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Questions like “Is college worth the expense? If so, for whom? Which colleges? What are the job prospects for various majors?” are controversial in part because it’s so hard to find accurate data. Senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio explain:
In order to bridge the data gap, we introduced the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would make the complete range of comparative data on colleges and universities easily accessible to the public online and free of charge by linking student-level academic data with employment and earnings data.
In the words of Clay Shirky (professor at NYU and a few other things):
Of the twenty million or so students in the US, only about one in ten lives on a campus. The remaining eighteen million—the ones who don’t have the grades for Swarthmore, or tens of thousands of dollars in free cash flow, or four years free of adult responsibility—are relying on education after high school not as a voyage of self-discovery but as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.
Though the landscape of higher education in the U.S., spread across forty-six hundred institutions, hosts considerable variation, a few commonalities emerge: the bulk of students today are in their mid-20s or older, enrolled at a community or commuter school, and working towards a degree they will take too long to complete. One in three won’t complete, ever. Of the rest, two in three will leave in debt. The median member of this new student majority is just keeping her head above water financially. The bottom quintile is drowning.
Read the whole thing.
Jordan Weissmann, writing for The Atlantic: “The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.”
Read the rest of Weissman’s piece–he goes on to find hope in that the decline of reading among young adults appears to have abated.
In my view, the best book on the paucity of young adult reading and its ill effects is The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future(Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) by Dr. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University (discussed in this post). Dr. Bauerlein was kind enough to endorse my forthcoming book Preparing Your Teens for College.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, is out with a new report called Education or Reputation: A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges. Kathleen Parker writes in the Washington Post, “the trends highlighted are not confined to smaller, elite institutions. These include an increasing lack of academic rigor, grade inflation, high administrative costs and a lack of intellectual diversity.”
Read the rest of Parker’s remarks.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg posted this graph last August on the rising costs of college in comparison to medical care, gasoline, shelter, and the CPI.
Jordan Weissmann has an interesting collection of graphs in The Atlantic on the financial, educational, and social status of 27 year olds today. It comes from a data set of about 15,000 young adults who were high school sophomores in 2002 and have been tracked as part of a longitudinal study.
Of those who expected to earn a bachelor’s degree, only about 1 in 3 (34 percent) actually did. Continue Reading…
Great post from Lynn O’Shaughnessy on whether you need to attend an elite school to be successful. An excerpt:
I am involved in recruiting for a very selective federal agency. Our jobs require very high level skills, including a minimum of a master’s degree. Most people I work with are brilliant. They get their jobs here by passing a rigorous entrance test on knowledge of foreign affairs, foreign language aptitude, writing samples, oral exam (to determine presentation skills), quantitative skills, and a psychological battery….
We have people from famous and not-so-famous colleges. We have smart people from every type of college you can imagine — people from Middle Tennessee State University working alongside people from Harvard. And guess what? They’re all doing the same work with great enthusiasm, smarts, and capability.
Read the whole thing.
I discussed what to look for in a college in a lengthy chapter of Preparing Your Teens for College (see the Table of Contents). College admissions has changed profoundly over the last two decades as an increasing number of high school graduates are pursuing higher education. Among most universities, there is increasing competition for students. These colleges are vying for numerical growth and/or better students in the hopes of moving up the ranks (raising their average SAT/ACT score, boosting their graduation rates, and so on). But among elite universities, the competition from students has become increasingly fierce. Ivan Maisel explains in an article for the Stanford alumni magazine:
Brand consciousness and a belief (not shared by Stanford admissions people) that success is measured by entry to one of a handful of elite schools is part of the cause. The rising cost of college—and concerns about the value of a degree—has hastened this phenomenon as families gravitate toward well-known schools with strong reputations. The emphasis on rankings such as those compiled annually by U.S. News & World Report exacerbates the fallacy, says dean of admission Richard Shaw, “that if you don’t get into a top 25 school, you’re doomed.”
Insightful commentary from Peter Cappelli in the Wall Street Journal on the danger of over-specializing in college. Being a business or engineering major is one thing, but narrower specializations like hospital financing, casino management (ethics aside), and pharmaceutical marketing, can backfire. For students in all majors, broad, general learning skills (like critical thinking, problem solving, and writing) are of tremendous importance. More on this in chapter 10 of Preparing Your Teens for College.
Heather MacDonald unpacks how political correctness is contributing to the demise of the humanities at UCLA (and elsewhere):
In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles wrecked its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift that bears on our relationship to the past—and to civilization itself.
MacDonald explains that the evisceration of the core curriculum (not surprisingly) results in students losing interest in studying the humanities. Victor Davis Hansen made a similar point some time ago. MacDonald also paints a picture of the importance and beauty of the humanities (rightly conceived):