A couple of weeks ago, my blog included an op ed piece I wrote for the local newspaper. The focus of the editorial was a critique of the proposed federal government scorecard for colleges. My main argument was that not all colleges are the same and not all college students are the same. Therefore, a unitary system is neither fair nor accurate when determining an institution’s success.
Most readers agreed with my perspective. But many readers objected to one of my contentions that all students deserve a college education. Some argued that not every child in America deserves or is qualified to attend college. I had been thinking about this issue when I came across a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.
Whether or not every high school graduate should attend college, no one I know believes that disadvantaged students of ability should be denied access and opportunity. And this research study affirmed strategies that seem to be extraordinarily effective with this population.
For the past 22 years, a non-profit organization called College for Every Student (CFES) has focused on “raising the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.” CFES currently works with 20,000 students in 200 rural and urban schools and districts in 24 states.
A team of researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of CFES and its programs. Using a sample of 1,100 middle school students from 21 schools in 10 states, they found that 75% of the participants in the CFES program planned on attending a four-year college compared to only 5% of the students in their control group.
What are the strategies used by CFES? The three key elements of the program are early exposure to college, mentoring, and community service leadership. Participants in the program are selected by the individual school and are named CFES scholars. At the young age of middle school (or even elementary school), CFES scholars learn about the possibility of attending college and are encouraged to begin planning for this important step in their educational lives.
Over the course of several years, CFES scholars interact with mentors both in their schools and on college campus visits to receive guidance and to become familiar with the world and life of a college student. CFES scholars are also provided with the opportunity to exercise leadership in the community in order to develop both skills and confidence.
What is clear from studying the programs and services of CFES and the corroborating data from this research study is that the result is a student who gains confidence in his or her ability to succeed in college, and an inherent expectation that this is the logical and necessary next step after high school. In addition to the ultimate benefit of significantly more CFES scholars attending college, there is also ample evidence that while in the program, these students improve their academic performance, improve their behavior and improve their attendance.
For many disadvantaged young people in this country, a college degree is only a dream. While there will always remain challenges to earning a college degree, programs like CFES are helping us to better understand how to make some dreams become a reality.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
The Scorecard May Not Tell the Score
Friday, August 30, 2013
Scoring higher ed's success
AS I SEE IT
By Jack Calareso
In recent days, President Obama has unveiled his plan to reform higher education. The plan includes a "report card" for every college and university that measures affordability (tuition rates and increases, scholarships, loan debt), access (percentage of students eligible for Pell grants), and outcomes (graduation rates, transfer rates, graduate earnings, graduate school admissions).
The federal government is not alone in promoting this simplified grading system. For years, families have used published rating systems from magazines, book companies and educationally related organizations to determine college rankings. Ranking systems abound so that you can not only find the college with the highest graduation rates, but the institution that parties the most.
Scorecards and rating systems have become a phenomenon. Self-appointed experts frequently publish lists and assessments based on partial and unsubstantiated data and analyses that are not fully explained or vetted. Sadly, these get published (often self-published on the Internet), read by prospective students, and add to the confusion of college choice.
The fact of the matter is that all college-bound students are not the same. President Obama has often said, and I agree, that every American should have the opportunity for a college education. I would go further and say that every American should have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree. But not every student is academically able, and some will need more time and extra support.
My advice to every parent and prospective student is that if you can be admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton - and can afford it - go. If you want to be further away from home, Stanford is not a bad choice either. But not every student can either meet the admission standards or afford an Ivy League school. And thankfully, there are colleges and universities willing to admit these students and help them to succeed.
President Obama's plan also calls for colleges to be penalized for low performance with less federal financial aid. While this seems to be a logical outcome to a scorecard approach, I wonder if this will cause colleges and universities to become more selective and only admit students who demonstrate a greater ability to succeed.
As most qualified researchers know, statistics can vary depending on the sources used, methodology and analysis procedures. Don't let skewed data and grading systems compromise the college search process. Use all of the accurate information you can obtain from qualified sources, as well as the college or university itself, and then visit, visit, visit before you make your decision. Not every college is Harvard - but Harvard isn't for everyone.
Over the past several years, the value of attending law school has come under great scrutiny and high criticism. Just two weeks ago, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that law school enrollments keep plummeting. For 2013, law school applications are down 36% compared to 2010 and enrollment is down nationally by almost 10%. With the exception of the elite law schools, declines in enrollment are ever increasing.
The reality is that due to the economic recession, law firms are reducing their staffs and law schools are reducing their faculty. In some cases, law schools have adjusted their admissions criteria and provided increased financial aid. But the downward trends continue.
The picture for recent law school grads would appear to be similarly bleak. According to the American Bar Association, only 56.2% of those who graduated from law school in 2012 were able to find full time legal jobs within the subsequent nine months. According to the National Association for Law Placement, starting salaries for those able to find a legal position were down 20% from 2009 to 2012.
But a recent study paints a very different picture. Co-authored by Michael Simkovic, an associate law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, and Frank McIntyre, an assistant professor of finance and economics at Rutgers University Business School, the report is entitled, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree.” The report does not refute the trends delineated above. It affirms the data that job opportunities and earning potential have decreased for virtually everyone due to the recession.
The authors of the report however did attempt to analyze the relative effect of the recession on those with a law school degree and those with only a bachelor’s degree. While their analysis did not look at specific law schools and specific undergraduate programs or tuition expenses, their conclusion is significant. According to this study, on average, a law school graduate will earn $1 million more during his or her lifetime than someone who only holds a bachelor’s degree. Those at the lower end of their data comparisons earned $350,000 more and those at the upper ends earned well over $1 million.
It should be noted that the study does not compare law school to other graduate degrees. “We’re not saying that everyone should go to law school,” Simkovic said. “We’re really looking at the choice between going to law school and stopping at a bachelor’s degree.”
And for me … that’s the most important point. Once again we see the value of education … the value of more education. Other studies which I have shared in this blog find clear evidence that there is a correlation between years of education and earning potential. This study supports the notion that this is true even for very specific graduate degrees.
As the media reports on the challenges in student financial aid programs and the high cost of education, there needs to be some balance with the value of higher education. Yes, college is expensive. Yes, students may face increased interest rates on student loans. But a college degree, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is a good investment. And apparently, there are a million reasons to go to law school!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
Last week I began my discussion of a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, developed by its Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences entitled, “The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.” Last week I provided an overview of the report and shared why I believe this report is so important. This week, I want to begin to discuss the content in more detail.
The report focuses its analyses and recommendations on five areas:1) K-12 Education; 2) Two and Four Year Colleges; 3) Research; 4) Cultural Institutions and Lifelong Learning; and, 5) International Security and Competitiveness.
In each of these areas, the Commission’s recommendations are framed by three overarching goals that they believe cannot be achieved by science alone:
1. To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy;
2. To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong;
3. To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.
Here are their overall recommendations related to each of these goals:
To educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in the twenty-first century democracy.
Because education in the humanities and social sciences not only allow learning about the “what”, but also the “how” and “why”, the Commission recommends:
-Support for full literacy as the foundation for all learning;
-Investment in the preparation of citizens;
-Increased access to online resources, including teaching materials.
To foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong.
Because the ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world requires “the development of professional flexibility, inquisitiveness, perceptiveness, the ability to put a received idea to a new purpose, and the capacity to share and build ideas with others," the Commission recommends:
-Increased investment in research and discovery;
-The creation of cohesive curricula to ensure basic competencies;
-Strengthening support for teachers;
-Encouraging all disciplines to address “Grand Challenges;
-Communicating the importance of research to the public.
To equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.
In order to participate in the global economy, we need to understand diverse cultures and be sensitive to different perspectives, the Commission recommends,
-Promotion of language learning;
-Expansion of education in international affairs and transnational studies;
-Support for study abroad and international exchange programs;
-The development of a “Culture Corps.”
These are ambitious goals and recommendations. But they are central to individual and national competitiveness and success. Next week, more details and some of my thoughts and reflections.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)