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Three Reasons a Degree is Important

“Is a College Degree Worth It?” There are three important reasons the answer is almost always Yes.

A degree is a credential, it communicates important information to the external world. The first reason credentials are important is because employers screen and select new employees based on the credential. Automated resume screening software screens job candidates before an interview. The second reason is one we have explored before. On average, each progression of  accredited degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional/Ph.D.) produces more life time income than the degree immediately below it. This is true even though some associate’s degrees produce higher income than some bachelor’s degrees.  The third important reason has to do with the motivation of the learner. This last one is about you – as in Your Future is Calling. This is the reason we will explore in depth here in what I call the lessons of CS50/CS50x at Harvard University.

Buzz TodaySource:  David J. Malan CS50 blog: I am a Senior Lecturer on Computer Science at Harvard University I received my A.B., S.M., and Ph.D. in Computer Science from the same in 1999, 2004, and 2007, respectively. I teach Harvard College’s introductory course, Computer Science 50 otherwise known as CS50. In October 2012 Harvard launched a MOOC called CS50x. 150,349 students registered to take the course online. 1,388 or .9% of the original registrants received a certificate of completion for taking the course.

The data in the BUZZ Today documents the level of completion of the MOOC number CS50x offered starting in October, 2012 from Harvard University. The percentage of enrollment that received a certificate of completion was .9%. CS50 is the core course offered on the Harvard campus to students enrolled in degree seeking programs at this prestigious University. During the fall of 2012 there were 706 Harvard students enrolled in CS50. Of those 706 originally enrolled, 703 or 99.6% completed the course.

With so many nines floating around it may be confusing. The results for completion are .9% vs. 99.6%. Just to be totally clear, this is something under one percent vs. nearly one hundred percent for the same course from the most famous University in America. What does it mean?

Clearly it is not about the commonly referenced issues of course content, college reputation, faculty status/capability or time of the year. It is the same course, the same university at the same time. I will assert that what is different is the student doing the learning and more specifically the motivation of the students enrolled in the MOOC CS50x versus the motivation of the on campus student enrolled in CS50.

Here is the specific conclusion relative to the headline that the degree is important. The most important distinction between the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC and CS50, the Harvard University campus course, is that all of the students on campus were students enrolled in a degree program. They were degree seeking students. In contrast, none of the students enrolled in CS50x, the online MOOC were degree seeking students. CS50x does not award college credit. By design, completion of CS50x online does not qualify for credit toward an accredited degree. There is one other important distinction between CS50x and CS50. The campus based CS50 students actually paid thousands of dollars of tuition to be enrolled while the CS50x MOOC students enrolled for free.

So the key comparisons are:

CS50x – Free MOOCM .9% completion
CS50 – Tuition paying and degree seeking 99.6% completion

This is the same course from the same institution taught by the same faculty member. One is online and one is on campus. All of those who enrolled in CS50x knew it was online before they registered.

It’s clearly not about the cost, the content, the fame of the faculty member, nor the reputation of the institution. These are all factors frequently cited as differentiators. I assert that it isn’t even about the quality of the students attending even though Harvard’s highly selective admission policies are designed to assure high quality students. On a pure random basis, with 150,349 registrations for a Harvard course there had to be tens of thousands with the intellectual capacity of those attending CS50 on the Harvard campus.

There is only one defensible inference to be drawn from this gigantic .9% vs. 99.6% gap. The implication has to be that the campus based students were motivated to complete while the online CS50x students had no comparable compelling purpose to complete the course. The investment of the campus students represented a step toward an important credential – in this case, an accredited Harvard University degree. For the online MOOC students this was just another course out of thousands available.

And it is with this evidence that I share the third important reason for earning a degree.  This third reason is about you, the learner. The credential, that is, the degree itself is a powerful motivator to do the work to learn and prosper from the effort.

Oh, by the way, I think this data has important implications for the outlook of MOOCs as the disruptive force in higher education. I will let you draw your own inferences about this issue. My belief is that MOOCs as they are constituted today will not displace the higher education as we know it.

Good Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a Bachelor’s Degree

There are good paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree but they do require skills that are changing as our world changes. Learning is still key to a better future. But how do you decide what to learn?  The answer is that you should begin with “who you are” then decide what to study that can lead to a better future for yourself and your loved ones. Buzz TodaySource: O*NET  The O*NET program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Every occupation requires a different mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and is performed using a variety of activities and tasks. The data base defines the set of occupations across the world of work. Based on the Standard Occupational Classification the O*NET-SOC taxonomy currently includes 974 occupations 

With so many occupations to select from, it is no wonder that readers are challenged to find just the right combination of factors needed to fit exactly “who they are”.  In this post we explore the important characteristics of a few of the 974 choices to show how a new career can be chosen.  I recommend that you look at several important characteristics for any career you may be considering.  These are:

* The size of the profession. This gives you an indication of how many jobs in this profession there are in the US economy. Here size matters. Larger professions provide more opportunities.

* Growth in the profession is another important parameter for you to consider.  As our world changes opportunities in different careers are changing as well.  Some careers attractive just a few years ago have already been impacted by changes.  A good example is desktop publishing.  Only a few years ago this was a growing job opportunity.  Today this profession is much less attractive with a very limited growth prospect.

* Earnings are another important piece of information in your career choice. Incurring student debt to earn credentials in a poorly paying occupation is a path to a dismal future.

* How well the occupation fits you is another important factor. This is the part about “who you are”.  Here again you need good data about personality and the characteristics of those already in the profession.

Here is data on a few of the 974 careers.  All of these require less than a bachelor degree and are reasonably accessible through education at a community college at a reasonable investment level.

Patrol Police Officer

This is a profession that, with the right personal history, is relatively easy to enter.  42% of current officers entered the profession directly from high school but an associate’s degree provides better prospects.  It is a large profession with 664,000 current positions growing by 249,000 (2010-2020).  The median pay is $55,270 per year.  This profession requires personal attributes that include integrity, self control, stress tolerance and attention to detail.

Dental Hygienist

This is a reasonably large job classification with 182,000 current positions with over two thirds occupied by professionals with an associate’s degree making it a relatively easy profession to enter through a very affordable path at a local community college. Growth is projected to be over 29% (2010-2020) and compensation in 2012 was highly attractive with an annual median income of $70,210.  In addition to technical training required, personality attributes that align with the requirements of the job include a good-natured and cooperative attitude.


This is a large employment category with employment of 256,000 with good growth projected over the next decade.  The median salary in 2012 was $46,990 annually. Apprenticeships by state are available.  In addition, certificates are available from The Association of Legal Assistants/Paralegals.   Personal attributes including attention to detail, dependability, and integrity.

Registered Nurse
This is a huge profession with 2010 employment at 2,737,000 with projected openings by 2020 of 1,207,400 professionals. This size and growth are being driven by new medical technology and the aging of the baby boomers. Compensation is attractive at a 2012 median level of $65,470 annually. Personality attributes important in this profession include concern for others, dependability, stress tolerance, self control and attention to detail.

Summary:   All of these careers can be entered with learning that is less than the traditional bachelor’s degree.  This makes learning a key but manageable entry to these attractive professional careers.

Online Courses – Five Important Things About MOOCs

Higher education is changing.  MOOCs are a recent innovation.  MOOCs are new. They represent a different model for learning. Here are important things you need to know about a MOOC.     Buzz TodaySource:  Wikipedia   A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students.

Important Item #1   MOOC offerings are exploding.  Dozens of universities have jumped on the MOOC band wagon and are offering new courses at a feverish pace.  Many colleges are loading content from courses they developed earlier.  Others are creating new course content especially for MOOCs.  MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Yale are among the prestigious universities offering courses in the MOOC format.

Important Item #2   There can be as many as a hundred thousand “classmates” in a given MOOC course.  While this might seem like a vary large class, it  is.  There is a reason they are called massively open online courses.  Your fellow MOOC classmates might include a ten year old kid and/or someone from Russia.  All are welcome.

Important Item #3   The graduation rate for MOOCs is very low.  The average graduation rate for traditional colleges and universities in America is close to 50% with prestigious Ivy League graduation rates over 90%.  The current completion rate for MOOCs today is less than 10% of those enrolled.  There is a reason.  While MOOCs have some support services they are largely self study in format.  The online delivery and format requires intense personal discipline.  Not everyone has the self discipline to complete the work.

Important Item #4  There are emerging online catalogs that list the exploding offerings.  One source is MOOC List.  It is unclear how long the writers of this blog will be able to stay up with the exploding course offerings.  For now it is a full listing of offerings

Important Item #5  MOOCs are not necessarily just about getting credits toward a degree. While there is an emerging way to get college credit, the majority of American colleges and Universities will not accept the new credit assignment process from the American Council on Education (ACE). But college credit is not the only reason you should be considering MOOCs as a step in your Learn Prosper pathway.  Tens of thousands of students are enrolling in one or more MOOCs because they just want to learn more about a specific topic.  One resource that is especially convenient with lots of small courses is Khan Academy.

The opportunity to learn prosper has not been available to many in the past.  Some simply could not afford to go to a campus full time to earn a degree. The MOOC has exploded onto the higher education scene.   Ten years from now the MOOC will be an integral part of higher education.  For now this development is in its infancy.  If you have any interest at all in learning you should try a MOOC to see how it fits who you are.   As I outline in Your Future is Calling, finding out who you are and how the areas relate to the career of your choice is the place to start. From there, a MOOC may be a great learning option for you.  Explore it.