Cost is #1 college worry

Stanford is the number one dream college for students and parents with Harvard in second, according to the Princeton Review’s annual  conducts our annual College Hopes and Worries survey. Respondents are readers “Best Colleges” guidebook readers and users of the Princeton Review website.

 The number one worry is college costs.

Half of students and parents say the biggest benefit of earning a college diploma will be a better job and higher income, while the rest are split between “education” and “exposure to new ideas.”

How to get an A+ at Harvard

The most frequently award grade at Harvard is an A, reports The Harvard Crimson. The median grade is an A-, according to Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris.

Harvard’s grading rubric was leaked to the New York Times.  (It’s possible this is a parody.)

“The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement,” the dean tells faculty.

For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.

A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).

. . . Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

For students who haven’t committed assault, the lowest grade is an A-.

The A– grade is awarded to work that, while very good, is nevertheless diminished by a significant flaw that cannot be completely overlooked. For example, a final examination receiving the A– might be impeccable, except for having been left blank. Or the student filled in the test, but did so according to no discernible pattern, while screaming like a maniac. An A– term paper might offer an original analysis of a complex topic, but exist only within the imagination of the instructor or the student, or, in some rare instances, both.

Grade inflation has been an issue at Harvard — and elsewhere — for 20 years.

Ivy League shuns teaching — except for TFA

Nearly one in five Harvard students apply to Teach for America, but very few want to train as teachers, says Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan. “He hopes that eventually between five and 10 percent of the class will go through the undergraduate teaching program,” reports Eleanor Barkhorn in The Atlantic. 

There’s “a long-standing institutional snobbery” about teaching writes Barkhorn.

As Walter Isaacson put it at this year’s Washington Ideas Forum, there’s a perception that “it’s beneath the dignity of an Ivy League school to train teachers.”

Teach for America has helped change that perception. “I think TFA has done a lot in terms of elevating the profession of teaching and elevating the importance of public education and education generally,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in conversation with Isaacson, CEO of The Aspen Institute, and Ryan.

Cornell has dropped undergraduate teacher-training, said Weingarten, a Cornell alum. “We say education is really important, but here you have the land grant institution of New York State that has eliminated teacher-training programs. If we don’t actually have real preparation like Finland and Singapore do that really teaches teachers how to teach … then what are we doing?”

In Finland and Singapore, only the best students can qualify as teachers. Finland combines master’s degree studies with supervised practice. In Singapore, master teachers mentor novices for several years.

EdX will ‘blend’ with community colleges

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” computer science class. Three MIT professors will teach the online course; community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support.

‘Kindness pledge’ divides Harvard

Harvard is asking first-year students to sign a pledge to uphold the college’s values:

. . . In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment.

Originally, signatures — and blank spaces by the names of non-signers — were to be displayed in entryways, but that idea was dropped.

Pressuring all students to sign the pledge sets a terrible precedent, writes Harry Lewis a computer science professor and former dean of Harvard College.

It is not a pledge to act in a certain way. It is a pledge to think about the world a certain way, to hold precious the exercise of kindness. It is a promise to control one’s thoughts. . . . A student would be breaking the pledge if she woke up one morning and decided it was more important to achieve intellectually than to be kind.

. . .  the right to be annoying is precious, as is the right to think unkind thoughts. Harvard should not condone the sacrifice of rights to speech and thought simply because they can be inconvenient in a residential college.

The kindness pledge — as it’s now known — is “hilariously inappropriate and offensively coercive” adds Charles Fried, who teaches First Amendment law at Harvard.

“Harvard needs bold, courageous, iconoclastic thinkers, but this pledge indicates that the dean would really prefer good little boys and girls who don’t make trouble,” writes Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, which defends free-speech rights.

It seems especially ironic that a fundamentally elitist institution like Harvard would claim that inclusiveness is one of its greatest values. Keep in mind, this is an institution that rejects the overwhelming majority of people who apply, then pits them against each other for grades, kicks out some for failing, heaps glory upon those who succeed with particular distinction, and takes credit for the earth-shattering accomplishments of its hyper-elite graduates.

The pledge is anti-intellectual, Virginia Postrel writes. Kindness seeks to avoid hurt.

 Criticism — even objective, impersonal, well- intended, constructive criticism — isn’t kind. Criticism hurts people’s feelings, and it hurts most when the recipient realizes it’s accurate. Treating “kindness” as the way to civil discourse doesn’t show students how to argue with accuracy and respect. It teaches them instead to neither give criticism nor tolerate it.

Lauding intellectual “attainment” rather than inquiry or excellence, is a “strange, and revealing, choice of words,” Postrel adds.

Last spring, then-freshmen were asked how they believed Harvard ranked various values and how they rated those values themselves. “Success” is Harvard’s highest value and “compassion” rates near the bottom, students said. On their personal lists, they listed compassion fourth after hard work, honesty, respect.

A Harvard Crimson editorial endorsed the kindness pledge, if voluntary, and called for the college to provide “stronger moral education.” “Students receive more reminders to turn in their study cards” for course registration “than they do to be nice,” the editorial lamented.

Something’s missing in these dichotomies — “course registration versus niceness; success versus compassion; ‘attainment’ versus kindness” — Postrel writes.

Where in the list of ranked values are curiosity, discovery, reason, inquiry, skepticism or truth? (Were these values even options?) Where is critical thinking? No wonder the pledge talks about “attainment.” Attainment equals study cards and good grades — a transcript to enable the student to move on to the next stage. Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing. It’s getting your ticket punched.

Harvard represents success, but also wants to represent “compassion,” Postrel writes. Both “depend on other people, either to validate success or serve as objects of compassion. And neither is intellectual.”

Ha-Ya or community college?

It’s 2020. Harvard and Yale announce their merger. Ha-Ya’s new president, “tiger daughter” Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, pledges to slash tuition to attract students. Shanghai University is buying Princeton. Stanford is shedding its undergraduate division to focus on law, medicine and business schools.

Instead of attending a high-cost bricks-and-mortar college, debt-averse students are taking online courses, studying with freelance professors and using a portfolio of test results, essays and reports on activities to qualify for jobs without a college degree. It’s Jane Shaw‘s fantasy of the future of higher education.

It all started, Shaw writes, on May 28, 2010, when “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber wrote about  Cortney Munna, a graduate of New York University who owed $97,000 in student loans and works for a photographer earning $22 an hour.

All it requires to become reality is an accepted way for people to certify what they’ve learned.

On Community College Spotlight: Where should collegebound students go in the fall: Harvard or their local community college?

Is a college degree worth the debt?

Harvard: ‘College for all’ fails students

There’s one path to success — go to college to earn a bachelor’s degree — most high school students are told.  Only about 30 percent will earn a degree. “College for all” isn’t working for most students argues a new report by Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity project.  Young people need alternative paths to adulthood, including better counseling, high-quality career education, apprenticeships and job training based at community colleges. Those who lack the academic skill or motivation to earn a bachelor’s degree should know about “middle-skill jobs” that pay middle-class wages.

. . . while the United States is expected to create 47 million jobs in the 10-year period ending in 2018, only a third of these jobs will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Almost as many jobs – some 30 percent – will only require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary occupational credential.

The report asks employers to create more work-based learning opportunities for young adults.

“We are the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood,” says Robert Schwartz, academic dean and professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, who heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project.

In response to the “college for all” movement, districts and states are requiring a college-prep curriculum based on four-year universities’ admissions requirements   for all high school students. “Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation,” Schwartz says.

Career and technical education has been “the neglected stepchild of education reform,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the report’s Washington launch. “That neglect has to stop,” Duncan said.

Some fear disadvantaged students will be tracked into “watered-down programs that curtail their prospects,” notes Education Week. But Schwartz is “a prominent champion of higher academic expectations for all students” and co-author, Ronald Ferguson, director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, “is a national expert on improving learning opportunities for disadvantaged children.”

Rather than derailing some students from higher learning, their system would actually open more of those pathways, (the authors) say, by offering sound college preparation and rigorous career-focused, real-world learning, and by defining clear routes from secondary school into certificate or college programs.

“College for all” advocates say it’s too early to give up. The college-readiness agenda is very new, said Michael Cohen, who succeeded Schwartz as the president of Achieve, which works with states to raise academic expectations. “To say we’ve tried this and it failed seems a bit premature, like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said. Besides, Cohen said, “college for all” really means “some form of training after high school.”

“Every single time we create multiple tracks, we always send disproportionate numbers of poor kids and kids of color down the lesser one,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust.  College expectations are not the norm for black and Hispanic high school students, who are half as likely as white classmates to enroll in a “full college-ready curriculum.”

If we were teaching all of our kids to the levels reached by 10th-graders in Finland, students and their parents might have a base of knowledge and skills strong enough to make informed choices of the sort imagined in this report – real choices, rather than those forced on students who weren’t prepared for much of anything.

. . .  in the German system the authors hold up as an example of success, the three high school tracks have been deeply segregated by income and ethnicity, with mainly affluent Germans attending the college-prep schools while low-income and immigrant students are assigned to the two lower options.

Education Trust is working with ConnectEd California and several school districts on linking career-oriented learning with college-prep classes.

The report praises ConnectEd California’s Linked Learning initiative and Massachusetts’ network of regional vocational-technical schools.

At Construction Technology Academy at Kearny High School in San Diego, students  study architecture, engineering, and construction as well as the typical core curriculum. Some go on to construction apprenticeships, while others study at  community colleges or universities, said Gary Hoachlander of ConnectEd.

Update:  Everybody needs college-prep skills — including future welders, tool and die makers and elevator installers — argues Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The 52-page report along wrongfully perpetuates a century-old philosophy — that poor and minority kids aren’t capable of high-quality, college-level education — that is condemning far too many young men and women to poverty and prison.

What condemns young people to poverty is the failure to learn reading, writing and math (and science, history and civics), followed by the decision to drop out of high school.  I think many low achievers could be motivated to learn academic skills in order to train for a job. If the only motivation is the chance to spend more years in a classroom — almost certainly a remedial classroom — with a better job as a vague hope for the distant future . . .  Maybe a few kids will catch college fever and go all the way to a bachelor’s degree. But not very many.

To heck with Harvard

Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, Harvard president and Obama  economic adviser, was pitted against Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-proclaimed “tiger mother,” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, notes the Wall Street Journal. An Ivy League degree isn’t everything, Summers said.

“Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?” he asked. “You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.” If they had been the product of a Tiger Mom upbringing, he added, their mothers would probably have been none too pleased with their performance.

The A, B and C alums at Harvard in fact could be broadly characterized thus, he said: The A students became academics, B students spent their time trying to get their children into the university as legacies, and the C students—the ones who had made the money—sat on the fund-raising committee.

Of course, thanks to grade inflation, the Ivy League isn’t turning out B or C alums any more. The elite colleges take A or A+ students. The most creative and entrepreneurial may not see the need to complete a degree.

Elite colleges pay off

College pays off for graduates of top-ranked colleges and university, concludes a study analyzed by Gene Expression. In fact, a Harvard graduate can expect to earn $4,000 more a year at age 28 than a graduate of ninth-ranked Dartmouth and $18,000 more than 25th-ranked UCLA. The pay-off levels off for colleges ranked 75 or lower:  A lower-ranked college graduate averages $43,000 a year at age 28, while a high school graduate averages $30,000.

 So those guys just gave up ~$120k in earnings, plus paying college tuition, for the privilege of making ~$44k by age 28.

Research suggests that going to the high-ranked college — not just being smart enough to get in — makes a big difference in earnings.  So it’s safe to borrow to go to Harvard instead of U-Mass, not so safe to borrow to attend a second-tier private college.

Learning about rejection

Harvard hosted a weekend seminar on rejection to help graduating seniors cope with the dismal job market, reports the Boston Globe.

Harvard students fail sometimes. They are denied jobs, fellowships, A’s they think they deserve. They are passed over for publication, graduate school, and research grants. And when that finally happens, it hurts. Big time.

. . . Senior Olga Tymejczyk arrived at the seminar early. With just a month and a half until graduation, Tymejczyk has applied for 10 jobs, but has no offers.

A Latin American studies major, she wants to work in “higher-education administration or health care research.” Perhaps she should have picked another major.

Even students who earn A’s in AP courses and sky-high SAT scores learn about rejection when they apply to elite colleges, explains the Baltimore Sun.

. . . Nataniel Mandelberg . . . who had gotten a perfect 2400 on his three SATs, a rare feat. The curly-headed boy with the perfect A average wanted to go to Yale. He worked in a Johns Hopkins lab after school, fenced and was a member of two school clubs.

Nataniel applied early to Yale and was deferred, then rejected. He also was rejected by Harvard. But he got into Princeton and Penn.