Blog posts tagged in 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.)

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.)

First, I have a confession to make. My blog for last week (April 22nd) was written two weeks ago, just before my wife and I left for a trip to Italy. We were out of the country from April 13th through April 21st conducting business for the College and enjoying a few days of vacation.  We never expected there to be such dramatic events deserving more immediate comment and reflection while we were travelling.

Needless to say, this was a challenging time to be away from the United States, from the Boston area and from the campus.  The news of the Boston Marathon bombings was covered extensively by the international press in both the print media and on television.  We made several phone calls each day to family, college personnel and friends, and viewed internet sites for additional information and details.

We experienced the same emotional roller coaster as so many of you did … shock and deep sadness, fear and concern, and finally appreciation and support that the issue was resolved.  But there is a different perspective when you are over 4,000 miles away from a situation, and I would like to share a few thoughts.  Hopefully, in the coming days as our region and our country return to some semblance of normalcy, I too will return to blogging about events in higher education.

First, I was impressed with the levels of leadership exercised by so many during this crisis.  So much of the media attention has been on the outpouring of support and community spirit.  And that is laudable.  But I was impressed to see so many people in state government, law enforcement, and on a more local level, the AMC campus, exercise clear and decisive leadership during challenging and difficult times.  We too often criticize failures in leadership.  This was a case study in effective leadership by many.

Second, it was heartwarming to experience the compassion and concern for Boston and America from all over the world.  Our travels in Italy put us in contact with many people from different countries, cultures and traditions.  But whenever someone came to know that we were from the Boston area, there was great empathy and support. In a world where our focus is too often on our differences, it is important that so many people from throughout the world share common values and beliefs.

Finally, I have to admit our continued concern about the overwhelming presence of media and social media.  It was apparent from the first events on April 15th through these past few days that so much of what was reported was false, inaccurate or incomplete.  Parents lost the opportunity to prepare their children to deal with these realities since it was impossible to avoid the images, sounds and commentary.  We need to find a balance between freedom of speech and access to information … and the responsibility for accuracy, fairness and civility.

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

This semester I have been teaching an undergraduate course on Leadership.  My students are primarily freshmen and this is their first real study of this topic. Aside from the fact that they are not always ready to learn at 8:00 a.m., it has been a great experience.  I have learned from them, and hopefully, they have learned a few things from me.

As we move towards the end of the semester, I asked them to write about the most important things they have learned in this class. I told them to reflect on what they have read in the textbooks, the discussions in class, their observations of leadership in the world, and the in-class material.  I found their responses interesting.

A common response was their growing appreciation that there is not one right way to lead, although a follower (and a leader) may have a preferred style.  I have tried to help them to better understand the complicated and delicate balance between leaders and followers.  We have studied a number of motivational and leadership theories and approaches.  They seem to better understand that there are all types of successful (and unsuccessful) leaders.  Leadership is neither simple nor uniform.

They also have come to understand that leadership should be the result of thought and reflection and that it should be intentional in nature.  Good leaders think about their organizations, their followers, their goals and objectives, etc., and determine how best to lead. At the beginning of the semester many of these students confused leadership with personality.  They have come to appreciate that good leaders use different strategies and approaches that are consistent with their values and skills.  Leadership is and should be a conscious decision.

But I was most surprised that so many students identified “the power of 51” as an important lesson.  Whenever I teach leadership, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, during the first class I write on the board the number “51.”  My goal is to help them understand that if effective leadership is measured by the accomplishment of goals, you have to be realistic about what is necessary to bring about action or change.  The ideal may be consensus, but this is not realistic.  Having a vast majority in support makes things easier, but it may not be achievable.

The fact is that 51% is a majority … and with a majority … even a slim majority … you can lead.  Needless to say, our discussions and observations of political leadership and elections helped to demonstrate the power of 51.  These students are becoming more realistic about leadership, the challenges of leadership and their own potential to lead.  That’s an important part of their college experience. After all, these are our future leaders!

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