President's Blog

 

Now that Commencement is over, the logical concern is the career opportunities for graduates. The Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University continues to provide helpful data and analyses.

Its recent report, “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings” is based on the analysis of the 2010 and 2012 census data. The study looks at the employment of recent graduates (ages 22-26), experienced graduates (ages 30-54) and those holding a graduate degree.

As always, those with a bachelor’s degree or more typically do much better than those with less education in terms of both finding a job and earning a significantly higher income. And those with a graduate degree do even better. Overall unemployment rates during this time period were 9-10%. College graduates over the age of 25 averaged unemployment rates of 4.6-4.7%. But there is more to the story.

As it has been in the past several years, the employment picture is mixed for college graduates. A simple summary is provided by the Center’s director, Anthony P. Carnevale, who co-authored this report. "It matters what you major in, and it matters if you get a graduate degree. It's the same point we make over and over again."

First, here is the good news. Recent graduates with the lowest unemployment rates (6%) majored in nursing (4.8%), elementary education (5.0%), physical fitness, parks and recreation (5.2%), chemistry (5.8%) and finance (5.9%).

The highest unemployment rates (all above 11%) were found for those majoring in information systems (14.7%), architecture (12.8%), anthropology (12.6), film, video, photography arts (11.4%) and political science (11.1%).

The report provides an explanation for these results. In general, for example, graduates who are able to “create technology” do better than those prepared to “use technology.” In other cases, the opportunities for jobs mirror the economic trends and demographics. Health care and education needs are expanding because of both growth in programs and services and aging populations of current employees. While the housing market is beginning to rebound, the lack of growth in new homes relates to the lack of need for new architects.

The variance in income is also significant. Recent graduates in the field of engineering do the best (median salary of $57,000) while those in the arts earn far less (median salary of $25,000).

The study also demonstrates a correlation between employment/income and experience/advanced education. Experienced graduates in all fields have lower unemployment rates and higher incomes. Those holding a graduate degree do the best in both employability and income.

For years, college advisors have encouraged students to follow their passion. It is important for students to pursue degrees and ultimate employment opportunities in fields of interest. But there are practical realities to consider. And reports like this help advisors to better understand the world these recent graduates will enter. Students may choose a life as a struggling artist, but may find a career in education, for example, a better choice.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

With Commencement season winding down, the media seems intent on making sure no one gets too optimistic or too positive about life after college. Newspapers and TV reports are replete with stories about levels of student debt, the paucity of good paying jobs and the low graduation rates. While there are certainly challenges for some graduates, the fact is that many will do just fine.

I was heartened last week to find a report that provided good news about higher education. In fact, it did so by reporting findings that seem to rebuke a widely held assumption since 2011 that too little learning actually takes place on college campuses.

In 2011, a book entitled, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, received a great deal of national and international attention. Using data from the College Learning Assessment (CLA), the authors of Academically Adrift concluded that students had very little growth in learning during their undergraduate years. The CLA is a national assessment tool that measures critical thinking.

At a recent meeting of the American Enterprise Institute, the authors of the CLA, who work for the Council for Aid to Education, released the results of two more recent studies, “Does College Matter? Measuring Critical-Thinking Outcomes Using the CLA” and “Three Principle Questions About Critical Thinking Tests.”  These results paint a very different picture from Academically Adrift.

According to this new research, critical thinking increases significantly between the freshman and senior years. Their data demonstrates twice the level of improvement than reported in the 2011 study. While the authors of this most recent research were quick to explain that the variance in results may have something to do with the research methodologies used in the various studies, the results seem clear and irrefutable. College does matter and students do learn!

The point of all this is that a college education is neither uniform nor totally predictable. Some students learn very little and others grow and develop exponentially. Some students graduate with large debt and others graduate debt-free or with manageable loans. Some students search unsuccessfully for jobs while others move seamlessly from graduation to full and fulfilling employment in their chosen field.

Higher education is not perfect. But in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the challenges and a vast majority of students experience real value in their lives intellectually, socially, morally and developmentally.

I understand that the headline, “College Graduate Debt Ridden and Unemployed” sells more papers than “College Graduate Happy and Successful,” but the second description is more accurate.

Colleges and universities are replete with dedicated faculty members and administrators working hard every day to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Colleges and universities are packed with students who arrive with hopes and dreams and study hard to achieve success. It’s OK to celebrate this. And the evidence can be found in research studies and through Commencement ceremonies.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

This past weekend, Anna Maria College celebrated its 2013 Commencement. Colleges and universities across the country are holding similar celebrations as the Class of 2013 moves from the classroom to the world. I have attended many, many commencement exercises as an educator and a parent. In many ways, they are always the same. And in my opinion, that’s perfect!

 Commencement exercises follow a standard pattern. Although the actual verbiage may change, the graduates are always encouraged to live life to its fullest and to make a difference in the world. For example, this year’s AMC student speaker told her fellow graduates, “… remember that you can make a difference in the world. You should make a difference in the world. You must. Because by coming this far, you already have.”  The speaker was a remarkable young woman who is passionate about her future career in education … working with and advocating for children.

The message of our scheduled Commencement speaker encouraged our graduates with the following, “You are a unique person, with a promising destiny. Live in the now. Listen carefully to the questions arising within you. They are the source of the responses to your innermost dreams.  Embrace life and live it to the full.”  Good advice from a retired Bishop who has served others his entire life.

Commencements can always be expected to provide some lighthearted moments as well. Invariably, there are students who decorate their mortar boards and there are the inevitable shout outs to and from families as graduates receive their diplomas.

This was AMC’s commencement … this was every college’s commencement … this year … last year … and next year. But I wouldn’t change a thing!  Because the fact of the matter is that each year we graduate a new class of students who have the potential to change the world … to make a difference. If not these graduates, then who will dedicate their time and talent to address the challenges of society and to make our world a better place for all of us?

And despite the fact that many challenges remain daunting, these graduates … every year’s graduates … give me hope. In the past few days, I spent time speaking individually with many members of the Class of 2013. They are future doctors and nurses, social workers and teachers, law enforcement professionals and lawyers. Some plan to go into the world of commerce and industry, some even want to work in higher education.

But they all have dreams, ambitions and a strong desire to make a difference. They are not totally altruistic. They need to earn an income and pay off their loans. But their aspirations are replete with their values. And whatever their professional goals, they understand their responsibility to serve the Common Good.

Commencements are filled with formulaic platitudes … perhaps. But they are also filled with hope and inspiration for the future. On Commencement Day every year, I am convinced that the world will be a better place.

Congratulations to the Class of 2013. Best wishes and Godspeed.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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As I write this blog, our students are in the midst of final exams. Everywhere I go on campus, there are students huddled over their computers, textbooks and notes working on their term papers and preparing for exams. The Spring weather has brought many students outside on the lawns and in groupings of bright red Adirondack chairs, preparing for their final days of the semester.

They seem to be focused on their reading and research. But what are they reading? A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association may provide some insights. Authored by SuHua Huang, an assistant professor of reading education at Midwestern State University, the study is entitled, “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States.”

The study was generated from Ms. Huang’s observations of her students … observations likely shared by many of us who teach today’s college students. She perceived that her students did not enjoy reading and did less reading than expected. The study attempted to provide empirical evidence.

The study represents the responses of 1,265 students from multiple disciplines who attended a public liberal arts university. Students were asked to self-report the amount of time they spent each week in activities like “academic reading, extracurricular reading, browsing the internet, working, sleeping, and socializing.”  The second phase of the study included follow up interviews of a select number of respondents as well as observations of students in several formal class settings. The findings are interesting.

Students report spending:

-       21 hours reading each week including:

·      8.9 hours on the Internet (primarily social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

·      7.7 hours on academic reading

·      4.2 hours on extracurricular reading (news, novels, nonacademic books, etc.)

The good news is that the results of this study indicate increased levels of reading than found in previous studies. For example, a study by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007 found that Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 only spent an hour a week reading and that the reading of literature had dropped by 17% in the past decade.

But the distressing news (at least for those of us who value the reading of literature and expect students to read the assigned textbooks), is the percentage of time spent with technology. Students in this study complained that their textbooks were “tedious” and “time consuming” and they typically read their texts only if the material was going to be on an exam. Most of the course related reading took place during class time rather than outside of class.

For the author of this study, these results provide a reality that needs to be faced by today’s college professors. Ms. Huang is trying to integrate social media more fully into her pedagogy. She is also trying to use social media as a means to encourage reading through online book groups to discuss both her textbooks and other literature.

Social media and the Internet are a reality and a central part of our students’ lives. But the challenge is to engender a love of reading and to help our students find a balance between academic and intellectual growth and instant communication with their friends and family.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Last week was an important time for the Class of 2017 and the colleges that they will attend. May 1st is the typical deadline for college decisions.  Prospective students wait by the mailbox to see if they have been admitted to the college of their choice.  For generations there have been competing theories about the interpretation of the size of the envelope (Does a thin envelope mean you were admitted or denied?).  Admissions Directors also wait by the mail to see if the expected students’ deposits arrive.

A recent study conducted by the Princeton Review provides interesting perspectives on the college application process from students and their parents.  Entitled, “College Hopes and Worries,” the 2013 survey includes the responses of 14,125 people (9,555 prospective students and 4,170 parents) from every state and several other countries.

First, this is a very stressful experience for both students (70%) and parents (67%).  In fact, only 2% of the respondents reported low or very low stress during the college application process.  What is interesting is that the reported stress level has increased by 13% since the survey was started.

The cause of this increased stress may relate directly to the next two issues: the economy and the cost of education.  Seventy-nine percent of the students and their parents say that the economy has impacted the decision about applying to or attending college.  This is an increase from last year (+4%) and the impact is perceived at a higher level by the prospective students (81%) than their parents (74%).

A vast majority believe that the cost of a college education will exceed $75,000 (84% of parents; 83% of students).  An additional 10% of parents believe the cost will be greater than $50,000 (19% of students) and only 1% of the parents (4% of the students) believe the cost will be less than $25,000.

It is no surprise that 89% of the respondents indicate that they will need financial aid (loans, scholarships and grants) to pay for their college education.  In fact, only 2% of the parents indicate no need for financial aid.  Clearly, both parents and students are worried about affordability and may not have a complete understanding of financial aid opportunities and actual costs.

What is gratifying from this study is the perceived benefit of a college education.  While half of the respondents correlate a college degree with a potentially better job and/or higher income, 25% see the value in exposure to new ideas and the remaining see education in and of itself as the primary benefit.

While prospective students and their parents seem to share similar degrees in regard to their hopes and worries, there is one area of marked difference.  Parents would prefer that their children attend a college closer to home.  Over half of the parents would prefer their child to be within 250 miles from home.  Over 60% of the students would prefer to be further away and a third would even want to be 500+ miles away from home.

The college decision is a challenging one for everyone involved.  Despite the levels of anxiety and concern, the hope remains that each member of the Class of 2017 will find the right fit for his or her educational and personal values and needs.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)