College grads are less ‘engaged’ at work

Engagement by Education Level

College-educated Americans aren’t as engaged and challenged at work as less-educated workers, a new Gallup survey finds. That’s true for all ages and professions. Those with “some college” or a degree were less likely to say that “at work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

Gallup’s employee engagement index categorizes workers as engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged. Engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied with their workplaces, but are not emotionally connected to them — and these employees are less likely to put in discretionary effort. Those workers categorized as actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace, and they jeopardize the performance of their teams.

A majority of college graduates are unengaged — going through the motions — but only 16.7 percent are actively disengaged malcontents, according to Gallup. Not surprisingly, graduates with a managerial or executive job are the most engaged workers.

Many college graduates never took the time to “think carefully about they actually like to do” and what they’re best at, speculates Brandon Busteed, who runs Gallup Education. Then there are “too few jobs for college grads in general, or too many degrees misaligned with the jobs available in the workplace.” In short, the demand for film, theater, anthropology and sociology majors is limited.

At the very least, we have a lot of college graduates getting jobs that don’t put their best talents and skills to work because of a big disconnect between degrees conferred and the jobs available today. At worst, we have a college system that is not helping students accomplish the most fundamental need — getting them closer to what they do best.

Half of recent graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree, according to a 2012 Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll.

Go surfing — then go to college

Instead of going to college next year, Deborah Dunham’s son plans to surf the world. Putting college on hold is the right decision for her son, who loves adventure but lacks education and career goals, Dunham writes in Forbes. College is too expensive to be just for “finding” yourself. Her son will go to college when he’s ready.

In the meantime, my husband and I agree that he should catch all the waves he can.

. . . even though Bradley is already working and saving up for his adventure (we will support his travels, but not fund them), he does still have his eyes on the future. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about ways to marry his passions and talents—like photography and videography of surfing and travel—with a career.

In some countries, it’s not unusual to take a “gap year” between high school and college for work, travel, sports and adventure. But there’s a risk: Once off the college track, Bradley may never get on it. He could find himself as a beach bum — probably a happy one. Or he could show up at college in a few years knowing who he is and what he wants to learn.

No compromise on student loans

Interest rates on federally subsidized student loans double today from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The Democratic Senate leadership blew it by rejecting a sensible bipartisan compromise, writes Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution.

The new proposal, from a group of senators including three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, offers a permanent fix to the now-annual problem of Congressional meddling with interest rates by instead tying rates to the market.

The bipartisan compromise would fix the interest rate for the life of the loan, so there’d be no surprises for borrowers. It also cuts rates on unsubsidized loans used by students from middle-class families. “By charging higher rates to graduate students and on the PLUS loan program for parents, the overall plan is close to budget-neutral according to the Congressional Budget Office,” Chingos writes.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed letting students pay 0.75 percent interest,  ”the same ultra-low rate that banks currently get on short-term loans from the Federal Reserve,” notes Glenn Harlan Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal. Linking interest rates to the market rate is “immoral,” Warren said, rejecting an earlier Republican proposal. What’s Really ‘Immoral’ About Student Loans is not “the still historically low interest rates, but in the principal of the thing,” writes Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who blogs as Instapundit.

Student debt, which recently surpassed the trillion-dollar level in the U.S., is now a major burden on graduates, a burden that is often not offset by increased earnings from a college degree in say, race and gender issues, rather than engineering.

According to an extensive 2012 analysis by the Associated Press of college graduates 25 and younger, 50% are either unemployed or in jobs that don’t require a college degree. Then there are the large numbers who don’t graduate at all. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, more than 40% of full-time students at four-year institutions fail to graduate within six years.

. . . According to a recent study by the New York Federal Reserve, “the share of twenty-five-year-olds with student debt has increased from just 25 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2012″ and “student loan delinquencies have also been growing.”

Colleges have continued to raise tuition — and add administrators — because subsidized student loans have made it possible to get away with it, writes Reynolds, author of The Higher Education Bubble. They can accept students with little chance of earning a degree or finding “gainful employment” and collect the loan money up front. “If students are unable to pay the loans back, the burden falls on taxpayers (if the loan was “guaranteed” by the federal government), and the students themselves, while the schools get off scot-free.”

A serious student-loan fix would change this incentive. First, federal aid could be capped, perhaps at a national average, or simply indexed to the consumer-price index, making it harder for schools to raise tuition willy-nilly. Second, schools that receive subsidized loan money could be left on the hook for a percentage of the loan balance if students default. I would favor allowing students who can’t pay to discharge their loan balances in bankruptcy after a reasonable time—say, five to seven years, maybe even 10—with the institutions that got the money being liable to the guarantors (i.e., the taxpayers) for, say, 10% or 20% of the balance.

“Universities would be much more careful about encouraging students to take on significant debt unless they are fully committed first to graduating, and second to a realistic career path that would enable them to service that debt over time,” Reynolds predicts.

But this goes against federal policy, which calls for all students — including those with little chance of earning a degree — to try college.

Different goals for different folks

Achievement should be defined broadly, argues Ted Kolderie, who works on redesign of K-12 education, with the Center for Policy Studies, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Bob Wedl, formerly Minnesota commissioner of education, asks: “If proficiency meant being able to speak two languages, which students in Minnesota would be ‘high-achieving’?”?

He asks, too: Why don’t we define the “gap” as being below-proficient and close that gap first?

And: Do all students need to be equally good in all subjects? Standards for aircraft differ based on what a plane is going to do. Why not for students? Proficiency might be enough in math for a student heading into the arts. It would surely be too low for one aspiring to an engineering career.

Education reformers — “middle-class folks with advanced degrees and aptitudes that are verbal, conceptual and abstract” — have decided that achievement is “doing well what they do well,” Kolderie writes.  Instead of pushing everyone to do well in school and go to college, we should “recognize that all young people can learn better and need to learn better, but that different students will do well at different things.”

Defining achievement down may sound reasonable, but it’s not, responds RiShawn Biddle. To start with, academic achievement is connected to success in non-academic endeavors.

. . . it is hard to engage in critical thinking without having a strong knowledge base that only comes from being literate, numerate, fluent in science, and knowledgeable about history and philosophy. This is especially important because critical thinking involves dealing with abstractions, the ideas at the very heart of civilization and society; even seemingly basic concepts such as the Golden Rule, as well as discourses mundane and critical, are formed from the complex interplay between ideas, facts, and morals. A child with a working understanding of, say, algebra, will also be able to understand why the Laffer Curve matters in discussions about tax cuts.

Low-income, minority parents have “learned the hard way about the consequences of not having the high-level reading and math skills needed for the high-paying blue- and white-collar jobs,” he writes. They know their children won’t have a future in the job market if they’re not “literate, numerate, and knowledgeable about the world around them.”

High-quality schools serving disadvantaged students, such as KIPP charters, have shown that “poor and minority children can succeed if they are provided comprehensive college-preparatory curricula, high-quality instruction, help in the form of intensive reading and math remediation, and the nurturing cultures of genius in which they are more than just future athletes and musicians,” Biddle concludes.

Remember “natural rhythm?”

Some aren’t ready for college at 18

Not every 18-year-old is ready for a four-year college, says Jeffrey Selingo, author of College (Un)Bound.  Many “end up in college because we have few maturing alternatives after high school, whether it’s national service, apprenticeships or structured ‘gap year’ experiences.” Well, we’ve got military service, work and community college.

Even monsters need higher ed

College for all now includes monsters.

Rocket scientist or plumber?

If you’re not a “rocket scientist,” skip college and become a plumber, advises New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s hard to farm that out … and it’s hard to automate that,” said the mayor. Plumbers make more than some college graduates, he added.

“College is a good investment” for most students, responded Mark Kantrowitz, a student aid specialist.  “The only schools that cost $40,000 or $50,000 like the mayor said are elite schools,” he said. Students who aren’t rocket scientists typically go to less expensive colleges.

4-year vs. 2-year: Does college pay?

Does college pay? It will for the Stanford engineering graduate, but not for the fine arts major from an unselective college — and even less for dropouts. “With unemployment among college graduates at historic highs and outstanding student-loan debt at $1 trillion, the question families should be asking is whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a degree from Podunk U. if it’s just a ticket to a barista’s job at Starbucks,” writes Jeffrey Selingo. Meanwhile, workers with community college degrees in technical fields are doing quite well in the workforce.

Most of the fastest-growing jobs don’t require a degree, but don’t pay well either. Personal care and home health aides average less than $21,000 a year and “helpers” in construction aides average less than $30,000.

College-prep reqs can backfire

Requiring all students to pass college-prep courses risks raising the drop-out rate, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego have raised their graduation requirements:  Unless they sign an opt-out form, all students must pass all the courses required for admission to state universities, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Without strong supports, weaker students may give on earning a diploma, warns the PPIC report, which analyzed San Diego’s transition to the new requirements.

“San Diego students will need to dramatically change the courses they take,” said report co-author Julian Betts, who is also a UC San Diego professor.  ”Clear communication with students, parents, and teachers about the new requirements is critical — and that communication needs to begin in middle school, if not earlier.”

The study recognizes that students may have a harder time graduating with the more rigorous standards, unless schools undertake major interventions to ensure they can succeed.

Requiring college prep may discourage students from taking career tech ed courses, PPIC warned.

In addition, districts “will need to guard against two unwanted side effects: the watering down of a–g course content and possible grade inflation that allows students to graduate even though they are not mastering the content of a–g courses.”

When San Jose Unified required college-prep for all, teachers were under great pressure to give students a D- in chemistry, advanced algebra, etc. so they could earn a diploma.

Corporate reformers push ‘college for all’

The Business of American Business Is Education writes Dana Goldstein in Smithsonian Magazine.  Unlike many European and Asian countries, the U.S. hasn’t centralized education. (Not yet, anyhow.) That “leaves space for business leaders and philanthropists to define and fund what they see as priorities in education reform,” she writes.

Today, a broad coalition of standardized test and textbook manufacturers; mega-philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates and Eli Broad; and CEOs passionate about school reform, like Mark Zuckerberg, coalesce around an agenda that includes implementing Common Core academic standards and tying teacher evaluation, job security, and pay to students’ test scores. The underlying idea is that extraordinary teachers, with high standards for all students, can prepare every child to attend and succeed in college, regardless of a student’s socioeconomic disadvantages.

In the past, business leaders had very different ideas about the role of education, Goldstein writes. They wanted to provide higher education for the worthy few, while training the rest for industry, agriculture and service jobs.

Twentieth-century reformers pushed for ending child labor and increasing the years of mandatory schooling, Goldstein writes. Inspired by the ideas of the management guru Frederick Winslow Taylor, they “implemented complex new evaluation systems to rank and supposedly improve the work of teachers.”

IQ tests were used to track students. The “social efficiency” agenda “consigned many non-white and working class students, as well as some middle-class girls, to courses in sewing, cooking, personal finance and current events.”

The Civil Rights movement refocused reformers on equality. These days, business-oriented reformers — and President Obama — believe more college graduates will invigorate the economy, especially if more young Americans study science, technology and math.

. . . unlike the corporate school reformers of yesteryear, today’s philanthropists are at least united around the goal of opening up a broad array of opportunity to disadvantaged children.

“Technocratic philanthropists” are driving national education policy, concludes Goldstein. There’s nothing new about that.