Friday, May 10, 2013

Is college worth it?

Generations of Americans have been told that getting a bachelor’s degree is the key to a relatively prosperous life. But recently the news has been filled with stories of the financial hardships college graduates today are facing.

Borrowers defaulted on $3.5 billion in student loans during the first three months of 2013 alone, and the Federal Reserve has estimated that the current nationwide amount of student debt is over $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, a college education has become one of the most expensive products in America. The cost of college has increased 1,120 percent in the last 30 years, far outpacing inflation. In light of all this, we have asked the question, “Is College Worth It?” The answer is, “It depends.”

One study conducted last year found that approximately 50 percent of the class of 2011 was either unemployed or underemployed. As a result, many recent graduates are putting off getting married, starting families and buying homes.

Colleges are disappointing their students in other ways as well.

One study showed that only 45 percent of college graduates made substantial gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills in their first two years of school.

Too often, unchallenging or novelty academics, such as courses on Lady Gaga, have replaced rigorous learning in the traditional liberal arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

Additionally, most college campuses have an unabashedly liberal political orientation, and are rife with binge drinking, illegal drug use and the degrading "hook-up" culture.

Before deciding whether or not college is the right choice, it is important to make an honest assessment of a student’s ability and inclination to do college-level work.

If a student has real doubts about whether he can commit to four years of papers, tests and class time, he shouldn’t go. He also shouldn’t go just because everyone else is going, or because his primary motivation is to be part of the party scene.

Many students with these mindsets find themselves part of the roughly 46 percent of students who do not graduate within six years.

Secondly, it is important for students to consider the probable financial impact of their course of study., a website that collects data on the workforce, has shown that STEM jobs pay the most money, and have the highest rates of employment.

Employers desire the hard skills that a computer programmer, petroleum engineer or radiologist can offer.

Conversely, the skills that a psychology, English or political science major might have are not as in demand, and usually pay less.

It might be worth it to borrow more money to study a financially lucrative major than one that is (probably) less so. Did you know that the average new graduate of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology earns more money out of school than the average recent Harvard grad?

Lastly, it does still matter – at least a bit – where you go. Graduates from Princeton, Stanford, the University of Michigan and other top-tier schools have a higher average salary than graduates of other schools because their “brand” is synonymous with quality.

If a student can get into a highly ranked school, it is probably worth it to go there, even if she has to borrow money. But the student still must make a wise decision about how much it will cost and what she will study.

Many young people wrongly feel that without a B.A., they have no hope of landing a good job in the modern economy.

 The truth is that by 2018 there will be 14 million jobs that will require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Many of these jobs pay good, middle-class wages: nurses, air traffic controllers and IT professionals.

Additionally, America is currently facing a deficit of 3 million skilled-labor jobs – professions like welders, electricians and plumbers that earn good money and can never be shipped overseas.

A recovery of vocational-technical education could be a game-changer in meeting the needs of many students who find the educational system does not meet their particular needs.

Ultimately, a college education can still be a good investment, but it is not necessarily the right choice for everyone.

Students need to make smart decisions about their capacity for academic work, the job prospects for their major, and how they will pay for their education.

Students should make sure it’s really worth it based on their interests and life goals before taking the plunge.


Axing grammar schools has reduced social mobility in Britain, says Eton headmaster

The headmaster of Eton College claims the demise of grammar schools has reduced social mobility in Britain.

Tony Little took over at the helm of the £32,000-a-year boarding school, attended by 20 former Prime Ministers and most male members of the Royal family, seven years ago.

The son of a security guard and a secretary, Mr Little attended Eton College himself on a music scholarship and was 'the first male in my family to be educated over the age of 14.'

But asked whether social mobility is 'flat-lining' or even reversing, as former minister Alan Milburn warned at the launch of a government report on the subject last year, he said: 'That is possible'.

In an interview with the New Statesman magazine, he said he was 'personally not a fan' of the 11-plus examination which was which widespread until grammar schools were largely abolished in the 1970s.

But Mr Little, 59, who used to teach at a grammar school that is now a fee-paying school in Brentwood in Essex before moving to Eton, added: 'But there is no doubt that the demise of the grammar schools has brought a reduction in social mobility.'

Until the 1960s there were some 1,200 grammar schools in the UK, but most were axed in the 1970s and their number is now capped by law at 164. They educate some 160,000 pupils.

They routinely top the GCSE and A-level league tables, and in recent years they have produced more than half the total number of A grade A-levels in difficult subjects such as maths and physics.

On the dominance of Eton-educated men in the government including David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and several of the Prime Minister's closest advisors, he said: 'I think this is one of those moments in history that won't be repeated'.

He said he was pleased the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and actors such as Homeland's Damian Lewis and Dominic West 'who have a rather different take on the world' were also alumni.

'That reflects the Eton I live in', he said. 'The exciting thing about being in a place like this is having bright, young, aspirational people who see the world in very different ways.

'I came from a background that was so alien to any kind of educational experience. My father was a security guy at Heathrow and my mother was a secretary at the local hospital.

'I came in on a scholarship. Not to be romantic about it, but that is a reason why I do the job: I feel an obligation to pay back.'

Mr Little said when his aunt, from Newcastle, was told he had been offered a place at Cambridge University, 'she had heard of Eton, Oxford and all these places, but only by name, so when she heard I was going to Cambridge she assumed I had messed up so badly at Eton I had to be sent to one of the others.'

He cautiously welcomed the government's education reforms which will create a wave of new free schools and academies. But Mr Little said there was a 'huge amount of reform, maybe too much', going on, but 'no joined up plan. He said: 'I think most of the people I work with can't see the big picture we are aiming for.'

Eton College takes 250 boys a year but he said a third of those who finished in the top 100 in the entrance examination were not offered places because they needed to show they could 'thrive in a boarding school environment.'

He said: 'We are not just about academic results, and boys need something else they can bring to the party. I don't really mind what it is – playing the clarinet, football, jiu-jitsu, something that excites and enthuses the boy. From all my experience, if you have that, it translates into other areas and you create a kind of language that is positive.'

Eton itself is sponsoring a free school – Holyport College – which will open next September, a non-selective boarding school seven miles from Eton in Berkshire, where many of the pupils aged 11 to 18 will come from local authority care or at risk groups.


Scrap GCSE grades, say British exam boards: Call for more precise points system because current marks conceal pupils' precise level of achievement

GCSE grades should be scrapped and replaced with points scores, according to the influential organisation that operates Cambridge University’s three exam boards.

The current system needs to be replaced because it creates ‘arbitrary’ categories that conceal the true level of a pupil’s achievement, said Cambridge Assessment.

Candidates can have quite different marks but end up with the same grade, while others with similar marks are awarded different grades.

Schools also end up focusing on the grade C boundary to improve their standing in league tables.
Cambridge Assessment, a research arm of the university which operates OCR, Cambridge

International Examinations and Cambridge English Language Assessment, said the system should be based on a numerical scale.

It ruled out using a ‘narrow’ system based on a percentage in favour of a more accurate scale which ‘could range from 600 to 900 points’.

‘Grades are arbitrary categories imposed on an underlying continuum of achievement,’ said Tim Oates, director of assessment research and development.

‘Scale scores... could reduce some of the undesirable effects in schools of extra effort being concentrated on pupils around the grade C boundary. This would lead to better teaching and learning.’

The Campaign for Real Education welcomed the proposal yesterday but had reservations about an ‘over-complex’ system that parents and employers would struggle to understand.

Chairman Chris McGovern said: ‘Their instincts are correct but we need a simple score like a percentage that is precise but simple enough for everyone to understand.’

However, education expert Professor Alan Smithers, from the University of Buckingham, warned exact scores were meaningless as exams are not a precise form of measuring academic ability.

He added: ‘The other reason [to keep grades] is everybody is used to As, Bs and Cs, so there is no real point in changing the currency unless there is a compelling reason to do so.’

The Cambridge Assessment proposal involves adding up marks from each paper in a GCSE subject and converting them into a points score.

To understand the final score, examples could be provided of the types of questions pupils are able to answer, based on their performance.

Alternatively, the scores could be compared to the grade system it had replaced, the report said.

But Mr McGovern said: ‘If you try linking it with the previous exam you muddy the waters.

‘We need a clean break from the current GCSEs which are discredited because of grade inflation.’ A spokesman for exam regulator Ofqual said: ‘We will be consulting soon on proposals for the regulatory arrangements for the new GCSEs and this will include considerations of how they should be graded.

‘We welcome all contributions to the debates of these important aspects of the qualifications.’
A spokesman for the AQA exam board said: ‘This is an important debate.

At a time of major changes to qualifications it is right that we consider how best to present the results of students’ hard work so that they can be understood and used in the wider world.’


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