Obama: You don’t need a degree

After years of encouraging young Americans to earn college degrees, President Obama is telling them they just need technical skills, not a degree. The $100 million TechHire initiative will try to persuade employers to hire technical workers with alternative credentials.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said in a speech to the National League of Cities conference. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

High-tech employers see “non-traditional training as a viable alternative,” writes Issie Lapowsky on Wired. “Training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing” the idea for years.

TechHire will try to develop “standards for alternative education” and “a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places,” reports Lapowsky. A company called Knack will “make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations.”

The president says employers are losing money by leaving technical jobs unfilled. So, don’t they have an incentive to figure out how to test technical aptitude?

The $100 million would fund programs that help women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities qualify for tech jobs. More than 300 employers have agreed to consider hiring graduates of these programs.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students

Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

New tests compete with ‘unpassable’ GED

With GED pass rates down by 85 percent, states are turning to alternative tests, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

— In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.

— In 2013, people rushed to take the old test in its final year, creating a bump: A total of 540,535 people passed.

— How many earned a GED credential in 2014? In the general population: 58,524.

The new GED is aligned to Common Core standards, which measure college readiness. It’s much harder — and more expensive — and must be taken on a computer.

“Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass,” says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness.

The High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, produced by ETS and the University of Iowa is now coming into use in 12 states, reports Kamenetz. McGraw-Hill’s TASC has been approved in nine states.

However, in 34 states, passing the GED is the only route to a high school equivalency credential.

Previously, GED aspirants could pass part of the test, then retake the sections they’d failed. Now they have to pass all of it at the same time or start over from scratch.

People may be scared off by the harder test, said Diane Renaud, who runs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. “The vast majority of the people taking the GED are not likely to be college-bound,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “However, to get a job, where you’re able to earn a minimum livable wage, you have to have a GED.”

CT Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service, said there are few jobs for people with just a GED or high school diploma. Available jobs require additional job training or education, said Turner.

Pass rates plummet on Core-aligned GED

The new Common Core-aligned GED (General Education Diploma) test is much harder — and more expensive, reports Daniel McGraw on Cleveland Scene. Far fewer high school dropouts have taken the test this year and nearly 500,000 fewer have passed the GED.

In 2012, 401,388 people earned a GED. That went up to 540,000 people in 2013, with many rushing to take the test before it changed. This year, only 55,000 have passed.

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

The Seeds of Literacy, a Cleveland nonprofit, helped 131 students pass in the past two years. This year, only two have earned a GED.

At Cleveland’s Project Learn, 29-year-old Derwin Williams has studied all year for the GED, but isn’t ready to take it, reports McGraw. Williams wants to train as a roofer or drywall hanger.

“We are freezing out a large portion of those who would have had a good chance of passing before,” said Robert Bivins, program director of Education at Work at Project Learn.

Like Williams, most GED students want to impress employers or qualify for job training. They’re not aiming at a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Core-aligned exam measures college readiness.

A question from a sample test asks:

Cilia are very thin, hair-like projections from cells. They are 2.0 x 10-4. What is the maximum number of cilia that would fit side by side — without overlapping — across a microscope slide that is 25 millimeters wide?

a. 8.0 x 10-6

b. 1.25 x 10-3

c. 8.0 x 102

d. 1.25 x 105

Is that answerable as written? (Not by me.)

The old GED exam required one personal essay with a question such as: “Who is someone you think is successful and why?” It was graded on sentence structure and grammar.

Now there are two essays evaluated on reasoning.

(A question) asks the tester to read two essays on daylight saving time — one in favor, one against — and then write an essay about which one is better and why.

. . . Another asks a test taker whether a school’s decision to expel a student refusing to salute the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is covered by the freedom of religion or freedom of speech, and how Thomas Jefferson’s writing fits into the question at hand. The essay will be judged, in part, on “your own knowledge of the enduring issue and the circumstances surrounding the case to support your analysis.”

Few are even trying to pass the new GED, says John Eric Humphries, co-author of The Myth of Achievement Tests. “We use the same test” for “a job parking cars as we do for getting into college,” he says.

Some states offer an alternative exam, reports McGraw. Ohio is considering alternatives.

College aid for dropouts?

High school dropouts with college-ready skills lost access to federal student aid in 2012. Now there’s bipartisan support for restoring “ability to benefit” aid for people seeking job skills. Most employers have ceded job training to community and for-profit colleges. There are few non-college paths to a skilled or semi-skilled jobs.

In a Washington Post story on “disconnected” youth — not working or in school — a mentor advises an unemployed parolee who left high school at 14 to take a U.S. history class that could earn him college credits. Doesn’t this guy, who’s trying support a nine-year-old son, need job skills?

Beyond the skills gap

Job training has moved from employers to colleges, but job seekers often can’t get student aid for short-term programs and can’t “stack” their credentials to move up the job ladder.

Learning and working at the factory

Unable to find skilled workers, Kentucky manufacturers are training their own technicians with help from a community college. Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) trainees work part-time on the factory floor, earn an associate degree and qualify for jobs that start at close to $65,000 a year. Many applicants don’t have the math skills to qualify.

Skilled trades don’t appeal to students

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to persuade students to train for welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, but job training programs are having trouble recruiting students. Many don’t believe a community college credential will lead to a good job.

Houston business leaders also are having trouble persuading young people to train for blue-collar jobs that are seen as “dirty jobs.”

Trained, jobless and in debt

Millions of laid-off Americans have used federal aid to train for new jobs, yet found themselves unemployed and in debt.

It’s not clear the $3.1 billion Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was reauthorized last month, improves trainees’ odds of finding a job or raising their earnings. Nobody keeps track.

Higher ed a la carte

To qualify for federal aid, students must enroll in accredited, degree-granting programs. Utah Sen. Mike Lee proposes letting states accredit alternative postsecondary programs, such as job training, apprenticeships and distance-learning options. People seeking skills — but not necessarily a degree — could assemble the education they need, a la carte, using federal grants and loans to pay their costs.