‘Addicted’ to bachelor’s degrees

America must break its “addiction” to bachelor’s degrees and recognize other routes to the middle class, said Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research, as part of a lecture series on social mobility.  “The contemporary bachelor’s degree takes too long, it’s too expensive and it’s not for everyone,” he said.

Wage data show that one- and two-year degrees and certificates in technical fields lead to rewarding careers, reports Diverse.  Plumbers and technicians with a vocational certificate can earn more than $71,000 a year a decade after entering the workforce. That’s more than many bachelor’s degree holders earn, especially those in non-technical fields. “Where you learn how to fix things, you win,”  said Schneider.

His College Measures web site provides information about expected wages for different degrees or certificates.

We have to make people understand there are cheaper ways to get people into the labor market,” Schneider said, noting that surveys have shown students say high wages and middleclass careers are important goals.

On average, four-year graduates earn more than those with two-year degrees, but “much is hidden in the averages,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“What we have is a big black box in American higher education, a big impenetrable black box. It cost about $450 billion per year. It has 20 million students in it,” Carnevale said. “We’re not sure what produces learning and earning. We drop money in it every year, pay almost no attention to what comes out at the other end, and at some point that becomes intolerable because we don’t have another $450 billion.”

Both agreed the U.S. can’t afford to keep putting money into higher education without considering the outcomes.

 

Beyond college rankings

Which colleges and universities add the most “value” to a graduate’s paycheck? Brookings’ value-added rankings analyzes the difference between students’ predicted and actual mid-career earnings.

Cal Tech, MIT and Stanford do well, but so do Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, Colgate in New York and Carleton College in Minnesota.

Two-year colleges with high-value added scores include the New Hampshire Technical Institute, Lee College near Houston, and Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

U.S. News rankings imply that Harvard graduates do well because they went to Harvard, notes Liz Shaughnessy. But these schools “primarily admit rich, smart students . . . who may have done well at any college or university.”

In contrast, Brookings Institution focuses on the value-added boost that these schools actually provide their graduates when controlling for such factors as student’s wealth, their academic profiles and their majors. Depending on government and private sources, the think tank analyzes the difference between actual alumni outcomes (like salaries) and the outcomes one would expect given a student’s characteristics and the type of institution.

Cal Tech alum with 10 years of work experience, for instance, earned 49 percent higher salaries than would have been predicted, with the average grad earning $126,200. Grads from Colgate, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, were earning slightly more at $126,600, which is 46 percent more than would have been predicted.

Colleges rank higher if they encourage high completion rates, offer generous financial aid and produce more graduates in engineering, health care, computer science and business.

The ranking also looks at graduates’ ability to repay their student loans and the salary trends of alumni’s occupations.

College pays for ‘marginal students’

Enrolling in a four-year college brings large benefits to marginal students, concludes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Students who barely qualify for a four-year university — say, a C+ average and an 840 SAT — go much farther than those who just miss the cut-off, according to two new studies. Lower-income students and men see the largest gains.

In a Georgia study, about half of those who just made it into a state university earned a bachelor’s degree in six years. That compared to a 17 percent graduation rate for those who just missed, many of whom started at a community college.

“I fell in love with learning,” said Carlos Escanilla, a graduate of Florida International University.  Photo: Brian Smith/New York Times

Carlos Escanilla “fell in love with learning” at Florida International University. Photo: Brian Smith/New York Times

Florida students who just cleared the cut-off earned 22 percent more by their late 20s than those who just missed.

“It’s genuinely destructive to give people the message that we’re overinvesting in college, that we’re in a college-debt bubble, that you’ll end up as an unemployed ethnomusicologist with $200,000 in debt working at Starbucks,” David Autor, an MIT economist, told Leonhardt.

The story’s anecdote features Carlos Escanilla, a C+ slacker with a 900 SAT (out of 1600) who squeaked into university. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now a psychotherapist.

There are late bloomers. But how many?

College pays — in different ways

It’s hard to estimate the labor market returns of college, concludes a new Aspen Institute report.

A Harvard graduate who becomes a teacher may earn less than a community college-trained engineer or nurse. A bachelor’s in history may have little market value — till it’s used to earn an MBA.

An associate of arts degree has no stand-alone market value, but it can be a low-cost step to a four-year degree that raises earnings.

Career-tech students — especially adult workers — improve their earnings even if they don’t finish their community college programs.

The Onion reports on Maryland senior Kevin Grant, who doesn’t realize that rejection by his first-choice college means his future is over.

“It sucks, but the good news is I did get accepted to Rutgers and Maryland, which are both really solid schools,” said Grant, somehow managing a smile even though his inability to attend his top-choice university has obliterated any possibility he will ever get into a good graduate school, embark on a satisfying career, or make enough money to support himself, let alone a family. “Tufts was probably a long shot, anyway, but I’m still glad I applied.”

“I’m sure I’ll be happy wherever I end up,” added the student destined for a life of limited opportunities, unending frustration, and bitterness.

It’s satire.

College pays — but not much for some majors

Recent college graduates who majored in psychology, social work or the arts earn a median income of $31,000, according to From Hard Times to Better Times, a new report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The median salary of workers with only a high school diploma –including experienced workers — is $32,000.

New humanities and liberal arts graduates earn a median of $32,000. Education majors start at $33,000, on average.

On the flip side, new engineering graduates average $57,000 a year.

Of course, college graduates are likely to move up the salary scale as they gain experience, leaving most less-educated workers behind.

Unemployment rates are declining for college graduates — except for communications and journalism majors, the report finds. College graduates have maintained their earnings advantage over high school-only workers, who are earning less. However, “a full recovery in the employment of college graduates, especially at the Bachelor’s degree level, may be as far off as 2017 and a full recovery in earnings may take longer,” the report concludes.

Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

People who’ve earned long-term vocational certificates and associate degrees start at higher wages than four-year graduates, a Tennessee study shows. After five years, the bachelor’s degree holders have caught up with two-year graduates, but don’t quite earn as much as the certificate holders.

Major decisions: What graduates earn

College pays a lot more to the numerate than to the nice. Graduates in engineering, computer science and other quantitative fields will earn a lot more than people who major in early childhood education, family sciences (home economics), theology, fine arts, social work, and elementary education. Over a working lifetime, a chemical engineer can expect to earn more than $2 million. The average graduate with a four-year degree in early childhood education can expect $800,000.

They earned a degree and then …

Many college students don’t work very hard or learn very much, concluded Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift. For their new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, they followed 1,000 graduates for two years after college. A little over a quarter of graduates were earning $40,000 or more and 53 percent were unemployed, employed part-time, or working full time for less than $30,000.

That’s scary.

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.

Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the skills — and earnings — gap.