Who gets to graduate?

Whether a college student earns a degree — or just a few memories and a lot of  debt — correlates very closely with family income, writes Paul Tough in  Who Gets to Graduate? in the New York Times.

Ninety percent of freshmen from top-quartile-income families will earn a degree by age 24 compared to a quarter of freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution.

Students with similar SAT scores have very different odds of making it through college. Vanessa Brewer was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin with 22 on the ACT (equivalent to a 1020 SAT score) and a 3.5 grade point average because she ranked in the top 7 percent of her high school class. She wants to major in nursing and become a nurse anesthesiologist. Students with similar grades and test scores have a 2 in 3 chance of graduating if they come from families in the top-income quartile, writes Tough. “If they come from families in the bottom quartile, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of making it to graduation.” Only 52 percent of UT-Austin students complete a degree in four years, compared to 70 percent at comparable flagship universities. Admitting students by class rank raises the percentage of first-generation-to-college Latinos, blacks and rural whites, but disadvantaged students tend to have lower test scores than the UT-Austin average. And they’re less likely to make it through. UT is trying to help high-risk students through “student success programs” that include “small classes, peer mentoring, extra tutoring help, engaged faculty advisers and community-building exercises,” writes Tough. Some students get an extra scholarship in exchange for leadership training. Telling students their anxiety is normal and won’t last can be very powerful, researchers have found. In one experiment at an elite college, first-year students read brief essays by older students.

The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.” After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message. . . . Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

Vanessa Brewer failed a statistics test in her first month at UT. She was shaken: High school math had been easy. But she persevered, pulling out a B+ for the semester. When she struggled with chemistry, she spent six or more hours a week at the tutoring center. She earns A’s or B’s on every test. And she’s met two juniors, also black women majoring in nursing. She told Tough: “I felt like I was alone, but then I found people who said, you know, ‘I cried just like you.’ And it helped.”

Preschool for kids, training for moms

Low-income mothers in Tulsa are encouraged to send their children to Head Start — and train for better jobs, reports NPR’s Eric Westervelt.

WESTERVELT: Two dozen students, all women, settle into long white tables and stiff metal chairs in a classroom at Tulsa Community College’s downtown campus. . . . It’s a required monthly seminar for the program Career Advance. Topics include resume building and basic finances. This week: Workplace Etiquette 101. Be on time, eye contact, firm handshake, basic hygiene.

Career Advance, run by the nonprofit Community Action Project of Tulsa or CAP, links low-income parents with education, career training in health care fields.

Consuela Houessou came to Tulsa from Benin about a decade ago. She works weekends as a nurse’s assistant, but hopes to become a registered nurse. She compares her grades with her children. “I get A’s today, what did you get?”

Helping parents helps children, says Steven Dow, CAP Tulsa’s executive director.

WESTERVELT: It’s heading for 8:30 a.m. at a bustling headstart center in East Tulsa and 32-year-old Tiffany Contreras is late to drop off her 4-year-old daughter. The on-time kids play with blocks, puzzles and books on the carpet while a teacher prepares a cereal breakfast.

8:45, still no Tiffany Contreras. Her daily juggle is on – four kids, a commute, classes, homework and meetings. Her husband, the father of her two youngest, works the night shift coating gas pipes and airplane parts at an industrial paint shop. 8:50, she finally arrives. Adding to Tiffany’s hectic mix this week, a dinner gone wrong nearly torched her kitchen.

TIFFANY CONTRERAS: A pan of grease caught on fire. It ruined my stove a couple of my cabinets. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The story of my life. Always something.

Many women in Career Advance go from one crisis to another, says staffer Megan Oehlke. “It’s my car died. I had a house fire. We had an unexpected stabbing in our family last week. My mom is hospitalized. She does all my child care. It’s all of those things together that they’re trying to figure out how to finagle, and still be successful in school.”

University wants to give 2-year degrees

Kent State University wants to award two-year degrees to students on their way to four-year degrees. Dropouts would have something to show for their time in college — and the university would get more state funding for awarding more degrees.

Two-year degrees in nursing, allied health fields, mechanics, construction and welding increase earnings significantly. Child care degrees do not.

Students like STEM but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Nursing is a dream career for many young women from working-class families. Perhaps their brothers dream of being computer techs. It takes a strong foundation in math and science to turn those dreams into reality.

California eyes 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

California may let community colleges offer low-cost bachelor’s degrees, if they don’t compete with state universities. Credential inflation is making it harder for two-year graduates in fields such as nursing and respiratory therapy to find jobs. But there are few places in programs at state universities. Twenty-one states now have bachelor’s programs — almost always vocational — at community colleges.

Twenty-eight percent of community college students in Indiana complete a certificate or degree in six years, the state estimates.

Higher ed pays — for engineers, nurses

Higher education pays — for technical graduates, concludes a new study. However, “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found. Biology and chemistry majors can expect to earn as little as liberal arts majors.

Would-be nurses face ‘degree creep’

Community colleges educate more than 40 percent of registered nurses but “degree creep” is making it harder for nurses with associate degrees to get clinical training and hospital jobs.

Too much Spanish = hostile environment?

An Arizona nursing student claims she was suspended for complaining that classmates disrupted classes by speaking Spanish. In her lawsuit, Terri Bennett, 50, said classmates spoke Spanish during lessons — apparently translating for non-English speakers — and primarily spoke Spanish during labs, clinicals and other activities. That made it hard for her to learn and created a “hostile environment,” she complained. In addition, the Pima Community College nursing program director called her a “bigot and a bitch,” she charged, before suspending her on charges of intimidation (arguing with an instructor about a test answer), discrimination and harassment.

Students complained that Bennett was harassing and intimidating them for having private conversations in Spanish, David Kutzler, the nursing program director, told the Daily Caller.  He denies calling Bennett a “bigot and a bitch.”

Colleges speed and ‘stack’ job training

Community colleges are accelerating job training and offering “stackable” credentials.

“Everybody wants to be a nurse,” but not everyone has the math and science skills needed, said Ana Sanchez, the “career and college navigator” at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts. In one or two semesters, students can earn a certificate as a patient care technician or medical admin. They can return to campus to add a higher-level health-care certificate or degree.

Majors that pay: STEM — and government

Payscale’s Majors That Pay You Back starts with engineering majors: Petroleum engineers start at $98,000 and earn a median mid-career salary of $163,000.  Then comes other STEM majors such as applied math, computer science, statistics and physics.

Government is the top-earning non-STEM major, as measured by mid-career pay, at the 14th spot. Government majors start at $42,000 and hit $95,600 by mid-career, according to Payscale.

Economics is 15th and international relations is 16th. Then it’s back to STEM majors till urban planning pops up at #40.

Education is #110 with a median starting salary of $37,200 and mid-career median of $55,000.

Some of the lowest-paying majors — special education, Biblical studies, social work and child and family studies — make the list of Majors That Change the World.

Most new jobs don’t require a college degree, notes Cost of College. However, most of the fastest growing jobs — retail sales, home health aide, personal care aide, clerical worker — pay poorly.