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.”

More degrees — and more educated waiters

More young Americans hold a college degree of some kind, reports the Census. Some 39.3 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are degreed. President Obama’s goal for 2020 is 60 percent.

However more college graduates are underemployed, competing with less-educated young people for low-paying service jobs.  The number of waiters and waitresses ages 18 to 30 with college degrees increased 81 percent from 2000 to 2010, reports the Census, while college-educated bartenders, dishwashers and file clerks in that age group doubled.


College’s economic value depends on the degree

College is worth it, but majors linked to occupations offer better job prospects than majors focused on general skills, concludes a new Georgetown report, Hard Times: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal (pdf).

Another general rule: “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”

A bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe
shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market. Unemployment for students with new
bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma — and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.

Except for architecture graduates, who’ve been hit hard by the construction crash, unemployment rates are higher in non-technical majors such as the arts (11.1 percent), humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent), social sciences (8.9 percent) and law and public policy (8.1 percent).

Unemployment is low for computer science (7.8 percent) and math (6 percent) graduates who can write software and invent new applications, higher for information systems graduates (11.7 percent)  “who use software to manipulate, mine, and disseminate information.”  However, the report predicts jobs for computer majors will “bounce back strongly” as the recovery proceeds.

Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts, psychology and social work. While new graduates in computer engineering average $60,000, physiology graduates average only $24,000.

2/5 of grads aren’t ready for college or work

Two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce, according to a new study. One third of graduates are ready for college and one fourth are ready for job training. The rest, who typically passed  lightweight, faux college-prep classes, make up a “virtual underclass” with a bleak future.

While more Americans are earning college degrees, the U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal — 60 percent of young adults will earn a degree by 2020 — or College Board’s more modest goal — 55 percent by 2025.

Job prep becomes job one

Certificates or degrees? After pushing for more college degrees, President Obama has endorsed industry-designed certificates in manufacturing skills that will enable community college students to qualify for a job with decent pay in a year. That’s if they don’t need remedial math, reading or writing.

Also on Community College Spotlight: New York City’s P-TECH will run from ninth through “14th grade.” Graduates, who will earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science, will be prepared for IT jobs at IBM or transfer to a four-year university.

Detroit-area students interested in health careers can choose a five-year high school affiliated with a community college and a health center: They graduate with high school diploma, an associate degree in science and clinical experience.

The major matters

New college graduates with bachelor’s degrees start at $27,000 a year — if they can find jobs, according to a new study of 2009 and 2010 grads. That’s down from 2006-08, reports the New York Times. Worse, only 56 percent of the class of 2010 reported holding at least one job by spring, compared to 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007.

Roughly half of recent college graduates said that their first job required a college degree.

The college major matters, concludes Andrew M. Sum, a Northeastern University economist who analyzed 2009 Labor Department data for college graduates under 25.


While, 77.6 percent of college graduates had jobs, only 55.6 percent had jobs that required college degrees. Some of the unemployed were in graduate school.

Only a minority of students with humanities and area-studies (Latin American Studies, women’s studies) majors held jobs requiring a degree.

Pay was low. (The chart includes people working part time, I think.)


Engineers earn more in non-degree-requiring jobs than humanities majors get in degree-requiring jobs.

College graduates who take jobs as bartenders and waitresses — 17 more are taking restaurant jobs, says the Times — crowd out young workers with fewer credentials.

Update:  The lifetime earnings of engineering, computer science and business majors are as much as 50 percent higher than lifetime earnings for humanities, arts, education and psychology majors, concludes a Georgetown study.

Duncan: Career ed must show results

Career and technical education must lead to college-level credentials in order to qualify for federal funding, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  If CTE students complete high school and get jobs, that’s not good enough.

More college-educated waiters

On Community College Spotlight: The college-for-all campaign is a scam, writes Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.  Pushing marginal students to college has increased the supply of college-educated waiters and cashiers.

In a report on “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and education, Achieve concludes that jobs that used to be filled by high school graduates now require some college training.

$1 trillion to meet college goal without for-profits

On Community College Spotlight:  Without a strong for-profit sector, it will cost nearly $1 trillion to make the U.S. first in the world in college degrees by 2020, President Obama’s goal, argues a former University of Phoenix president.

Also, why the smartest students go to community college.

Education 2010: More high-poverty schools

The 2010 Condition of Education study, released by the U.S. Education Department, shows a rise in the percentage of high-poverty schools where more than three quarters of students are eligible for a subsidized lunch. By 2008, 17 percent of schools hit the high-poverty category.

Teachers at high-poverty schools are less likely to have earned a master’s degree and regular professional certification. Only 68 percent of 12th graders in high-poverty schools graduated with a diploma in 2008, compared to 91 percent in low-poverty schools. High-poverty graduates are far less likely to enroll in a four-year college.

However, in 4th-grade reading, the poverty achievement gap has decreased.

There was some positive news from the report, AP notes.

The percentage of 16 to 24-year-old students not enrolled in school, and who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent degree, has dropped from 14 to 8 percent between 1980 and 2008. The total number of college post-secondary degrees earned has also risen markedly, from 2.3 to 3.1 million from 1997-1998 and 2007-2008.

For all students, reading and math scores improved for 9- and 13-year-olds from the early 1970s to 2008, but stayed about the same for 17-year-olds.

Education continues to pay off:

  • In 2008, among young adults ages 25–34 who worked full time throughout a full year, those with a bachelor’s degree earned 28 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree, 53 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 96 percent more than young adults who did not earn a high school diploma. The median of the earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $46,000; for those with an associate’s degree, $36,000; for high school completers, $30,000; and for those who did not earn a high school diploma or equivalent certificate, $23,500.

About three of four students graduated on time with a regular diploma in 2007; two thirds go directly to college. About 57 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Overall, 89 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds have at least a high school diploma or GED,  31 percent a bachelor’s degree and 7 percent a master’s degree or higher.

Between 1971 and 2009, the high school completion rate increased from 59 to 89 percent for Blacks and from 48 to 69 percent for Hispanics. The White-Black gap in high school attainment decreased from 23 to 6 percentage points, and the White-Hispanic gap decreased from 33 to 26 percentage points.

Women made up 57 percent of college enrollment in 2008 bachelor’s degrees and the report estimates that will grow to 59 percent by 2019. However, recession could persuade more men they need higher education, speculates Phill Izzo on a Wall Street Journal blog.

See The Quick and the Ed for more.