How to Separate Higher Education Politics from Facts

The politics of higher education confuses and distracts you from the decisions you need to make. What you need are facts. Here is a separation of higher education politics from the facts you need.

Buzz Today Source: The New York Times “College, the Great Unleveler” And because some colleges actually hinder social mobility, what increasingly matters is not just whether you go to college but where…More Americans than ever enroll in college, but the graduates who emerge a few years later indicate that instead of reducing inequality, our system of higher education reinforces it…Higher education is becoming a caste system, separate and unequal for students of different family incomes. Where students attend affects their chances of graduating and how indebted they will become in the process…invest more in Pell grants and community colleges It is a fact that community colleges represent a much lower cost of education. Typically the average annual cost is $3,000 to attend a community college. This makes enrollment at a community college a very attractive means to get an associate’s degree or the credits for the “gen ed” of a bachelor’s degree. But this choice is not without its negative implications. As the comments in BUZZ Today indicate, “where students attend affects their chances of graduating.” This statement could not be more accurate when it comes to the decision to attend a higher cost four year institution vs. going to a community college first. According to the US Department of Education, the official six-year graduation rate for four-year public universities is 57% compared to the official three-year graduation rate of 22% for public two-year colleges.

So what is the take away for you as you look at these facts? The take away is that the success you achieve from education depends far more on what you bring to your education than the specific institution you attend. Harvard University graduates well over 90% of its students. The reason Harvard has such a high graduation rate is because it is so highly selective at admissions. Conversely, community colleges have open enrollment, essentially admitting anyone and everyone. The fact is that Harvard students are more qualified from the point of admission which significantly increases the graduation rate from the institution.

Here is the bottom line of the politics vs. facts of higher education. When it comes to your individual success, the most important thing is what you put into your education. If you could get into Harvard University you would most likely graduate, not because of the institution, but because of “who you are”. Conversely, should you decide to go to a community college first, the fact is that, just as in the Harvard University case, your success will depend much more on “who you are” than the characteristics of the institution.

So when it comes to politics and policy, there is a lot of energy being expended on the institutional issues – for-profit vs. not for profit, selective admissions vs. open enrollment, high cost vs. low cost, etc. In the end, the fact is that your success in education depends most upon the decisions that you make about yourself. For help with those personal decisions see “Your Future is Calling” for how to tips, help and useful exercises.

What You Need to Know About the Value of Education

We know a lot about the cost of an education. It costs too much. Here are some other things we know about education. Growing student debt is a student problem that is rapidly becoming a threat to growth of our economy. These issues are getting a lot of attention these days. In contrast, there is little good information about the value of an education today. This post is devoted to the value indicators.  Buzz Today Source: Pew Research Center “The Growing Economic Clout of the College Educated.”College-educated households are the only households whose incomes have grown on a per household basis from 1991 to 2012. There are a number of factors at play in boosting the household incomes of the college educated relative to less-educated households. A primary factor is the better fortunes of the college educated in the labor market. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds college graduates earn nearly twice as much as workers with just a high school diploma.

Value Proposition number 1: Education is the key to upward social mobility. Research shows that it is possible to move up in society – with an education. Source:  Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco: A college education can counter the effects of birthright. Only 5% of children born into the bottom quintile (lowest 20%) who don’t graduate from college end up in the top quintile (top 20%). By contrast, 30% of bottom-quintile children who graduate rise to the top quintile (from the bottom 20% to the top 20%). This is clear evidence that a college education is key to the American Dream of having a better life than one’s parents.

Value Proposition number 2: College favorably impacts skills that are important to compete in our modern global economy.  Source: “How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research”. All of the following critical skills were found to have statistically significant improvement as a result of a college education. The list includes:

Verbal skills    Quantitative skills     Speaking skills      Written communications     Critical thinking skills      Conceptual complexity.

A survey of employers shows that employers are looking for these very skills.  A report from the American Association of Colleges and Universities  provides data from a January, 2014 survey of 318 corporate executives showed that 93% of those responding agreed that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” is more important than the skills of the candidate’s undergraduate major.  And 75% of those surveyed said they want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communications and applied knowledge.  And 95% said they want new hires to demonstrate ethical judgement, integrity and the capacity to continue to learn.

Value proposition number 3: College educated households are the only one’s with growing household incomes. All other levels of education have actually declined.

Household Income (2012 dollars)

Education                                  1991              2012             Percent change

Less than high school             $33,959       $32,631                 -4%

High School                                 54,707         52,199                  -5%

Some College, no degree           66,038        63,008                 -5%

Associate’s                                    72,407        68,902                  -5%

Bachelor’s                                     92,289       100,637                +9%

Master’s                                        104,193      114,897               +10%

Professional                                 150,869       180,671               +20%

Doctorate                                      131,365       150,087               +14%

Source:  Pew Trust Research

When you look at the difference between the income for Some College, no degree and the income of a Bachelor’s degree you can see why it is so very important for those with some credits but no degree to complete their college education and graduate.  The difference in income is worth, on average, over $37,000 each year. There are about 38 million Americans in this position.  The irony is that with wise choices, it could cost as little as another $25,000 to complete that degree. Doing that would be of immense value when the value created every year is much more than the total investment.

The cost of an education is pretty clear. The value of an education is less clear. And least clear of all is how to get the value of an education without incurring the high costs that are so widely reported these days. For the latter, see Your Future is Calling for exercises and valuable data.

Five Things You Need to Know to Determine: “Is College Worth It?”

Not needed. High debt. No Job. Too costly. These are all things people are saying these days in answer to the question: “Is College Worth It?”. The two extreme answers are ALWAYS and NEVER (see BUZZ Today here). Neither of these answers is correct. If always and never are incorrect, the answer must lie somewhere in between these two absolutes. Indeed it does, which leads to the real question you should be asking which is: “When is College Worth It?” It is the answer to this question which will help you make better decisions for yourself and your children.

Buzz TodaySource: Alen Weiss, The Fallacy of College. “College not only isn’t for everybody, it might not be for anybody.” In contrast: Source: Time, December 2013, Gallup Poll – Majority of Americans Think College Education Is ‘Very Important’. The Gallup poll found that seven in 10 Americans consider a college education to be “very important,” up from 36 percent in 1978. Only six percent of respondents said college education was “not too important.”

First Thing You Need to Know Any college degree that traps you in a life of misery is not “Worth It” no matter how much or how little you spend to earn that degree. Misery is about you. It is not about college or even jobs. You have to begin with “who you are”. The decisions you make about college majors, careers and specific universities all must be linked to you and what fulfills you as an individual. This is the starting place for your college decisions that I talk about in Your Future is Calling.

Second Thing You Need to Know  One of the things that significantly increases the cost of college is the tradition of using the college to “find yourself”. This might have been an option in the good old days. It is the best option today. Going to a campus for five or six years is just too expensive today. There are much more efficient ways to get answers to this critical question. Degree Accelerator and Caliper assessment.are proven online instruments to efficiently get at the “who you are” question.

Third Thing You Need to Know The career you pick as well as the college you pick have significant impact on your earning power. But what is traditionally done is to pick a college or university and then figure out what to study. This is what I call Major – Major – Major in Your Future is Calling.  The Major – Major – Major decision is one of the main reasons the average number of credits of college graduates is on average over 10% more than than required for graduation. This excess both delays earning income and increases student debt.

Fourth Thing You Need to Know The vast majority of students pay only about one half of the list price of tuition, yet 54% of the potential students judge a college’s expense by sticker price alone without considering aid that could be offered. If you pay double the cost for tuition it makes every degree less likely to be “Worth It” from a financial point of view.

Fifth Thing You Need to Know Beyond getting the best discount. In college language this is stated in terms of grants and merit scholarships. In addition there additional way that the total cost of the education can be reduced

– Enroll in a community college to get a low cost education for your first two year general education requirement.

– Test out competency with CLEP testing from the non-profit College Board.

– Earn credit for prior learning assessment for life experience from CAEL and Learning Counts.

In summary, the five things that you can do to increase the answer YES to the question: “When is College Worth It?” are listed in summary here:

Use modern tools to determine “who you are”. Use data available on O*NET or Bureau of Labor Statistics to select a career before taking your first class. Learn what the average grants and merit scholarship awards are at the college you plan to attend. Know the facts on tuition costs and negotiate. Further reduce costs by avoiding Major – Major – Major. Finally further reduce costs through the approaches listed in detail in the Fifth item listed above.

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.