Moving on up

From the Equality of Opportunity Project.

With less ambitious criteria — colleges where most bottom-fifth students reached the upper three-fifths in earnings — the list of upward-mobility colleges starts with New Jersey Institute of Technology, Pace and Cal State, Bakersfield. Xavier of Louisiana, a traditionally black college, ranks sixth.

College ‘degree premium’ goes flat

Is a college degree the new high school diploma? asks Jeffrey Selingo in the Washington Post.

The “degree premium” — the earnings gap between high school and college graduates — grew rapidly in the 1980s, slowed in ’90s and has plateaued since 2000, according to a new study by Robert G. Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Technology investments in the ’80s and ’90s increased the demand for college graduates, displacing lower-level workers, writes Selingo. After 2000, “the money started to flow to automation and artificial intelligence,” supplanting workers with four-year degrees.

 Overall, higher education leads to higher lifetime earnings, stresses Valletta. However, young people should remember that not all colleges or majors have equal value in the workplace. The degree premium numbers may be affected by the growing number of for-profit college graduates who often see little or no increase in earnings. (Here’s more on the degree premium.)

Cosmetology students have the most trouble repaying student loans.

Cosmetology students have the most trouble repaying student loans.

The U.S. Education Department’s new “gainful employment” report targets career programs at for-profit colleges. These colleges cost a lot more than community colleges for the same training, the report concluded.

Overall, about a quarter of programs failed — or nearly failed — the debt-to-earnings test.

A string of art institutes produced graduates who didn’t earn enough to pay off their loans, the report found.

Some majors, such as cosmetology and culinary arts, led graduates to poorly paid occupations.

Sixty-one percent of cosmetology graduates who received federal aid graduated from low-value programs, notes the Center for American Progress. “These results suggest the need for serious reconsideration of licensing rules that may be forcing students to attend and borrow money at programs that are tied to occupations that will never pay enough to justify the price.”

Criminal justice graduates also did poorly in the workforce. It’s likely they hoped to be hired as police officers and ended up as security guards.

The Trump administration should expand “gainful employment” rules to all college programs whose students use federal loans and grants, not just those that are explicitly vocational, writes New America’s Kim Dancy. Students should know before they borrow, she argues.

Tell the truth about college readiness

Image result for remedial college readiness

“Sam” earned mostly B’s at Average High. Is he/she/they prepared to pass college classes? Maybe, if the B’s were for achievement rather than effort and teachers’ standards were high enough. Maybe not.

U.S. schools don’t tell students the truth about college readiness, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Fordham chief and assistant U.S. secretary of education, in National Affairs.

Then colleges admit unprepared students who require remedial classes. Most will “leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion,” writes Finn.

Ambition and optimism are laudable traits. So is this country’s long tradition as a place of second chances, a land where you can always start over, compensate for past mistakes, choose a new direction, and find the educational path that takes you there. But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging.

Nearly all high school students say they want to go to college. They know that college graduates do far better in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. But don’t realize they’re not prepared to earn a degree.

. . . our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses.

If colleges stopped admitting unprepared students — or the feds linked student aid to college readiness — people would be very, very angry, Finn writes. But what if it were possible?

We’d see greater seriousness about academic standards and achievement throughout the system and a lot more truth-telling. Fewer people would drop out of college, dejected and burdened by loans they cannot realistically pay back. More young Americans would truly be prepared for good jobs, economic success, upward mobility, and full participation in 21st-century life in a post-industrial economy. The country would be more competitive, too.

The money saved could go to high-quality technical education, he writes. Instead of  “college for all,” the mantra should be “honesty is the best policy.”

While elite students are loaded up with AP courses, most U.S.  high school students are learning less in high school, writes Marc Tucker.  They go to open-admissions colleges “with little more than middle school knowledge and literacy,” well below what it takes to earn a degree or go on to “attain a middle-class standard of living.”

Raising standards requires persuading parents that “their children have more to fear from standards that are too low than from standards that are too high,” Tucker writes. “Therein lies the core challenge for education leaders in the years ahead.”

Include working-class whites in ed reform

Image result for white "working class" american familiesTrump supporters recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a June campaign rally in Redding, California. Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters

By framing education as the “civil rights issue of our time” and focusing on the racial achievement gap, reformers “tacitly made education reform a race-based endeavor,” Robert Pondiscio wrote last year. There’s been much praise for inner-city charters for black and Hispanic students, little attention to small-town schools that educate (or fail to educate) white working-class kids.

Pondiscio didn’t think Trump would win. But he saw the people who might be drawn to Trump.

There are about twice as many non-Hispanic whites as blacks living below 150 percent of the poverty line in the U.S.

. . . Keen observers like Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart warned us that we are becoming a nation divided less by race than class. Births out of wedlock, crime and joblessness are not uniquely inner city problems. They are almost as prevalent in Murray’s “Fishtown.” As work disappears, physical disability claims have skyrocketed by millions, creating a new economic underclass helpfully absent from sunny unemployment figures.

“If education reform truly is the civil rights struggle of our time, it’s time once again to widen the definition of rights-at-risk to include working class white people too,” wrote Pondiscio.

I’d like to see a serious push for high-quality career-tech education linking high schools to community colleges to employers. Two-thirds of young Americans do not earn bachelor’s degrees; a majority won’t earn any college credential. They need more than college-failure prep.

Go to high school, learn a trade

Lance Cohen uses a cutting wheel to shorten a piece of ductwork as Dulaney High classmates (left to right) Zach Iacoboni and Xavier Engleton watch. Photo: Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun

At Baltimore County’s Dulaney High, students can learn a skilled trade, reports Jonathan Pitts in the Baltimore Sun. Students can go on to become heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technicians, a high-paying and booming field that doesn’t require a college degree.

“It’s satisfying to be able to diagnose problems, develop a plan and carry the plan to completion,” says Hailey Brennan, 16, who plans to become a mechanical engineer. The junior already is a certified air-conditioning technician.

Jamie Gaskin’s students design and build an air-conditioning system each year for a classroom.

They break into three groups: one to measure and cut sheet metal for a duct system, one to make and hang the ducts overhead, a third to shape, connect and install the five-eighths-inch copper tubing that will carry the refrigerants.

Senior Zach O’Neill brings Gaskin a length of pipe he’s trying to bend to 90 degrees.

Gripping it in a clamp and twisting hard, the teacher shows him how to create the crook without leaving too much ribbing in the metal.

“Harder than it looks — thanks,” O’Neill says, and lumbers off.

At the end of the school year, Gaskin “coordinates meetings between his HVAC students and representatives from about a dozen local businesses.”

Meritocracy’s losers: No degree, no respect

Horatio Alger stories spread the belief that anyone can succeed, if they work hard enough. Educational elitism marks the modern U.S. economy, writes Victor Tan Chen in The Atlantic. College-educated winners scorn working-class Americans as “as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated.” A Virginia Commonwealth sociology professor, he’s the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. 

Our culture is an extreme meritocracy, writes Chen. We believe anyone can “make it” in America. It follows that those who don’t succeed deserve their low status.

“The well-educated and well-off who live in or near big cities tend to endorse the notion, explicitly or implicitly, that education determines a person’s value,” writes Chen.

More so than in other rich nations, like Germany and Japan, which have prioritized vocational training to a greater degree, a college degree has become the true mark of individual success in America . . .

For his book, Chen interviewed laid-off auto workers, all former union members, who shared the view that the educated deserved to live better than the uneducated. Yet, “two-thirds of Americans age 25 and over do not have a bachelor’s degree,” he writes.

The labor market has become more polarized, as highly paid jobs for workers with middling levels of education and skill dwindle away. And as many have argued, advances in artificial intelligence threaten a net loss of employment (even for the well-educated) in the not-so-far-off future.

A new government report warns automation will increase demand for high-level technical skills — and decrease demand for routine skills.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli calls this the great “coming apart.” Educational attainment (or the lack of it) is “the new dividing line.”

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He suspects “that a college education is simply a marker — of people who were lucky to be born into relative affluence and the stable homes that generally accompany it; of individuals with the ‘soft skills’ that allow them to persevere in their educations, but also—when they’re so disposed—in their jobs, even in their marriages.”

Some countries — Singapore, Switzerland, Germany — offer high-quality career and technical education linked to apprenticeships and jobs, he writes. The U.S. pushed a “bachelor degree or bust” strategy, writes Petrilli.  “The number of bachelor degrees has increased a bit, but the size of the ‘bust’ is much, much larger.”

High school grads need ‘middle skills’

A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters
A man walks his dog past a mural depicting factory workers in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Nelles/Reuters

Donald Trump persuaded Carrier to keep 1,000 production jobs in the U.S., but he won’t be able to make manufacturing great again, writes Anthony Carnevale in the Hechinger Report. To earn a middle-class living, high school graduates will need to train for “middle-skills” jobs. For most that will mean earning a vocational license, certificate or associate degree.

Robots, not low-paid Chinese workers, are responsible for most of the decline in manufacturing jobs.

Who’s taking manufacturing jobs?

Manufacturing jobs aren’t being shipped to low-wage countries like Mexico or China, writes Carnevale, who heads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In recent years, 88 percent of job loss in manufacturing is due to gains in productivity, such as increased use of robots.”

The economy needs service workers, he writes. While 19 percent of new jobs are low-paid, low-skilled “McJobs,” 36 percent are middle-skill jobs in “health care, information technology, financial services, office-based clerical and administrative work” and skilled work in construction, repair, and machinery operations. These jobs “pay close to the median earnings of all full-time, full-year workers ($42,000), if not more,” writes Carnevale.

In 1967, only 25 percent of workers had “some college,” he writes. “Now 61 percent of workers have some credentials beyond high school.”

We expect that about 20 percent of high school graduates, almost all men, can achieve a middle-class income through jobs that mostly involve skilled manual labor. But that still leaves nearly one-fifth of workers with not enough education or skills to thrive in the modern economy.

Manufacturing, which now employs 9 percent of the workforce, is not going to make a dramatic comeback, he argues. “The  United States should be investing in training and education that meets these workers where they live.”

STEM apprenticeships should be the future

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future construction workers, writes New America’s Nneka Jenkins Thompson on Ed Central. It’s a form of paid experiential learning that can help prepare students for well-paid, high-demand STEM careers.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

Corning’s Technology Talent Pipeline pays students to study engineering and science at Corning Community College, while they work at least one day a week in company labs. “One hundred percent of Pipeline apprentices have transitioned to technician positions at Corning and remain at the company as full-time worker,” writes Thompson.

The company also has sponsored a new P-TECH school that will let teens train for technical careers while earning community college credits.

STEM requires a strong foundation in math, she writes. Yet only 20 percent of students who took the ACT in 2016 were prepared for entry-level math, ACT estimates.

“Apprenticeship can boost students’ confidence while building competence,” writes Thompson. Students learn to learn from mistakes, which are expected in hands-on learning environments. “When students see the results of what their own hands produce, they grow in confidence.”

Half of jobs that require STEM skills are in manufacturing, health care, or construction. Pay averages $53,000 a year — without a college degree.

Here’s more on the new model of apprenticeships.

How to do vocational ed right

Finland does vocational education right, writes Elizabeth A. Radday in Education Week. Ninth graders choose an academic or vocational high school: Nearly half choose the vocational path. It’s not considered the second-class track, writes Radday, who spent six months in Finland on a Fulbright.

Students at the Lahti circus school.

Students work on a certificate in “circus arts” at a school in Lahti, Finland.

Vocational schools offer certificates in a wide range of fields from plumbing and electricity to “tourism, business and entrepreneurship, health services, natural resources, technology, social services, and catering,” Radday writes. She visited a school where students learn to be circus performers.

Each year, vocational students spend at least six to eight weeks as apprentices. Employers are willing to provide training and evaluation.

After earning a certificate, typically at age 19, young people can find a job, train for a higher-level certificate or pursue a degree at a university of applied sciences. Those who wish can take the admissions exam for entry to a traditional university.

“College for all” has been the U.S. mantra for a long time now. Yet only a minority will complete a college degree. Few high schools offer high-quality vocational education and even fewer link students to apprenticeships.

The Obama administration tried to promote partnerships between employers, high schools and community colleges. I hope Trump’s education people can go farther to strengthen career-tech education and end the college (or nothing)-for-all philosophy.

Apprenticeships are expensive for employers — but worth it, reports New America’s Michael Prebil. A new federal report, The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeship: A Business Perspective, discusses 13 case studies.

Poor achievers do little better than rich slackers

“Poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” writes Matt O’Brien in the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog.

The chart, based on research by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, shows that 14 percent of wealthy high school dropouts stay in the top income tier, while 16 percent of low-income college graduates stay in the lowest tier. “These low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells,” writes O’Brien. “Some meritocracy.”

Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 percent of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead. It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

By contrast, low-income graduates are more likely to earn a low-value degree from an unselective college or a “diploma mill.”  Blacks who earn a “good degree” are more likely to “live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities,” writes O’Brien.

Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter that primarily educates low-income and working-class Mexican-Americans, offers career networking to help its graduates find professional jobs once they complete college. (Go ahead: Read the book.)