Think critically about college loans

“Dream big,” Maureen O’Brien told her daughter, urging her not to settle for a low-cost state college. O’Brien borrowed $54,000 to help pay for the first two years at the University of Vermont, which costs more than $49,000 a year for out-of-state students, reports NPR. But the mother, still paying for her undergraduate degree in 1996 and $60,000 for professional training, couldn’t afford it.

Daughter Emily has transferred to Northern Arizona, where in-state tuition is low. Her brother will start at Arizona State.  The family expects to borrow another $70,000 to pay for the daughter’s last two years and the son’s four years of higher education. O’Brien now earns $93,000 as a physician’s assistant, but spends more than a third of her take-home pay on student loan payments. She has no savings and may take a second job to pay off the debts.

For a woman who says she learned critical thinking as a French and international studies major, O’Brien didn’t think critically about paying for college, writes Grace at Cost of College. and she sees troubles ahead for Emily, who’s majoring in environmental studies.

“I can’t afford to go to college, but I’m taking out loans, I’m putting my foot forward and making sure I get an education so that I can get a really good job in the long run,” Emily says.

Grace suspects environmental studies won’t lead to a “really good job.” Environmental science would  be a better bet, but it would  require more math and science courses.

Even affluent parents are becoming more pragmatic about college choices, reports the Chicago Tribune. The  story features a young woman who wanted to major in equestrian therapy because she loves horses. Ally Lincoln’s mother told her to choose nursing.

“My mother told me not to confuse a hobby with an occupation,” she said. “I was upset.”

During a college trip to Bradley University in Peoria, her mom “made” her look at the nursing school, where a tour guide rattled off a barrage of statistics, including that the median salary for a nurse is $60,000 and unemployment rate is 2 percent.

A nurse at 24, Lincoln has “a robust paycheck, benefits and a well-marked path for career advancement.” And jealous friends. She is house hunting with her fiance. Going into nursing “was one of the smartest things I ever did,” she told the Trib.

Plastics industry edited environmental guide

California’s new environmental curriculum was changed to please the plastics industry, reports California Watch.

American Chemistry Council lobbyists persuaded school officials to include a section on “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags” in the 11th-grade teachers’ edition textbook.

Although the curriculum includes the environmental hazards of plastic bags, the consultant also added a five-point question to a workbook asking students to list some advantages. According to the teachers’ edition, the correct answer is: “Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused.”

Some California cities and counties have banned plastic shopping bags; San Francisco requires markets to charge customers for paper bags. We’re all supposed to have reusable bags.

LA school named for Gore is on toxic site

A new $75.5 million Los Angeles elementary school named for Al Gore and Rachel Carson was built on a toxic site, reports the LA Times.

“Renaming this terribly contaminated school after famous environmental advocates is an affront to the great work that these individuals have done to protect the public’s health from harm,” an environmental coalition wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As part of a $4 million clean-up, crews are replacing soil contaminated by underground storage tanks with clean fill. A barrier will go 45 feet down to limit possible fuel leakage from the underground tanks of an adjacent gas station. “Like many local campuses, this school also sits above an oil field, but no oil field-related methane has been detected,” reports the Times.

Critics “worry that the pollution sources have not been adequately identified and that the dirty groundwater could recontaminate the soil.”

The Carson-Gore Academy for Environmental Sciences aims to teach environmentalism in all subjects:

Cross-curriculum efforts will include environmental speeches and presentations in English, topsoil measurements in math and climate study in science.

The principal also envisions an organic garden that could produce a student-led farmer’s market.

Robina Suwol, who heads the California Safe Schools coalition, says the vegetables should be grown in above-ground planters.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, is even more controversial than Gore.  Her campaign against DDT is responsible for as many as 2.7 million deaths a year from malaria, writes Ronald Bailey in Reason.

Students research wildlife corridor

On Community College Spotlight: Community college students are researching animal movement patterns to build the case for a wildlife corridor across Highway 101 south of San Jose.

Greening the curriculum

On Spotlight: A Massachusetts community college is greening the curriculum.  But a new degree lets students study “environmental awareness” but go light on science.