Tennessee: 2-year degree pays off

New associate-degree graduates in Tennessee average higher earnings than four-year graduates. Health care, construction and technology are top-earning fields for two-year graduates.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Community colleges will get $500 million in federal grants to fund job training.

What if they built a school and nobody came

When it’s completed this fall, a new $105 million high school in southern California will be “be a high-tech academic hub with wireless Internet, a robotics lab, digital smart boards in every classroom and a first-rate performance hall worthy of any ‘Glee’ hopeful,” writes the Los Angeles Times.  Hillcrest High will  have everything but students.

Hit by state funding cuts, the Alvord Unified School District “doesn’t have the money to turn on the lights or hire staff.”

Voters passed a bond issue in 2007 to build and equip the new school. Hillcrest High will remain empty — at a cost of $1 million a year — for at least a year. Students will go to La Sierra High School, a campus with 3,400 students, more than twice the number it was designed for.

LA Times hits college construction waste

Mismanagement, waste and shoddy construction plague the Los Angeles Community College District’s $5.7 billion rebuilding program, reports the LA Times.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Facing $400 million in budget cuts, California community colleges may stop subsidizing classes for students who aren’t moving toward a degree and “activity” classes such as yoga, dancing and drawing.

New construction workers need math skills

When construction comes back, skilled workers will be needed to replace those pushed into early retirement by the long slump. But many young people don’t have the math skills to learn construction jobs, contractors fear.

Associated General Contractors of America’s regional chapters are supporting about a dozen construction charter schools or construction career academies across the nation, reports McClatchy Newspapers.  “In addition, many are involved in high schools and outreach programs designed to teach basic math skills to young men and women.”

Even if students get passing grades in math — and that’s a fairly big if — they’re not being taught how math applies to the work site.

And construction is all about math. Everything from carpentry and brickwork to grading and sloping involves math.

Construction veterans are shocked at how few graduating students have functional math abilities. That’s why associations and contractors are trying to teach applied math skills.

“If it’s just a page in a book, and here’s the formula and here’s how you put it together, there is no understanding of what it does for you,” (Ted) Aadland, (president of the contractors’ group) said. “Why would you, how would you figure the volume and area? That’s what really clicks with people.”

Joe Youcha, executive director of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, works in schools and with courts and community groups to teach applied math across all grade levels. He also runs a boat-building apprenticeship program.

Youcha’s program starts with basic math. In fact, he wrote an instructional book for a Virginia carpenter’s union that requires a high school diploma or GED. When he was first approached, Youcha assumed that it would involve everything from advanced ruler reading to trigonometry.”They were like, ‘No. You have to start with place-value charts, whole numbers and addition and subtraction,’ ” said Youcha, who has an Ivy League degree in history but found his calling teaching applied math. “They come out of school not being able to name the number in front of them. They can’t tell you that 1,075 is one thousand and seventy-five. And they come with a degree.”

Increasingly, construction jobs require the ability to run computerized equipment, says  Aadland.  “All our grading now with heavy equipment is all computerized, and everything is done by satellite in bringing down grades. The industry is really reacting and training the craftspeople as we go.”

Milwaukee seeks millions for . . . ?

Milwaukee Public Schools could get $88.6 million in construction funds under the stimulus bill — “even though the district has 15 vacant school buildings, a large surplus of property and no plans for new construction,” reports the Journal-Sentinel.

Enrollment is declining every year, and the last major wave of construction in MPS – the $102 million Neighborhood School Initiative launched in 2000 – resulted in projects that are underused, have not met enrollment projections or have closed. A series in the Journal Sentinel in August detailed how tens of millions of dollars in construction spending did not produce the expected results, and the project as a whole has not led to a higher percentage of students attending neighborhood schools.

In general, MPS facilities have been described by school officials as being in good to better-than-good condition.

Hasty public investment often is wasted, writes economist Greg Mankiw.