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Essay criticizes pundits who claim there is no value in higher education

It is high school graduation time, and some columnists here in California and nationally, in platforms such as Forbes and U.S. News & World Report, seem to be heralding in the season by carrying articles questioning the value of a college education. They report record unemployment levels among recent college graduates as the rationale for pursuing a trade right out of high school rather than pursuing a college degree.

What such articles fail to report is that the best insurance against unemployment is a college degree. A review of Bureau of Labor Statistics data tracing educational attainment and unemployment for all recessions since 1981 suggests that adults with a college education were twice as likely to be employed as those who had earned only a high school diploma. The logical claim is that education is an investment that pays off.

One recent article in  our local newspaper, "College enrollment down, experts cite low funding, high cost” quoted Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, who, on a recent trip encountered a parking lot attendant and bellman, both of whom had earned college degrees, certainly not required for their jobs. His take was that their "financial return on a college investment was negative."

Vedder drew the wrong conclusion.  During recessions some college-educated adults are forced to take jobs beneath the levels for which they are professionally qualified. But one cannot make the assumption that this is true for the majority of college graduates.  Recessions have the tendency to exert top-down pressure on the workforce, squeezing the less-educated and less-experienced out the bottom and into unemployment.

Within the last two weeks National Public Radio broadcast a Planet Money segment which contained sound bites from a trio of national figures – Ellen DeGeneres, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Oprah Winfrey - delivering commencement addresses. All ardently urged the new graduates seated before them to "follow their passions."

I would encourage them to do just that, follow their passions … but tempered with pragmatism. Also I would recommend that academic advisers, coupled with an institution’s career advisrs, coach students to select majors and possibly minors that offer the student the opportunity to pursue both passions and careers. That way students can have their cake and eat it, too.

"What if you don’t have a passion?" asked the exasperated student interviewed in NPR’s story. College is a wonderful place to develop or focus passion.  Yet in this era of global economic stress, it is tempting for students to home in on a career early during their matriculation. Academic and career advisors should be vigilant in helping students and their parents, who are likely to be pressuring them into an early decision about an occupation, to avoid that trap.

All students need a healthy dose of learning opportunities that build the skills and capacities that will support them as their professional and personal lives unfold.  That is one of the purposes of the liberal arts, that broad curriculum that pundits love to hate.  We must be more effective in communicating the value of the liberal arts, not just in capabilities and perceptions, but in jobs and in dollars and sense.

Journalists and "experts" who say nay to the value of a college education are doing millions of high school and college students a gross disservice. They are robbing students of the best hope of developing and pursuing their passions with careers, each in a civically responsible way. Shortsighted reporting on this undermines the national security of the country by limiting its ability to develop the human capital on which the future of the United States depends.


 

Devorah Lieberman is president of the University of La Verne.

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Study: Facebook Has Positive Influence on First Generation College Students

A new study finds that use of Facebook may be helping first generation college students apply to college and gain confidence that they will succeed there. The study -- published in the journal Computers and Education -- is by researchers at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. They surveyed students in a low-income area of Michigan. They found that first generation students who used Facebook to find information about the college application process felt more confident as they were going through it. Further, while many first generation students are less confident than other students entering college, those who had a friend on Facebook with whom to discuss college matters did not suffer that same lack of confidence.

 

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Study Sees Impact of Coach-Style College Counseling

Using a coaching-style of college counseling -- in which the advisors work intensely with high school students to help them navigate the application process -- can result in more students opting for four-year colleges rather than two-year colleges, a new study in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis has found. The study was based on students in the Chicago Public Schools. While these students generally enrolled at non-competitive four-year institutions, they were institutions where the students had greater odds than at community colleges of finishing a four-year degree. Further, the study found that the impact of this style of counseling was greatest on students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

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St. Mary's College President Is Out Amid Major Enrollment Shortfall

The president of St. Mary's College of Maryland is leaving amid a major enrollment and budget shortfall after just three years in office, the institution announced Tuesday. Joseph F. Urgo said in the release that he had asked the public liberal arts college's board not to renew his contract, for "personal and professional reasons." The change comes in the wake of news that the college had fallen significantly short of its enrollment target for next fall, necessitating a budget cut of as much as $3.5 million.

Canadian Universities Expand Efforts to Recruit in U.S.

Canadian universities have been seeing steady growth in international enrollments, but only minimal interest from Americans, many of whom could potentially save a lot of money and (for those in some Northern states) enroll at institutions very close to home. An article in The Globe and Mail describes new efforts by some Canadian universities seeking to attract more American students. Special scholarships and increased marketing efforts are being tried by several universities.

St. Mary's of Maryland Reacts to Poor Admissions Year

Faculty members and some trustees are raising questions about why St. Mary's College of Maryland, well regarded for providing a public liberal arts education, missed its enrollment target for the fall's class by 150 students, The Washington Post reported. Some are criticizing President Joseph Urgo, who has said that the college will be cutting its budget to make up for the lost tuition revenue. Urgo has said that he is studying what happened and will make necessary changes, but many faculty members say he is responsible. They particularly note that Urgo has replaced most senior administrators since arriving three years ago, and that changes in the admissions office replaced people who knew Maryland high schools well.

International educators discuss emerging countries for international student recruitment

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At gathering of international educators, panelists discuss emerging destinations for international student recruitment.

Analysis Finds Lagging Diversity in Elite Careers

As the nation awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action in higher education, an analysis in The New York Times finds signs of lagging diversity in elite professions. The issue is important because one argument offered to defend the consideration of race and ethnicity by elite colleges and universities is that these institutions provide a pathway to prestigious careers. The Times analysis found that while about 12 percent of the population of working Americans is black, only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions at top companies are held by black people. Further, only about 5 percent of physicians are black and 3 percent of architects are black -- figures that have not changed in at least two decades. The article also noted that the share of lawyers who are women or from minority groups fell in 2010, the first decline since data collection started in 1993.

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Layoffs at the College Board

Layoffs have eliminated the jobs of about 10 percent of the 1,400-person staff at the College Board, which runs the SAT, the Advanced Placement program and many other education initiatives. A statement from a spokesman characterized the layoffs as part of a process of shifting priorities, not of retrenchment. "As a not-for-profit organization committed to delivering opportunity to the millions of students we serve, we have a responsibility to bring sharper focus to our work. Moving forward, the College Board will focus our efforts on those programs that have the most significant impact on the lives of students in our care," said the statement.

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Reed College eliminates application fee to increase applications from low-income students

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Reed eliminates its application fee in a bid to secure more applications, particularly from low-income students who could benefit from the college's need-based aid.

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