What You Need for Upward Social Mobility – An Education

Upward social mobility in America is definitely harder but it is not dead.  What you need to do is get an education to have the best chance at a better life.  Here is the evidence that should motivate you to get that education.  Buzz TodaySource:  New York Times An American child born into the lowest 20 percent income level has a less than a 1 in 20 chance of making it to the top, as Mr. Obama pointed out.  But one born in the top 20 percent has a 2 in 3 chance of staying there.  Source: New York Times: Further, more people express uncertainty in chance to achieve the American dream: a majority believe that the American Dream is becoming markedly more elusive.  More than six in ten workers worry that they will lose their jobs because of the economy.  Less than half of Americans expect to move up in their economic class over the next few years.

While the hope of upward mobility is getting pummeled by the bickering politicians in Washington, the reality is that social mobility is still possible.  What it requires is for you, the individual, to take action rather than waiting for policy makers to do their job. Getting an education is the most  important investment you can make in yourself.

Source:  Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco:   “Economic mobility, or the ability of individuals to move up or down the income distribution, is a fundamental value in the United States, one that defines the American dream.  Absolute mobility (adults who have higher income than their parents did) is 67%.  Absolute mobility is greatest for those in the lowest quintile. 83% of those in the lowest birth quintile had larger adult incomes than their parents did.  These results show that most Americans are able to achieve the American Dream in the sense that their income is greater than that of their parents.”

But the most important information about the impact of education on social mobility is deeper in the Federal Reserve report under the heading relative mobility.  “Relative Mobility is the extent to which individuals can change rank in the income distribution relative to their parents.  Here, only 5% of children born into the bottom quintile (the one in twenty the president refers to in the New York Times BUZZ Today article) who didn’t graduate from college end up in the top quintile.  By contrast, 30% of bottom-quintile children who graduate rise all the way to the top quintile.  But only 7% of those born to parents in the bottom quintile get a college degree.”

The implications are clear.  Without a college degree moving out of the bottom quintile is nearly impossible. With a degree, a relatively large percentage (30%) who graduated actually move from the bottom to the top quintile of the income distribution.  Just to put this in perspective, 33% of those born in the top quintile actually fall down out of that quintile.  Social mobility is alive both moving up and moving down.

To move up it is clear that a college education is key.  Which major you select, where you go to school and how you reduce your costs are all important. See Your Future is Calling for details on how to manage these.

Just to show that it is actually happening, here is data from California tax records that show how tens of thousands of Californians actually moved up by getting an associates degree in the California Community College system where resident tuition is less than $1,200 per semester and an associates degree costs less than $6,000 in total tuition.

Here is why selecting your major is so important and what is possible when you make good choices.

Source:     California Community College office of the Chancellor

Income (annual)

Associate graduate                    2 years before     2 years after      5 years after

Forensics and Investigation                $12,501                   $24,313                  $43,806

Home Services                                        $17,115                    $27,160                  $36,531

Police academy                                      $23,972                   $54,154                  $70,520

Cardiovascular Tech                             $12,298                   $62,211                  $71,841

Physicians Assistant                              $15,163                   $70,068                 $95,727

Dental Hygienist                                    $16,130                   $63,750                 $62,507

Pharmacy Tech                                      $11,838                    $32,592                $39,160

Registered Nurse                                  $17,072                    $67,618                 $78,801

Physics, general                                    $10,969                    $27,308                $56,618

Automotive Tech                                  $12,746                    $35,675                 $41,023

Biomedical Tech                                   $12,695                   $44,562                 $55,673

The comparison of the income in the left column with the income in the right column is strong evidence of significant upward mobility as a result of very affordable education.  The left column (where they started) is every bit as important to this conversation as the salaries in the right column.  But there are no guarantees as in “Is College Worth It?”  The following data shows the importance of making wise choices when it comes to selecting you major and the career that follows.

Journalism                                             $14,664                    $25,672                 $17,347

Cosmetology                                           $14,970                    $20,354                 $18,662

Applied Photography                            $16,561                     $16,270                 $22,011

Child Development Admin                 $14,308                    $20,489                 $17,573

Film Production                                     $ 7,800                     $16,032                $10,931

These graduates started in the same place as those in the top half of the table but they ended up with very different results.  The conclusion is that upward mobility from a low starting point is highly possible with the right education.  But it’s not automatic.  There are no guarantees.  You must be informed and select your career and major wisely.

Social Media Resources

In earlier posts I shared my view that many of the resources available to help college students decide on what school to attend were of little direct value to the adult student returning.   The BUZZ Today covers the impact of social media in college selection decision making.   The topic of social media in this USA Today article is valuable but the content is very much targeted at the traditional high school graduate considering a traditional campus based education.

  Buzz TodaySource:   USA Today. Some examples of how colleges are using Pinterest: The University of Arizona posts photos of fun dorm rooms, the College of William & Mary posts photos of its many squirrels running around campus and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln posted over 50 photos of its lovely campus. These kinds of images, with text attached, can help you see the school through new eyes and could even tip the scales if you’re really unsure where to go. Even the squirrels could help you decide on a college.  Unigo is a website that strives to give college students a forum where they’re in control. Meaning, they can talk about their schools as honestly as they want and give rankings without repercussions. These reviews can prove very useful for prospective college students.

I am sure that were you getting ready to go to a campus to get your education you would like to see the dorms and the squirrels.  But the truth is, that for working adults returning to school, dorms and squirrels are probably very low on the priority list.

What adults need is more specific information about careers, degree programs, financial aid and whether credits from prior learning will transfer to a new school.

The intent here is not to be demeaning about social media.  This resource can help every prospective student in some fashion.   The point of this discussion is to contrast how the education world in America is largely designed to serve traditional students with campus based programs.

One of the social media sites of potential value to adult learners are comments posted by currently enrolled students.  The site is Unigo.  See BUZZ Today for more specifics.

In the end, it is important that you as an adult learner, has access to the most well organized and specific resources you need to make your decision.  My recommendation for you as a nontraditional student remains Your Future is Calling.

Selecting A College or University Part II

Earning a degree is now more important than ever.  Experts predict that the majority of new jobs that will be created over the next decade will require a post secondary degree of some kind.  Today, less than 40% of Americans hold such a degree.  The mismatch between current supply and future demand is obvious.

   Buzz TodaySource:  Your Future is Calling.  When you have earned credits in your prior education you actually have those credits.  But there is a problem when you want to use those credits in a degree program.  It is not where you got those credits that is important in American higher education.  It is where you are trying to use those credits, that is most important in American higher education. It is very important that you understand this.  Even though you earned the credits and you paid the tuition, and those credits are on your official transcript they might be worthless. Not the U.S. Department of Education nor even God himself / herself can guarantee that those credits will be accepted in a different degree program.  It is only the university you are entering that has the authority to grant those credits as being valid toward the degree you are seeking. 

Today an education is more important than ever and represents a huge investment in time and money.  You would think that the information required to select the right school is readily available.  Wrong!  Given the complex world we live in there is more information than ever.  But good clear information is scarce.

So, how can this be?  The answer is that our world is far more complex.  Today the choice of a college involves not only the selection of a place to call your alma mater, it involves your life choices.  This is especially true for adults returning to education.

A high school graduate entering a freshman class has several years of general education to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their life.  An eighteen year old filling out their second semester class roster has little risk of getting their course selection wrong.  Their choices at that stage have little impact on the life they will lead a decade later.

For an adult with a prior education who has a spouse, has kids and works every day at a job – filling out their class roster has more risk in their choices.  These choices include the college or university they plan to attend.  How the courses are delivered (online or in class), what majors are available and how much of their strained income tuition consumes are all related to the school selected.  Unlike the typical recent high school graduate, this adult is particularly sensitive to time to graduation and cost of enrollment.

So how are you to decide which college or university is right for you?  The answer is that you need detailed and reliable information about the majors available, credit transfer policy, grant availability, scholarships and accreditation of every college you are considering attending.  One place all of that information is available is in:  Your Future is Calling.

Selecting A College or University

           If you have already taken college courses or worked on a college degree, this is probably how you did it.  First you picked the college then you enrolled in the course(s).  Buzz Today  Source:   Your Future is Calling University -> Major 1 -> Major 2 -> Major 3 -> Degree -> Look for a job->Hope job fits “who you are”

The BUZZ Today shows how you are likely to have made your education choices in the past.   Notice this decision starts with picking the school first, then what you are going to study, followed finally by the degree.  If this has been your experience please raise your hand (virtually).

At this point you are probably thinking “of course this is how I did it.  How else would you do it?”   I will answer that question in a moment, but first let’s look at this decision making process in more detail.

You probably picked the university first because of something about the university – it’s location near you, in state, it’s where your friend went, it had a good football team etc etc.   The decision looks innocent enough.  What we will see over the next string of posts is that this decision first is in fact loaded with all kinds of dangers and pitfalls that are not obvious at all.

For now, I want to suggest that a far better way to make this decision is also in Your Future is Calling.  That decision process is:

Who You Are -> Career -> Major -> University -> Degree -> Find the Job that Fits Who You Are

Over the next several weeks I invite you to join me at this blog to explore some of the important implications of this new approach.  I assure you it will be well worth your while to explore with me why these choices are so important to your future.

As a departing idea here let me briefly return to the university selection decision shown in the BUZZ Today.  I suspect that when I said that your decision to enroll at a particular university was based on it’s location, it’s where a friend went, it had a good football team etc.,. you thought “yeah, what about it?”

For right now I want to leave you with the thought that the things I listed were all about the university.  They were not about you.

More to follow.   Join me further down the road at a future post.