February 28, 2021

Economix Blog: Jeffrey Selingo on Curing the College Dropout Syndrome

Book Chat

Talking with authors about their work.

Jeffrey Selingo, the former editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education and currently an editor at large there, is the author of a new book, “College (Un)Bound.” In it, he argues that the higher-education system is both vital to the American economy and “broken.” My exchange with him, edited slightly, follows.

You start your book by telling the story of a young woman named Samantha Dietz and describing the widespread phenomenon of enrolling in college without graduating. You write: “Only slightly more than 50 percent of American students who enter college leave with a bachelor’s degree. Among wealthy countries, only Italy ranks lower.” Why does the United States do a worse job of getting people through college than enrolling them in it?

Jeffrey Selingo, author of “College (Un)Bound.”Jay Premack Photography Jeffrey Selingo, author of “College (Un)Bound.”

College is one of the biggest financial investments we make in our lifetime, yet many families largely make their decision based on emotion. Prospective students start touring colleges in high school, well before they know how much a particular school might actually cost them. They are distracted by the bells and whistles on campus tours, fall in love with a campus and fail to ask the right questions. (Tools like collegerealitycheck.com and the Obama administration’s College Scorecard can help.)

So many students end up poorly matching to their campus. That’s why a third of students now transfer before earning a degree, and many unfortunately simply drop out.

At the same time, we have this fascination with the bachelor’s degree in the United States, and we think everyone needs to earn one at the same point in their lifetime, enrolling at 18 years old. The economy demands that more students have an education after high school, but not everyone is ready for college at 18. Many of them end up in college because we have few maturing alternatives after high school, whether it’s national service, apprenticeships or structured “gap year” experiences.

Finally, campus culture and money play a role. If you go to a college with a low graduation rate, your peers have an impact on your thinking: if no one else is graduating in four years, why should I? Others drop out because their financial situation changes while they are there and they can no longer afford it.

There is an economic reason we have a fascination with the bachelor’s degree, isn’t there? It brings a huge economic return. The jobless rate for four-year college grads is less than 4 percent, and the wage premium is very large — much larger than it once was. As you write, “By almost every measure, college graduates lead healthier and longer lives, have better working conditions, have healthier children who perform better in school, have more interest in art and reading, speak and write more clearly, have a greater acceptance of differences in people and are more civically active.”

How would you respond to the argument that everyone should aspire to a bachelor’s degree? Not everyone will make it. Many would need to start at a community college or with remedial work. But I can’t help but notice that most of the people arguing that “college isn’t for everyone” insist that their own kids go.

I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t aspire to a bachelor’s degree because, as you note, it does bring great economic returns. But why does it need to happen for everyone at 18?

Jacket design by Archie Ferguson; jacket art by Alessandroiryna/iStock photon

For some, a two-year degree might be more appropriate at 18. And recent studies of wage data of college graduates in Virginia, Tennessee and a few other states show that the wage returns of technical two-year degrees are greater than many bachelor’s degrees in the first year after college.

Someone who isn’t ready for a four-year college at 18 and ends up dropping out is in some ways worse off than a high-school graduate who never went to college at all. Sure, college dropouts have some credits, but still no degree, and it’s likely that they have debt.

Let’s think of extending the period for a bachelor’s to be sure more students succeed in getting one. We don’t need alternatives to the bachelor’s degree, just more constructive detours on the pathway to college for those who are not ready at 18.

That’s a fascinating way of thinking about it: different paths, more than a different destination. (And whatever that study of Tennessee and Virginia shows about the first year after college, I have yet to see evidence that any alternative beats the long-term returns of a bachelor’s degree.)

Given how problematic it is for people to have college debt without a college degree — as many people unfortunately do — what do you think federal and state policy makers should do to change colleges with low graduation rates?

Well, the first thing federal and state policy makers can do is come up with a better way to measure graduation rates. The current rate counts only first-time students who enroll in the fall and complete degrees in “150 percent of normal time” – six years, for students seeking bachelor’s degrees. It doesn’t include students who transfer to other colleges and then graduate or those who transfer in and graduate. By one estimate, it excludes up to 50 percent of enrolled students.

A national student record database would allow policy makers to track students as they move among colleges. Once we have a better measure, then colleges that do well in actually graduating students should be rewarded, especially for those students who are not expected to complete college. For example, colleges that graduate Pell Grant recipients above the national average or students who are first in their family to go to college should get access to more federal aid for those students.

And all colleges need more skin in the student-loan game. Students are being saddled with higher amounts of debt, and the schools have little responsibility as they encourage more and more families to take on more debt. Right now, the only punishment is that colleges with high default rates are thrown out of the federal program. But that rarely happens. Colleges need to put some of their own dollars at risk if they are asking students and their parents to take on loans above certain amounts.

The last major section of your book is called “The Future.” So let me ask you to look ahead and predict one significant way in which a typical campus experience at a four-year college will be significantly different in 2023 than it is in 2013.

The biggest difference will be the injection of technology into the curriculum, with more courses taught in hybrid format, meaning a mix of face to face and online. That will allow for a more personalized experience for students so they can learn at their own pace and break the traditional idea of the academic calendar where everyone needs to start in September and end in May.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/how-to-cure-the-college-dropout-syndrome/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: College-Educated Workers Gaining Jobs, High School Grads Losing Them

Still don’t believe us when we say that college is worth it? Just look at the latest jobs numbers.

In December, workers with bachelor’s degrees or other postsecondary educations gained jobs. On the other hand, the number of workers with high school diplomas or less who were employed fell.

Here are the numbers:

DESCRIPTIONSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Workers with at least some higher education have been doing better than high school grads for a while now, too.

Over the last year, an additional 1,068,000 bachelor’s degree recipients have found work, for example, while the number of employed workers with no more than a high school diploma fell by 551,000.

Interestingly, though, the least-skilled workers have also added jobs over the last year. The number of high school dropouts who had jobs rose by 126,000 from December 2010 to December 2011:

DESCRIPTIONSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It’s not clear why those with the very least education would be doing better than those with high school diplomas.

The numbers do support David Autor‘s argument that the work force is hollowing out, producing very low-skill service jobs that generally cannot be done by machines or workers abroad (like food services) and higher-skilled jobs that require greater schooling (like medical jobs).

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=592a489250c3557eb0ab7d0a2a25f084

Economix Blog: Jobs: Good Headline, Better Details

The job market seems to be getting better, and it is doing so in surprising areas. Jobs seem to be going to people with less education, and the number of long-term unemployed is coming down.

FLOYD NORRIS

FLOYD NORRIS

Notions on high and low finance.

Over all, the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent in November from 9 percent a month earlier.

That rate comes from a survey of households, which is subject to sampling error. During the summer, when jobs data looked poor and talk of a new recession grew, it was much weaker than the other survey, of employers. But this fall it has been much stronger. Over long periods, those reports tend to come together, so perhaps the household numbers will not look as good as they do now.

Or maybe it will simply turn out that the jobs report — which is based on a survey of employers — has been too pessimistic.

Over the last three months, the job survey has averaged gains of 143,000 per month, while the household survey has gained 318,000 per month. Moreover, the job survey has been regularly revised upward. August went from zero — a number that seemed terrifying at the time — to a decent 104,000. The September gain was 103,000 when it was first reported; now the figure is 210,000. October was 80,000 when first reported; now it is 100,000 with one more revision to come.

These are signs of a generally strengthening labor market.

Within the household survey, there are some very encouraging things:

The unemployment rate is falling among workers with less education. The rate for high school dropouts is now 13.2 percent, down from 15 percent a few months ago. The rate for high school graduates is 8.8 percent, down from a recent high of 10 percent. The rate for those with some college, but not a bachelor’s degree, is now 7.6 percent, down from 8.4 percent a couple of months ago.

But the rate for college grads is holding steady at 4.4 percent. It was a little lower earlier this year.

The number of long-term unemployed workers is starting to fall, while the proportion of the unemployed who quit their last job — rather than losing it — seems to be rising. There are now 5.7 million people who say they have been out of work for more than six months, a million fewer that at the peak in early 2010. The number of unemployed workers who say they lost their last job is 7.5 million, the lowest number in nearly three years and down 2.5 million from the peak.

This is not to say those figures are good. The peak level of long-term unemployment had never been as high as three million before the last recession began. The unemployment rate for high school dropouts is double what it was in the summer of 2007. But at least the figures are getting better.

An economy where more jobs are going to those with lesser education who have been out of work for a long time would be a wonderful thing. There is no guarantee that the trends will continue, or that some of the improvement does not come from sampling error. But the new jobs report jibes with the Conference Board consumer confidence report for November, which showed that the people it surveyed were less negative than they had been, both about the current jobs market and about the prospects for improvement.

If recent American economic data was all the information we had, people would be much more optimistic. As it is, there are many who reacted to the job numbers as Micheal Darda of MKM Partners did this morning:

While the economic data have been better of late, we remain concerned that we are seeing a bounce back from a series of supply shocks earlier in the year that may not be sustained against the foliage of tighter financial conditions, a deep recession in Europe and a sharp slowdown in China and emerging-market countries.

The world may indeed fall apart. But for now at least, this one part of it seems to be getting better.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cb7274ae48702c74d4e3ea9d144b866c

Economix Blog: Whose Jobs Are at Risk in Free Trade

With Congress expected on Wednesday to take up trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama as well as a benefits package for workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress has released a report showing that the workers most likely to be hurt by free trade are the same groups that will have the most difficult time getting new jobs.

According to the report, “Nowhere to Go: Geographic and Occupational Immobility and Free Trade,” the workers most likely to lose their jobs as a result of increased trade are older workers and those without a college education. The most obviously affected industry has traditionally been manufacturing, where workers tend not to have college degrees and an increasing number are 45 or older.

Particularly in this dismal economy, finding new jobs is a challenge for these workers. According to Labor Department data, the unemployment rate among those with just high school diplomas is 9.7 percent, more than double the rate among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

And while the unemployment rate among those 45 to 54 years old is actually lower than the rate for 25- to 34-year-olds, once they are unemployed, older workers tend to spend much longer searching for work.

The Joint Economic Committee report reviews data showing that the occupations that are expected to grow the most in the future are also those with a high share of workers who hold bachelor’s degrees. According to Labor Department data cited in the report, about a quarter of the job growth between 2008 and 2018 will come in professional occupations, where about 65 percent of current workers hold a four-year degree.

At the same time, the five slowest growing occupations, including production, maintenance and repair and farming, fishing and forestry, are those that do not tend to require college degrees.

Because trade can displace entire industries in a specific region, it helps if a displaced worker can move. But the report shows that older people are much less likely to move than younger workers, making it harder for older laid-off workers to find new jobs.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e07d4e05a23d0ba4f34e5819d899d0ff

Economix: College Majors and the Job Market

In my article today on the job market for recent college grads, I mentioned that academic majors seem to have a big effect on whether students are employed — and employed in jobs that use their college degrees — after they graduate.

In 2009, the Labor Department’s American Community Survey began asking people what discipline they majored in, if they graduated from college. Andrew Sum, a labor economist at Northeastern University and leading expert on the youth labor market, has analyzed the resulting answers, and then looked at what types of jobs graduates of each major held. If the type of job is one that typically requires a college degree (based on other Labor Department data), he categorized these people as being in the “college labor market.”

Here’s a look at his results, which show 2009 employment rates for college alumni under age 25. (We won’t have 2010 data until this summer, unfortunately.)

DESCRIPTIONSource: Andrew Sum, Northeastern University, using 2009 American Community Survey data

As you can see, across all disciplines, 77.6 percent of college graduates had jobs. But only 55.6 percent of all college graduates had jobs that required college degrees. (Some of the remaining grads who didn’t have jobs were looking for work, but some weren’t, perhaps because they were enrolled in school.)

The major that produced the most graduates in jobs that required degrees was education and teaching; 71.1 percent of this discipline’s alumni had jobs for which a bachelor’s was a prerequisite. This is probably not surprising, since so many of these grads became teachers.

Engineering had the next-best track record, with 69.4 percent of its graduates placed in college labor market jobs.

The majors with the worst placement records were area studies (44.7 percent in degree-requiring jobs) and humanities (45.4 percent).

Why do we care if these grads get placed in jobs that require degrees?

Part of the reason people go to college is to get better jobs. It’s by no means the only reason, of course; a liberal arts education can enrich a person’s life in ways besides better employment. But better employment is surely one of the crucial goals, and jobs that require college degrees generally pay better than jobs that don’t. This is true for graduates of every major:

DESCRIPTIONSource: Andrew Sum, Northeastern University, using 2009 American Community Survey data

Across all majors, the typical graduate who finds a job requiring a college degree will earn $26,756. The typical graduate who find a job that does require a degree, by contrast, will earn just $15,896. That’s about an $11,000 premium.

The disparity is bigger for certain majors than others.

Health majors appear to have the most to gain by finding a job that requires their degree, since their typical earnings in such a job ($30,819) are nearly two and half times their typical earnings in a job that doesn’t require a degree ($12,843). The premium is lowest for area studies majors.

Interestingly, college majors also seem to have an effect on earnings in jobs that don’t require having gone to college. Note that engineers, for example, still earn more in non-degree-requiring jobs than humanities majors get in degree-requiring jobs.

This may have something to do with the types of people who choose to major in these disciplines, or perhaps where they live. It may also mean that the type of knowledge you acquire in each major can enhance your abilities or productivity in all kinds of work, even that usually done by lower-skilled people.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4a96d5b7eabf3982230fdea6570e3c68