and how financial concerns play into those decisions. Unlike other similar coverage, these data will include traditional and non-traditional students.

What's interesting is that the first figure shows the top reported reasons to go to college, with the top three--"to improve my employment opportunities," "to make more money," and "to get a good job"--centered around expanding financial horizons. Put that beside the second figure that show the top reported factors in deciding a specific college, and you won't find "how many graduates find full-time employment in the field within six months" until #5 on the list; others centered around graduation and ROI are in the same chunk of the ranking. Instead, the highest percentages go to those questions related to more immediate concerns: "the majors/programs that are offered," "availability of financial aid," "how much it costs," and "where it is located."


In my view, that means the onus is not (solely) on the college to provide programs that will lead to a well-paying job. It seems that many soon-to-be students already have a pretty firm perspective about college ("Going to college will get me a better job, and I am interested in this subject, so I'm going to go to college and get a degree in it and be able to get a good job in that field."), but is it accurate? This, then, seems to imply that students--not industry, not colleges, not high schools, but students--are put in charge of making the degree-career connection.

For further investigation, I have a hunch that a student's purpose for staying in college is not always the same as what drives them to enroll in the first place; I'm interested to see if subsequent briefs cover this. I'm also interested to see a comparison of the reasons for choosing a specific institution and the actual value a student feels he/she got out of that institution.

The Class of 2015 (Economic Policy Institute) [PDF]
This report looks at the role of young people in the economy, particularly in the context of the current economic recovery from the Great Recession. Specifically, the focus is on recent high school and college graduates not enrolled in further education, but trying to become established in the work world.

For me, the takeaway from this report is personal: "Young workers who have the bad luck to enter the labor market during a downturn not only have worse outcomes in the short run than if they had entered in a healthy market; these negative effects can last a very long time" (p. 26). I graduated college in December of 2006, and spent the next two years bouncing between substitute teaching, a number of short-term teaching jobs, and a full-time job in a education-related private company. When I got my first full-time classroom teaching position, I had no prep hour, no textbooks, no curriculum, and four different subjects to prepare for. I spent every Sunday in my home office scrambling to get ready for the week ahead. And I made less than $2000 a month.

College Completion: Taking on the non-cognitive side of the equation (msdf.org)
Todd Penner's blog highlights what may be the most important, and most often ignored, factor in increasing college success, and it's not academic readiness, nor the high cost of tuition, nor the inability to gain admission; it's the non-cognitives. If we want to encourage more students to go to college, and more colleges to open their doors, and remove 'barriers' to success, then we must be aware that this will not be adding more of the same to the student population mix. More students means more different stories, backgrounds, and needs, and colleges need to respond to this.

From my perspective, these are the most difficult factors to give credence to, especially if you're a successful college president who loves learning, identifies as smart and managerial, and exudes confidence. Without perspective, it's difficult to see how simply walking onto a college campus, let alone sign up for a class, can take courage and guidance. It can be easy to take for granted those classroom survival skills that some learn through observation. It might be even a little painful to admit that some students do well because they have figured out the "how"--how to write a paper to get a good-enough grade, how to study just enough for the test, how to interact with the instructor. These might be important as part of a classroom experience, but they diminish the actual cognitive ability involved in the success.

The most startling part of the blog comes about mid-page: "Up to 75 percent of all college drop-out decisions among historically underrepresented students are non-academic in nature..." Some graduates of the boot-strap school might dismiss that as "too bad" and throw up their hands. But we're in an economy and a time when, frankly, we can't afford to see that many students unable to process through an experience like college. Even if, as my colleague claims, we are becoming over-educated and the law of diminishing returns is starting to factor in, could we extrapolate this and potentially see those same drop-outs unable to maintain a steady job, or fulfill parental responsibilities, or stay current with a mortgage payment?

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