High school grades predict earnings

High school grades matter — not just for college success but also for adult earnings — concludes a University of Miami study published in the Eastern Economic Journal. A person’s grade-point average in high school predicts the odds of starting and finishing college and graduate school, the study found. It also predicts earnings 10 years after high school.

one-point increase in GPA predicts a 12 percent jump in earnings for men, 14 percent for women, reports the Washington Post. It also doubles the likelihood of completing college, the study found.

Average earnings in adulthood vs. high school GPAAfrican-Americans were more likely to go to college and graduate school than whites with similar GPAs and background characteristics, said Michael T. French, professor of health economics, who led the research team. It’s possible “African-Americans with relatively high GPAs are more motivated and determined,” he speculated.

However higher high school grades didn’t lead to higher earnings for black adults, the Post reported. Limited opportunities for minorities or a choice to go into lower-paying fields could explain that, French said.

Too few engineering majors?

A former colleague thinks the Washington Post‘s graph is too neat to be real. Here’s the University of Miami researchers’ graph, which seems to have the same data arranged horizontally.


Dhara Patel will graduate from a rural Florida high school with a 10.03 GPA, due to weighted grades for AP and community college courses. (I’ve never heard of a weighted “A” being worth more than 5 points.) She’s already earned an associate degree. Patel is active in student government and high school clubs and volunteers at a local hospital, reports TakePart. And, yes, she’s the valedictorian.

Apprenticeship vs. college

Apprenticeships are hot, but not all lead to middle-class jobs. A elevator constructor mechanic starts at $67,565 in Florida, more than double the starting pay of the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree. But apprenticeships in culinary arts and early childhood education lead to low-paying jobs.

High school is easy, but life is hard

High school is a bit easier than it used to be, but the rest of life is a lot harder, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. He’s been reading UCLA’s latest survey of college freshmen.

In 1966, only about 19 percent of high school students graduated with an A or A- average. By 2013, 53 percent of students graduated with that average.

The grades are higher even though, for many, the workload is lighter. As late as 1987, nearly half of high school students reported doing at least six hours of homework a week. By 2006, less than a third of all students reported doing that much work.

By the first year in college, students are worried about college costs and payoffs. They’re much more likely than earlier generations to see college as job training, writes Brooks.

In 1966, only 42 percent of freshmen said that being well-off financially was an essential or very important life goal. By 2005, 75 percent of students said being well-off financially was essential or very important.

“Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” was a priority for 86 percent of first-year students in 1966. Now, less than half say that’s essential or very important, Brooks points out. “In the shadow of this more Darwinian job market, it is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.”

Fidgety boys, sputtering economy

Fidgety boys end up as unemployed men, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

In the last 25 years, the portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent and women’s median earnings are up almost 35 percent. Men’s earnings haven’t risen at all, writes Leonhardt. “Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.”

Some blame the surge in single-parent families for the “boy crisis.” Girls who grow up with one parent — usually a mother — do almost as well as girls from two-parent families. Boys do much worse.

Others say schools aren’t boy friendly. In elementary school classrooms, fidgety boys are expected to sit still and pay attention to the female teacher.

Duncan twists truth to hit for-profit colleges

Seventy-two percent of for-profit colleges’ career programs “produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a White House news conference. That earned
two “Pinocchios” for lying from the Washington Post’s fact-checker. Essentially, Duncan compares apples to oranges — with a few lemons thrown in — to make for-profit colleges look bad.

Here’s why career-minded students choose for-profit colleges over much cheaper community colleges.

‘College premium’ is inflated

The “college premium” has been exaggerated by high-profile studies, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad in The Atlantic. So has the payoff for majoring in a STEM field.

Smarter people are more likely to earn a college degree and to major in engineering, science and math, they write.

Only 58 percent of new college students who began in 2004 had graduated six years later, according to federal data. “Dropout rates are even higher at less selective colleges, whose students are presumably most on the margin between attending college following high school and entering the workforce.”

Calculating returns to education only for those who attend college and graduate is like measuring stock returns for Google while ignoring those for General Motors.

High school students who go on to college are quite different from those go directly to the workforce, they write.

(The collegebound) took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college . . .

Controlling for “both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics” cuts the “earnings boost attributable to college attendance” in half, write Biggs and Haddad.

Graduates in technical fields earn significantly more than graduates in “softer” majors, studies have shown. “High school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores,” write Biggs and Haddad. “High-paying jobs also entail longer work hours.”

The college penalty

What school will make you poorest? asks Jordan Weissmann on Slate. Every year, Payscale surveys college graduates to assess their earnings relative to their college costs. At almost two-dozen colleges, the average graduate’s “earning power won’t increase enough to justify the cost of tuition,” writes Weissmann. “To be blunt, these schools make students poorer.”

“Payscale doesn’t compare the alums of low-ranked colleges to demographically similar high school grads,” notes Weissmann. So colleges that enroll less-capable students will do worse at raising their earnings.

The Atlantic looks at colleges and majors that are the “biggest waste of money.” For example, “the self-reported earnings of art majors from Murray State are so low that after two decades, a typical high school grad will have out-earned them by nearly $200,000.”

Here are the degrees with the lowest 20-year net return, according to Payscale. Bold names are for in-state students. There are a lot of education degrees on the list.

Unless you’re attending a rigorous, high-prestige university, an arts degree is a risky bet, points out The Economist.  “Of the 153 arts degrees in the study, 46 generated a return on investment worse than plonking the money in 20-year treasury bills. Of those, 18 offered returns worse than zero.”

The Payscale study overstates the financial value of a college education, warns The Economist. It compares graduates’ “earnings to those of people who did not go to college—many of whom did not go because they were not clever enough to get in. Thus, some of the premium that graduates earn simply reflects the fact that they are, on average, more intelligent than non-graduates.”

University wants to give 2-year degrees

Kent State University wants to award two-year degrees to students on their way to four-year degrees. Dropouts would have something to show for their time in college — and the university would get more state funding for awarding more degrees.

Two-year degrees in nursing, allied health fields, mechanics, construction and welding increase earnings significantly. Child care degrees do not.

Is the STEM shortage a myth?

On the Big Bang Theory, physicist Sheldon visits neuroscientist Amy in her lab.

The shortage of scientists and engineers is a myth, writes Michael S. Teitelbaum in The Atlantic.  If there were a real shortage, wages would be rising, he writes. To the contrary, “real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.”

U.S. students earn mediocre scores on international exams because large numbers of high performers are balanced by lots of low performers, he argues. 

. . . there continues to be a large pool of top science and math students in the U.S. OECD data on “high-performing” students suggests that the U.S. produces about 33 percent of the world total in this category in the sciences, though only about 14 percent in mathematics.

“Every high school graduate should be competent in science and mathematics — essential to success in almost any 21st century occupation and to informed citizenship as well,” he writes. But that doesn’t mean there’s a huge unmet demand for scientists and engineers.  

The STEM shortage myth is a myth, responds Robert D. Atkinson in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide. Science and engineering graduates are finding jobs — not just in tech-based industries — at higher wages.

As the Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rothwell shows, the earnings premium for STEM skills (controlling for experience, education and sex) has grown from around 22 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2012. Dartmouth’s Matt Slaughter and UC San Diego’s Gordon Hanson found that “the inflation-adjusted wages of major STEM occupations grew over the last decade while real wages for most other U.S. occupations fell.” Hardly evidence of surplus.

STEM shortage denial is rooted in a desire to keep out high-tech immigrants, Atkinson argues.

You can’t go wrong with a computer science major, writes Yahoo’s Rick Newman, looking at PayScale’s 2014 College Report. 

Only two of 288 schools that offer computer science — Indiana University-Purdue and Virginia Commonwealth — produced a return below the median for their graduates. At the top of the scale, meanwhile, more than a dozen computer-science schools returned $1 million or more over 20 years, making this the top-performing field.

By contrast, the return-on-investment for business majors varies depending on the college, he points out. “At nine schools, including Fayetteville State in North Carolina, the University of Montevallo in Alabama and Colorado Mesa University, students studying business actually earned a negative return, according to PayScale. That means they would have done better, on average, if they went to work right out of high school and never spent money on college.”

The earnings data relies on self-reporting, so be wary.

In This is Not Your Father’s STEM Job, Jessica Lahey looks at women who are “forging novel, interdisciplinary, STEM-based careers that blur categories and transcend agenda.”

But are they typical of female STEM workers? Probably not.

Texas shows college options, pay-offs

What will it cost to major in anthropology — or dental hygiene — at nearby colleges? What do graduates earn one year and 10 years out? Texas has created a searchable, customizable site that helps prospect students browse possible majors, careers and college options. It also includes a “reality check” to help young people estimate how much they’ll need to earn to support their lifestyle.

The college premium is growing, but higher education’s benefits vary significantly by “individuals, types of credentials, occupations, and geographical locations.”