Cheap college is better than ‘free’

Hillary Clinton’s “free college” proposal  — no tuition at in-state public universities for families earning up to $125,000 — is proving to be popular with middle-class voters. But it would prop up the old, expensive, unsustainable higher ed model, writes Julia Freeland Fisher on CNN.

The way to make college affordable is to encourage alternatives, writes Fisher, education research director for the Christensen Institute.

For example, short, intensive coding “bootcamps” cost students $5,000 to $15,000 — sometimes payable only after they find jobs. Employment rates are strong:  General Assembly reports “a 99% job placement rate into a student’s field of study.”

. . . Southern New Hampshire University’s College For America (CfA) has managed to offer online competency-based degrees at just $3,000 per year — a fraction of the cost of a traditional brick-and-mortar degree. CfA partners directly with employers to design their curriculum — ensuring that students graduate with skills that the labor market actually values — and allows students to move through coursework at their own pace.

These alternatives focus on workforce preparation, but “there is no reason innovations can’t usher in new offerings that allow students to explore the world and their place in it, or to study a range of humanities and the liberal arts,” writes Fisher. “But there is also no reason those experiences should be priced into behemoth traditional institutions’ broken business models.”

College degree or competence test?

udacitybillboardUdacity guarantees its “Nanodegree” will lead to a job within six months.

“Alternatives to traditional college diplomas,” such as competence tests, would let students “pursue their own best options for learning” and  “demonstrate educational mastery to prospective employers,” says a new report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Colleges would have to cut costs to compete.

“Even as IT and the Internet have created new ways to research, learn, and impart knowledge,” colleges have no incentive to innovate, the think tank observes. Helping students learn outside the classroom “would cut into their revenue.” Raising standards might “drive away customers.”

Students meanwhile have little incentive to push themselves harder than necessary to earn their degrees, since degrees are opaque, deriving their value from institutional brands rather than clear measures of academic achievement.

The report goes beyond “attempts by the Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Measuring College Learning project and other reform-minded players to determine the right competencies or desired learning outcomes for academic disciplines or degree tracks,” reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

The think tank calls for the federal government to encourage “standardized assessments from outside groups, not colleges or other education providers,” to measure learning normally certified by a college degree.

And those assessments should not discriminate based on where a student achieved the necessary proficiency, whether through learning on the job, by taking MOOCs, studying on their own or by attending a four-year university or a community college.

When  hiring, federal agencies should require proof of competence, not degrees, the report said. Student aid should include alternative learning options, such as MOOCs.

Glenn Reynolds wraps up the case against college for all: Most students won’t learn much and many won’t find jobs that use their degrees, he writes. Meanwhile, tuition and debt keep rising.

Udacity’s online Nanodegree comes with a job guarantee: Find work within six months or get your money back. Students pay $299 a month to qualify as an “Android Developer,” “iOS Developer,” “Machine Learning Engineer” or “Senior Web Developer.”

Backlash: Diversity training boosts bias

Here’s a non-surprise: Mandatory diversity training leads to less diversity and more hostility, concludes a study published in the Harvard Business Review.

. . . five years after instituting required training for managers, companies saw no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and Hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%.

Trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward.

Voluntary training led to better results, researchers found.

Research from the University of Toronto reinforces our findings: In one study white subjects read a brochure critiquing prejudice toward blacks. When people felt pressure to agree with it, the reading strengthened their bias against blacks. When they felt the choice was theirs, the reading reduced bias.

Stressing the benefits of a multicultural workforce, rather than the risk of lawsuits, college recruitment aimed at women and minorities, mentoring new hires and creating in-house diversity efforts led to a more diverse managerial workforce over time. Bringing in outside consultants backfired.

I went through this sort of mandatory training in my newspaper days. One Power Point presentation featured purple hippos, because nobody employed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers was a purple hippo.

School administrators might benefit from a look at the research.

Jobs are back, but not the same jobs

Nearly all the jobs created since the Great Recession have gone to workers with some college education, according to America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Divided Recovery Infographics

Managerial and professional workers are doing well. Workers with a high school diploma or less, such as clerical and blue-collar workers, are struggling to find work.

Production industries, such as manufacturing, construction and natural resources, employed nearly half of the workforce in 1947; that’s fallen to 19 percent in 2016.

Now, nearly half the workforce is in healthcare, business, financial, education and government services, which primarily employ managerial and professional workers with college degrees.

In 2016, for the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are a larger proportion of the workforce (36 percent) than those with a high school diploma or less (34 percent), the report noted. Thirty percent are “middle-skill” workers with more than a high school diploma — often a vocational certificate — but less than a bachelor’s degree.

Explaining why a Texas gas station chain pays workers well while competitors do not, Kevin D. Williamson includes a fun fact: “The median salary for a women’s-studies professor is more than a hundred grand a year. The average hourly earnings for a graduate with a women’s-studies degree? Eleven bucks an hour, well less than you’d make working the car wash at Buc-ee’s.”

In prison — and in college

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid under the $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant program.

Under a pilot program, 12,000 inmates at 141 state and federal institutions will receive grants worth up to $5,815 to pursue a two- or four-year degree from an approved college or university,  reports USA Today.

The 1994 crime bill explicitly banned giving Pell aid to prisoners. Secretary of Education John King is using “experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act” to evade the ban.

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison's school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison’s school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

The program is focused on prisoners likely to be released — and job hunting — within five years, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “Most of the colleges chosen will offer classes in person at the correctional facilities, while some will offer online classes.” In addition,  many “plan to offer a range of support services and tailor their instruction to local labor markets.”

Many of the 67 participating colleges are community colleges with expertise in job training, but others are universities such as Rutgers and Ashland University (Ohio) with experience in correctional education.

“Inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars—from remedial math to vocational auto shop to college-level courses—are up to 43 percent less likely to reoffend and return to prison,” according to a 2013 RAND study. “They also appear to be far more likely to find a job after their release, and the social stability that comes with it.”

Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five dollars, RAND concluded, by keeping former inmates out of prison.

Two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts and many are illiterate. But they’ve got plenty of time to study. Online education makes it more feasible to educate prisoners.

Know before you go

Colorado universities aren’t happy about a new web site,, which helps potential students estimate the return of investment on college based on their major, school and degree.

For example, a dental hygienist with a two-year degree can expect to earn considerably more than a sociologist with a four-year degree.

Dental hygienists with a certificate or two-year degree earn more than many non-technical college graduates.

Dental hygienists with a certificate or two-year degree earn more than many non-technical college graduates.

The site includes survey of graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs (often low) and with their lives (typically quite high).

A graph shows graduates’ earnings vs. a high school graduate with no college credential. Some college grads take many years to equal and then surpass the earnings of less-educated workers.

“There are many degrees that don’t have a return on investment, and you should know before you go,” said Mark Schneider president of College Measures, which helped launch the site.

What colleges don’t teach: How to get a job

Twenty years ago, Aimée Eubanks Davis taught low-income, black students in a New Orleans middle school, reports Gabrielle Emmanuel on NPR. She was proud when former students earned college degrees, but many first-generation college graduates “didn’t know how to get that good, first job,” the teacher discovered. They didn’t know successful professionals. They had no career networks.

Black and Hispanic college graduates are less likely to find employment than white classmates and earn less over their careers, researchers have found.

Eubanks Davis created a nonprofit called Braven, which has partnered with San Jose State and Rutgers. Professionals from the working world teach workplace skills to small groups of college students.

Yannick Kpodar, a consultant by day, teaches Braven students in an evening class at San Jose State. Students do most of the talking, while he critiques their presentation skills.

Jalil Ahmad, a Braven student at San Jose State, was inspired by a tour of Google.

Jalil Ahmad, a Braven student at San Jose State, was inspired by a tour of Google.

Acting as consultants, Braven students analyze data, conduct interviews and recommend solutions to the student debt crisis.

One group says colleges should solicit corporate sponsors to pay some of the costs, while another plans to itemize everything — the gym, the library, the student union — so students pay only for what they use. A third group proposes giving students a lifetime to repay college loans.

The top team won a tour of Google.

Braven students are more likely to stay on track to graduation, reports San Jose State, which has made the program a for-credit course. Braven students are twice as likely to find internships and other work experiences.

“It’s extremely difficult for college graduates to figure out what they need to do to best prepare for the workforce,” writes Jeffrey Selingo. “One recent study predicts that nearly half of American jobs are at risk from automation and artificial intelligence.”

After college, what comes next?

Young people spend lots of time choosing a college and very little choosing a career, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution. He provides two graphs:

For those interested in “effective altruism,” the 80,000 Hours career guide has advice on careers that are enjoyable and useful.

Only 40 percent of college graduates are confident their education has prepared them for a career, according to a McGraw-Hill survey. Men — and those in technical majors — feel better prepared.

While 79 percent of students are satisfied with their college experience, an increasing number say they wish they’d had more internships and professional experiences, more time for career preparation and better access to career planning tools.

From special ed to the workforce

Kelly Custer teaches horticulture students at River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C. Photo: Grey Korhonen/Atlantic

After years of “inclusion,” only two-thirds of special-ed students earn a regular high school diploma. Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities are even less likely to complete high school. As adults, most are unemployed or underemployed.

Now, “specialized workforce academies for students with intellectual/developmental disabilities are growing in popularity,” reports Alia Wong in The Atlantic.

At the River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C., mentally retarded students who’ve completed a mainstream high school train for jobs in plant care, hospitals and hotels.

When they’re in the classroom, students learn soft skills—What does it mean to have a job? How do you keep a job? How do you deposit a paycheck?—and practice their work tasks in retrofitted classrooms. (Students in the hospitality track, for example, learn how to prepare a basic meal, make a bed, clean a bathroom, and load a laundry cart in a room that’s equipped with a bed, a hotel-like bathroom, a washing machine, a dining table, and more.) But students spend most of their days doing internships in their respective industries, all of which are paid.

Adrian Bland tried various jobs at Embassy Suites — housekeeping, laundry attendant, dishwasher and door person — before deciding she likes to be a porter. A June graduate, she’s been hired for a permanent job.

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital, where she washes tables, stacks trays, restocks the food court and other tasks.

“Many of [my students] have experienced school as a place where, academically, they’re left out,” said Kelly Custer, who teaches in the horticulture track. “In previous experiences they were the ones that were doing very poorly in class; now, they’re getting 100s in their classwork, and you can see . . .  it changes their confidence—and that spills over to the worksite.”

Workforce academies are controversial, writes Wong. Some critics value inclusion above all. Others complain “the programs pigeonhole severely disabled students into a vocational path and as a result never encourage them to consider college.”

Some colleges offer special programs for intellectually disabled students, she writes. However, these focus on social skills, not preparing students for jobs they might be able to do as well as anyone.

Some River Terrace students have exited 13+ years of mainstreaming without having learned how to read. Half didn’t complete their year-long program this year and only five got permanent jobs. Should they rest consider college?

Most young adults with significant disabilities can work in non-sheltered jobs, according to the Collaboration To Promote Self-Determination.

Job training doesn’t require college skills

Students don’t need college-level academic skills to learn marketable job skills, write Northwestern researchers James Rosenbaum and Caitlin Ahearn.

Occupational certificates require 8th to 10th grade-level math and English, according to community college faculty in California and Illinois.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

A Cisco Certified Network Associate starts at at $45,600 in Florida, they report. Pump operators who’ve earned a certificate are in high demand: 92 percent are employed at an average wage of $56,196. Paramedics and practical nurses also do well with a certificate, but no degree.

Florida’s College and Career Readiness Initiative informs 11th graders if they’re on track for college-level courses, giving them time to remediate in 12th grade, they write. However, it “targets college readiness exclusively, and assumes that the same standards apply to occupational tracks.” Students and teachers have no idea there are community college programs that will admit less-prepared students and train them in marketable skills.