Education as economics (and politics)

On Community College Spotlight:  With the Community College Summit set for Tuesday, President Obama is pushing higher education as an economic issue — and a political issue.

Recession challenges community colleges.

Women, blacks and Hispanics are earning more STEM degrees, but there’s little change in engineering, computer science or physics.

Job training doesn’t create jobs

On Community College Spotlight:  Laid-off workers are trying to learn new skills, but job training doesn’t create jobs.  Also, demand picks up for newly trained truck drivers.

Get a job, any job

You’ve graduated from a good college with a humanities or social sciences degree. You can’t find a good job, so you’re living at home and letting your parents pay your bills. What should you do?  Take any job you can find, writes Jason Fertig, assistant professor of management at Southern Indiana University, on the National Association of Scholars blog.

In American Dream is Elusive for New Generation, the New York Times told the story of a 2008 Colgate graduate, Scott Nicholson, who turned down a $40,000-a-year job as an insurance claim adjuster because it wasn’t a management trainee position.

Fertig shares his own experience as a college graduate in Management Information Systems. Hired in the boom as a technical consultant, he found himself preparing PowerPoint slides and other menial work, then laid off when the project ended. He found another job, ended up doing clerical work and let his discontent affect his job performance. When the company merged, he was considered expendable.

Unemployed for the second time in two years, he moved back in with his family.  After six months holding out for a “good job” in line with his training, he realized that college hadn’t trained him for a job.

Higher education is designed to develop the mind, which in turn allows the graduate to bring that developed mind to the workforce.  It does not, nor should it allow one to bypass the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

. . . Knowing what I know now, I need to ask why you think a political science major with minimal job experience qualifies you for a mid-level management position at a large corporation.

Fertig worked at a gym for $10 per hour. “I learned that a career was about learning a business – it was about doing the work that others will not.”

Trust me, if you worked anywhere for these last two years, and you showed a work ethic that conveyed that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, your stock would be exponentially higher than it is now.  Even if you worked in fast food, you would be able to show experience in dealing with pressure, working with difficult people, and learning a business from the ground floor.

. . . The longer you hold out, the longer you convey an entitled mentality and a high maintenance attitude to those organizations where you seek employment.

. . . Don’t leave the bat on your shoulder – swing it!  Just get out there and work, and you never know how your career will twist and turn.

Don’t expect to love your job, Fertig adds. Love your spouse. Lead a balanced life.

In my second job, as associate editor of a filmmaking magazine, I was responsible for taking out the garbage, which meant carrying the can down the steep steps of our Victorian, then retrieving it when it was emptied. When an advertising manager was placed in an office overlooking the street, I persuaded the publisher to put her in charge of bringing up the can as soon as it was emptied so the restaurant below us, the Noble Frankfurter, wouldn’t take it with their can. As a Stanford graduate in English and Creative Writing, I learned a lot in that job.

Girls read better, men lose jobs

Girls score well above boys in reading and about the same in math, concludes a report by the Center on Education Policy.

In the adult world, women now earn about 59 percent of college degrees — and are less likely to lose their jobs in a recession or “mancession,” writes Mark Perry.

Class sizes grow

Class sizes are growing to balance school budgets, reports AP.  According to one estimate, 44 percent of districts are increasing class sizes.

In Los Angeles, K-3 classes will rise from 20 to 24 students, middle school classes to 35 and 11th and 12th grade classes to 43.

A Tennessee study showed long-term gains for classes of 14 to 17 students in the early grades, especially for blacks. However, small classes in higher grades don’t produce significant performance gains, says researcher Eric Hanushek.

“All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class,” said Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world.”

“In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you’re much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers,” he said.

However, layoffs are based on seniority, not effectiveness, so there’s no guarantee the larger classes will be taught by good teachers, AP notes.  Senior teachers may be shifted to assignments for which they’re not well-suited.

Degrees of employment

A majority of college graduates 25 and under are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree — if they’re working at all — concludes a survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.  From McClatchy News:

”I’ve never seen it this low and we’ve been analyzing this stuff for over 20 years,” said center director Andrew Sum.

Only about a third of Asian female graduates and black and Hispanic male graduates are in jobs that require a degree. Except for Asian males, who have the highest college-level employment rate, women are more likely to be in college-level jobs than men. (I have no clue why the spread is so wide between Asian males and females. More technical degrees for the guys?)

It’s not going to get any better any time soon.

Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer graduating seniors for entry-level positions this year than in 2008, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The story includes a young man with a political science degree from Western Michigan who’s applied for the same bank teller job he had before college and a young woman with a Penn State journalism degree, an unpaid internship and hopes of paid employment. And if that doesn’t work, she can try the buggy-whip industry.

In depressed Dayton, the high-paying factory jobs have vanished, reports the New York Times.  “Recession’s children,” high school grads who want steady jobs, are considering college or the military.

Going to community college to learn vocational skills is a good bet for young people who lack academic interests. The 20-year-old with the medical technology certificate is going to trump the 22-year-old with the degree in journalism or political science — and a pile of loans to pay off.

In a recession, teacher pay looks good

Veteran teachers earn more than $100,000 a year in Rochester and many other New York districts, reports the New York Times. A Rochester math teacher with 30 years’ experience pays nothing for health benefits and looks forward to a well-funded retirement. And she’s got great job security.

Of course, only five students qualify for her calculus class — and she can’t actually teach because of the frequent fake fire alarms.

Younger teachers don’t have job security, but the pay is competitive — at least until the economy turns around.

Recession attack on charter schools

School officials are using the recession to fight charter school growth, writes Checker Finn on Flypaper. They argue there’s not enough money for new schools.

But of course it’s completely cockeyed. If every public-school pupil in America attended a charter school, the total taxpayer cost would be 20-30% LESS than it is today. That’s because charters are underfunded (compared with district schools) and thus represent an extraordinary bargain — even if their overall academic performance isn’t much different from that of district schools.

Our new president and his designated Education secretary are pro-charter so I expect charter schools to continue to grow, especially those using models proven effective with low-income students.