Dropouts need not apply in Silicon Valley

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed. But don’t believe that high-tech companies care more about “the caliber of your code” than your college degree, writes Lauren Weber in the Wall Street Journal.

High-tech companies — especially those in Silicon Valley — are more likely to demand a college degree for software developers than other employers, according to a Burning Glass Technologies survey.

In 95 percent of tech-sector job ads that specify a credential, the employer wants a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“Some firms are experimenting with ‘blind hiring‘ processes—designed to judge job applicants purely based on work samples rather than resumes,” writes Weber. However, that’s the exception.

Via Eduwonk.

If they can’t read, they can’t do well in college

The new SAT, which demands sophisticated literacy skills — even in math — could “penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading,” educators told the New York Times.

College instructors must teach students how to read academic books, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

College instructors must learn to teach reading, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

It’s not unfair to require high-level reading ability to get into higher-level education, responds Timothy Shanahan, who founded the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The SAT is supposed to predict college success. Poor reading is an excellent predictor of college failure.

On a recent visit to a Montana middle school, Shanahan taught several lessons which required students to read their math and science textbooks. It was a new experience, the seventh and eighth graders admitted. The teachers were good at explaining things, so the students never learned to work their way through a textbook on their own.

These students won’t be prepared for college if they can’t make sense of what they read and apply it, writes Shanahan.


He grew up in a working-class community and wasn’t on the college-prep track in high school, he writes. But he found a list of books that college-bound students should read and tackled them. “I’m not claiming that I got as much out of reading Moby Dick or Microbe Hunters on my own at 16 as I would have under the tutelage of a good teacher (or as I have upon rereading them as an adult), but trying to understand such touchstone texts pays dividends,” he writes.

Reading challenging books will prepare students to succeed in college, writes Shanahan.  If “college entry is going to become biased against those not prepared for college . . . I think it’s about time.”

Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, is under fire for suggesting giving tuition refunds to likely-to-fail students who leave early in their first semester. “You think of the students as cuddly bunnies,” he wrote in an email to a faculty member.  “You just have to drown the bunnies.” Or, perhaps, “put a Glock to their heads.”

So, why did Mount St. Mary’s admit these no-hope “bunnies” in the first place?

When college is a foreign land

Ten years ago, students at a wealthy New York City private school, Fieldston, exchanged visits with students at a high-poverty Bronx public school three miles away.

Johnny Rivera, a University Heights senior, met Fieldston junior Adam Ettelbrick. Photo: Ryan Pfluger, New York Times Magazine

Johnny Rivera, a University Heights student, with Fieldston’s Adam Ettelbrick. Photo: Ryan Pfluger, New York Times

This American Life, which covered the program, talked to University Heights students 10 years later. Two-thirds went on to college, but few earned a degree, reports Chana Joffe-Walt. Like the elite private school, college was “a foreign land.”

A top student at University Heights, Melanie was nominated for a Posse scholarship, but lost out in the final round. She gave up on college.

Tracked down a decade later at the grocery store where she is now employed, Melanie acknowledged that she does the work she’d always hoped to escape: “wearing the uniform, servicing these people.” She meant the ones who’d gone to Fieldston.

But she knew that she was the one to blame: “I just grew angry at myself for making that choice of saying, ‘Well, I’m going to accept this,’ instead of fighting against it.”

Teachers at both high schools offered to help, but Melanie did not accept.

Her classmate, Raquel Hardy, remembers the Fieldston library, where students could leave their book bags unattended with laptops inside. University Heights didn’t have a library. “It motivated me,” she told Joffe-Walt.

Also rejected for a Posse scholarship, Hardy won a scholarship to Bard. “My first year, I got C-pluses and B-minuses,” she said. “It was devastating to me because I was an A-plus student in high school.”

But she persisted and earned a degree. She doesn’t know anyone else in her class who graduated. She’s now a teacher.

Her high school boyfriend, Jonathan Gonzalez, went to Wheaton on a Posse scholarship. He couldn’t afford textbooks, so he stopped doing the work or going to class. He ignored offers of help and flunked out. At 25, he works at a gym and lives with his mother.

Via Education Gadfly.

Few graduate at ‘cafeteria colleges’

Easy come, easy go is the reality at community colleges, writes Meredith Kolodner in the Hechinger Report. Only 39 percent of degree-seeking students earn a credential within six years. A quarter of fall enrollees are gone by spring.

The “cafeteria college” — take whatever courses you fancy — isn’t serving students’ needs, argues Tom Bailey, who runs the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.

Without college-educated parents to guide them — and good luck getting time with a college counselor — many community college students pick courses that won’t help them reach their goals. They get frustrated and drop out. Or they transfer and learn that their credits won’t be counted.

In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges, Bailey and colleagues Shanna Smith Jaggers and Davis Jenkins argue for creating pathways to a degree.

The “defined pathway” that we’re talking about would create a default program, which would lay out semester by semester the courses a student needs to complete a degree.

It provides an easier way to understand sequence of courses. If you want to take other courses you can, but then you have to talk to somebody about that. It has to be part of a plan.

Some colleges offer “nine or 10 meta majors,” says Bailey. “You might not know you want to be a nurse, but you’re interested in the medical field. Or business. There are some basic courses in those fields that everybody takes. They don’t need to specialize that much.”

President Obama’s plan to make community college free won’t raise the graduation rate unless it’s combined with other reforms, says Bailey. “Financial burdens do prevent students from continuing, but I think the evidence about whether that alone will do it is much weaker.”

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

First to college — but not to a degree

More low-income students are enrolling in college, but few go on to earn a degree, reports Liz Riggs in The Atlantic. Just 11 percent of low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college will earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Many are poorly prepared for college work, struggling with financial burdens and working long hours, writes Riggs.

When Nijay Williams entered college last fall as a first-generation student and Jamaican immigrant, he was—despite being admitted to the school—academically unprepared for the rigors of higher education. Like many first-generation students, he enrolled in a medium-sized state university many of his high school peers were also attending, received a Pell grant, and took out some small federal loans to cover other costs. Given the high price of room and board and the proximity of the school to his family, he opted to live at home and worked between 30 and 40 hours a week while taking a full class schedule.

What Williams didn’t realize about his school—Tennessee State University—was its frighteningly low graduation rate: a mere 29 percent for its first-generation students. At the end of his first year, Williams lost his Pell Grant of over $5,000 after narrowly missing the 2.0 GPA cut-off, making it impossible for him to continue paying for school.

Tennessee State’s overall graduation rate is only 39 percent. By comparison, the state’s flagship university, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, graduates 71 percent of students and 54 percent of its first-generation students.

A minority of four-year schools provide adequate support to first-generation students, says Matt Rubinoff, who directs a new nonprofit called I’m First.

Most disadvantaged students choose unselective state universities, community colleges or online programs with low graduation rates and little funding for support services.

If President Obama’s proposal for “free” community college tuition passes — which it won’t — then first-generation, low-income students who could get into a selective university may decide to start at community college instead. (Actually, few low-income students pay any community college tuition, but they might get more Pell dollars to cover their living expenses.) That would be a high-risk decision.

How to prevent college dropouts

The best way to prevent college dropouts is to stop admitting unprepared students to four-year colleges and universities, argues Richard Vedder. People with “some college, no degree” earn little more than high school-only workers, but most have student loans to repay. If they’d started at community college, they might have job skills without the debt.

Tennessee seeks college ‘stickiness’

In hopes of lowering high college dropout rates, Tennessee now links some college funding to graduation rates. State universities are trying to improve student “stickiness,” reports PBS NewsHour.

Core courses can be gatekeepers

General education requirements can be gatekeepers, preventing community college students from earning a certificate or degree. Does everyone need college algebra?

More students quit college

College persistence rates — the percentage of students who enroll for a second year — are declining.