Dual enrollment boosts college success

Texas students who completed even a single college class in high school were significantly more likely to attend college and eventually graduate, compared to similar students not in dual enrollment programs, reports a Jobs for the Future study.

New York City’s P-Tech is drawing students willing to spend six years in high school to earn a diploma and an associate degree in computer information systems or engineering technology. IBM worked with city colleges to develop the program.

What the Chinese are studying

University enrollment has soared by 30 percent in China in recent years, but graduates are having trouble finding jobs, reports Online Colleges. “It’s estimated that one-third of China’s 5.6 million 2008 graduates were unemployed during their first year after school.”

Information technology tops the list of The 10 Hottest College Majors in China. China produced half a million IT graduates in 2009, but  there are plenty of jobs for well-qualified IT grads.

In addition to electrical and mechanical engineering, medicine, accounting, architecture and business management, the top 10 include English (not many jobs, but it helps with study in the U.S.), journalism (way too many graduates for the jobs) and law (too many graduates.)

Character becomes destiny

Pushing black students to earn science and engineering degrees has been a priority for Freeman Hrabowski (black guy with Polish ancestor), who’s run University of Maryland Baltimore County for 20 years, reports the Baltimore Sun. I was struck by the account of Hrabowski’s talk to predominantly low-income, black and Hispanic eighth graders at a Maryland middle school.

For their part, the kids appear distracted or sleepy. So Hrabowski attacks. “How many of you are smart?” he begins. A few hands tentatively go up. “All right, tell me your name and tell me what you want to be when you grow up,” he says.

. . . Slowly but surely, his energy transfers to the students. Hands raise more quickly. Thoughts come out more forcefully. “How many of you study at home at night?” he asks. Only two hands go up. “Now there’s the issue,” he says. “I guarantee the people who study are going to be successful. Nothing can replace hard work.”

Only two students study at home? Is it uncool to admit to doing homework? Or are they really that lazy?

He offers $50 for the first person to solve a math problem, but threatens to charge $5 for a wrong answer. (Of 29 students, 20 have a dog and 15 a cat. How many have both?)

“You need to be pumped all the time,” Hrabowski tells the students.

When I go to South Africa or Asia, they say, ‘Bring it on.’ They’re focused. They’re hungry for it. How are you gonna be the best if you can’t match that?”

As a young black kid, he says, he yearned to show a dubious world he was as smart as anybody. To this day, he works 80 to 90 hours and reads three books in a typical week. “That’s what it takes to be the best,” he says.

Nobody gets the right answer, but Hrabowski forgives the $5 debts, reports the Sun. ( I think it’s a range from six to 15. Is that right?)

He gets them on their feet and leads them through one of his favorite refrains: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes destiny.”

Three students, all black boys, walk him to his car. He chastens them one more time about their study habits. “Rich kids work hard,” he says. “Most black kids aren’t working hard enough.”

Philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff “was struck by Hrabowski’s absolute faith that black men could thrive at the highest levels of academia if held to high enough standards from the start of college,” reports the Sun. With Meyerhoff’s money, UMBC  recruits students of all races aiming for doctoral studies in science or engineering.

The skills mismatch

“While jobs requiring STEM knowledge and skills are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations in the United States, just 13 percent of college students choose a STEM major, according to Investigating the Skills Mismatch on the Top of the Class blog. More than 40 percent of Chinese college graduates and nearly 50 percent in Singapore have STEM degrees, according to an Accenture report. Brazil will pass the U.S. in new engineering PhDs by 2016.

Source: Accenture. (2011).

Only 10 percent of Chinese engineers and 25 percent of Indian engineers are educated to a global standard, compared to 80 percent of U.S. engineers, a 2005 McKinsey report found. However, there are a lot of people in China and India. “Accenture calculates that even if just 20 percent of Chinese STEM graduates are qualified to a world standard, this would represent more than 700,000 graduates by 2015, as compared to just 460,000 in the United States.”

Title IX in science: Quotas for men?

In its zeal for gender balance in science, technology engineering and math courses, the Education Department could impose quotas on male STEM students by 2013, warns Hans Bader, who once worked for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The White House has promised new Title IX guidelines in STEM fields.

To comply with Title IX, colleges have eliminated men’s sports teams to create a gender balance. “Title IX isn’t just about sports,” President Obama wrote in Newsweek. It’s also about “inequality in math and science education” and “a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.”

By the Title IX model in sports, that means if 60 percent of undergrads are women — common in many colleges and universities — then 60 percent of engineering and physics students must be female.

Gender disparities in college majors reflect the “differing preferences of men and women,” writes Bader.

The fact that engineering departments are filled mostly with men does not mean they discriminate against women anymore than the fact that English departments are filled mostly with women proves that English departments discriminate against men. The arts and humanities have well over 60 percent female students, yet no one seems to view that gender disparity as a sign of sexism against men.

Women gravitate to scientific fields that involve interaction with people, writes Bader.

As The New York Times’ John Tierney noted, “Despite supposed obstacles like “unconscious bias” and a shortage of role models and mentors, women now constitute about half of medical students, 60 percent of biology majors, and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.’s. They earn the majority of doctorates in both the life sciences and the social sciences.” By contrast, “They remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering,” which deal more with inanimate objects rather than people.

My younger stepdaughter majored in bio-engineering at Cornell, but decided she wanted a career with more human interaction. She’s now a nutritionist, a nearly all-female profession.

It’s hard to believe colleges will be forced to turn away aspiring male engineers because not enough young women could be lured into the field. But perhaps they’ll create new “pink” engineering courses with more talk and less math to create a faux gender balance.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Title IX enforcers to crack down on college English departments.

Feminizing STEM? It can backfire

Female college students need encouragement to consider predominantly male STEM careers. However, feminizing science careers is a turn-off for middle school girls, a study finds.

Mechatronics: It’s not your dad’s shop class

Virginia high school students will begin learning “mechatronics” to prepare for engineering tech classes in community college, well-paid jobs in high-tech manufacturing and possible transfer to Virginia Tech for a four-year engineering degree.

STEM is too hard for most students

Lack of interest and aptitude keeps students out of STEM majors, reports the Washington Post.

Do tell.

Despite higher employment and earnings for technical degrees, only 16 percent of college graduates earn degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Why not?

Mainly, they aren’t good enough at math in high school, and they aren’t interested in STEM as a result. According to a study of high school students performed by the Business-Higher Education Forum (pdf) in December, only 17 percent of high school seniors were both proficient in math and interested in the STEM fields. (Fourteen percent more were not proficient in math but still interested in STEM). In fact, many students — 27 percent — weren’t interested in math or science degrees even if they were math proficient.

Students interested in STEM are motivated primarily by academic and career achievement. Non-STEM students see college as a “general life experience” and may lack “critical academic skills,” the study finds.

College’s economic value depends on the degree

College is worth it, but majors linked to occupations offer better job prospects than majors focused on general skills, concludes a new Georgetown report, Hard Times: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal (pdf).

Another general rule: “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”

A bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe
shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market. Unemployment for students with new
bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma — and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.

Except for architecture graduates, who’ve been hit hard by the construction crash, unemployment rates are higher in non-technical majors such as the arts (11.1 percent), humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent), social sciences (8.9 percent) and law and public policy (8.1 percent).

Unemployment is low for computer science (7.8 percent) and math (6 percent) graduates who can write software and invent new applications, higher for information systems graduates (11.7 percent)  ”who use software to manipulate, mine, and disseminate information.”  However, the report predicts jobs for computer majors will “bounce back strongly” as the recovery proceeds.

Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts, psychology and social work. While new graduates in computer engineering average $60,000, physiology graduates average only $24,000.

Top black grads take low-paid, ‘racialized’ jobs

Black graduates of elite colleges choose low-paying, low-status, “racialized” jobs in education, social work and community and nonprofit organizing, according to Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite. Blacks with prestige degrees rarely choose high-paying, high-prestige careers in finance, science, information technology or engineering, concludes Maya A. Beasley, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, who also serves on the board of the Institute for African Studies.

Not everyone is cut out to be a great social worker, she writes. Some would contribute more — and earn more — as brain surgeons or business leaders.

. . .  according to the 2000 Census, the top 20 white-collar careers among both black and white employees include elementary and secondary education as well as registered nursing. But break it down further and you’ll find that white people hold proportionately more high-status positions: lawyers, physicians, surgeons, chief executives and financial, general and operations managers. Black employees, in contrast, trend toward “service-oriented, racialized jobs” including counselors, education administrators, preschool and kindergarten teachers and community and social service specialists.

Beasley interviewed 60 students — 30 black, 30 white – at Stanford and Berkeley. “Black students aspired to careers in which they have greater numbers and/or to racialized occupations,” she writes. Whites “showed a more diverse range of occupational interests.”

Colleges should discourage blacks from self-segregating on campus, Beasley advises. Minority-themed residence halls may limit students’ networking opportunities and fan their fears of racism. In addition, colleges should encourage black students to go into science and engineering fields where some feel unwelcome.