Disruptive Technology

Last summer, I got a desperate email from the guidance counselor at Ian’s high school. The elective that he signed up for was cancelled, so she needed to find another elective for him pronto. The only opening was an Advanced Photography class.

I wasn’t totally pleased. He had never shown an interest in photography and hadn’t taken the Beginning Photography class. But I wanted to be a good sport, so I said okay.

And then I totally forgot about that class. I would ask him about it from time to time and he would say great, but I didn’t hear anything more, and I didn’t ask anymore questions.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we visited the school to see his percussion ensemble and was surprised to see his artwork pasted up on the hallway to the band room. There was one project where he combined three faces into one composite fictional face. And another one where he made a mock-up of a magazine cover. It looked fabulous.

And then on Wednesday, his photography teacher sent us an email saying that Ian was spectacular at Photoshop, the best in the class. He suggested that he take a video effects class next where he would learn to do Game of Thrones types of special effects. Burning castles in the background and dragons in the sky. He wants to write Ian’s college recommendation. Nice, right?

Ian can spend 18 hours a day working on his projects at home. And has endless patience for manipulating pixels and music notes. Some of his electronic songs on YouTube have gotten tens of thousands of hits, but he hasn’t posted anything online in years, because of weirdos on the Internet.

I know nothing about special effects and art technology, so I spent hours googling information over the past few days. What local colleges offer degrees in that program? What skills do employers look for? Are there jobs on the East Coast? Are there places that employ people with poor social skills? (Yes.)

The gossip on places like Reddit is that these skills are so new that colleges haven’t really set up degree programs yet. And the geeks that run these companies don’t trust college classes anyway. They said that portfolios that come from college programs are often group projects, so it’s unclear which students really completed the work. They prefer self-taught workers who have a solid portfolio of projects that they create themselves. They will even hire people who have taught themselves these skills through YouTube videos.

We were talking about alternatives to college a few days ago in the comment section. Has credentialism gone too far? Do people have to get degrees in fields that are totally unnecessary, which end up filtering out people with irrelevant learning disabilities or financial difficulties? Well, it seems that at least in computer/tech fields, at this moment in time, a college degree is unnecessary.

I wonder if that ethos will carry over into other fields. Do accountants really need a full liberal arts education with Introduction to Sociology and Philosophy 101? Don’t they really just need to add up columns of numbers and manipulate formulas on Excel? Does a stock broker need those classes? I mean it’s probably a good thing for all people to take those classes and broaden their horizons, but should it be mandatory?

The computer and tech crowd has tried to disrupt higher education before (hello MOOCs!) and hasn’t gotten anywhere, so some doubt is warranted. But, still, it’s interesting.

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Why Parents Help Their College Students

At Saturday’s luncheon to celebrate my niece’s Confirmation, my brother-in-law discussed a recent business trip to check out a building in Florida that had been designed by his firm. “Boy, do they do shoddy construction work in Florida,” he said.

“How can you tell that the construction is bad”, I asked. “Don’t you have to look behind the sheet rock to really know if the building is badly built?”

“Nah, I can just walk through the building and see all the problems.”

My brother in law has been an architect at one of the top companies in the world for nearly 35 years. Something like a misaligned electrical socket, which would totally slip by me, speaks volumes to him.

I was a student, a researcher, and a professor in higher ed for 25 years. My husband, my father, and nearly all of my friends are or were in the business for years. I, too, can spot shoddy work a mile away; instead of misaligned electrical sockets, I see adjuncts.

In my last post, commenter “scantee” speculates that UMC parents help out their college-aged children because of economic panic. That is very much true. There are a host of other reasons, too, including better technology. I wrote an article about parent involvement in college for The Atlantic a couple of years ago. Another reason that I didn’t write about in that article and didn’t realize until I sent my kid away to college is that college ain’t what it used to be.

I send my kid to one of those massive, 30,000 undergraduate public colleges. The college is ranked very highly, and it’s nearly 1/3 of the price of the similarly ranked private schools. All good things. But the way that the school keeps that price low is by skimping on workers.

My kid is finishing off his second year of college. He’s had almost no classes yet where he’s had a tenured or tenured track professor who is able to remember the students’ names. Most of his classes have been in large lecture halls with hundreds of students with a big name in the front of the room. The discussion sections are led by rotating grad students and adjuncts who are intellectually and financially insecure. A few of his classes have been small classes led by adjuncts. One was so bad that she was fired in the middle of the semester. Two of his classes have been hybrids, meaning that they mostly happen online.

Most of the classes have been very academically rigorous. I have no complaints with the material that he’s been covered in his classes. Expectations for the students are very high. The problem is mostly the lack of connections between teachers and students. No chit-chat in the hallway about books or the weather. No role models. I hear that those connections happen in one’s senior year when the students take seminars, but that’s a long way away.

Administration is even worse. The first semester, he went to academic advisement to help him register for classes. They put him in the wrong Physics class, so that first week, he had to scramble to add/drop a class and return books.

They’ve set up such a complicated system for gen ed requirements that going to advisement is almost mandatory. So, the next time he needed help with knowing which classes would satisfy the gen ed requirements, I drove down to the school to see what was what. I let him lead the meeting, but I wanted to be there to make sure he asked the right questions and to make sure that mistakes didn’t happen again.

Ugh. The woman was adept at telling my kid which class satisfied which requirements, but she couldn’t go beyond that. Jonah said he was interested in combining his interests in science and politics. What did she suggest? She couldn’t tell him the difference between the majors of public policy, political science, and environmental policy. She told him to talk with three separate advisors in those three different departments in three separate schools within the college.

Setting up times to talk with those advisors was also a hassle, because they were each located on different campuses there. (There are five campuses at his school, which can only be reached with a twenty minute bus ride.) And then each needed an appointment. It could take two weeks for Jonah to get the answer to his very simple question about majors, so I called a buddy in the policy department at his school, and she told me what was what.

I’ve decided that his school has shoddy construction, but we like the price. So, I step in when needed to handle the problems with instruction and advisement. And it’s not only my kid who has had problems. I occasionally am put on the cellphone to answer pol sci questions from his friends and housemates. Only about half of boys at his school graduate in four years. It takes a long time to navigate that system.

Well, this blog post is long enough and I want to get to the gym. More tomorrow.

Many Families Aren’t Sending Their Kids to Small Liberal Arts Colleges Anymore. Mine Isn’t, Either. Here’s Why

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In January, two small liberal arts colleges, Green Mountain College in Vermont and Hampshire College in Massachusetts, announced that they were going to close or merge with other schools. They joined the ranks of other small schools that have closed in recent years, such as Mount Ida College in Massachusetts, St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, and Marygrove College in Detroit. Sweet Briar College in Virginia was flatlining in 2015 before being resuscitated from certain death, thanks to extreme fundraising efforts by alumnae.

Small private schools suffer from a multitude of problems, including endowments that are tangled in strings, a declining interest in liberal arts, a decreasing pool of college-age kids, competition from online education, and growing administrative expenses. But most importantly, they can’t get families like mine to send their kids to their schools. They don’t have enough students who can pay full freight and are interested in the slower pace of a small liberal arts campus.

More here

Pie-in-the-Sky Proposals for College

Today, the buzz among the education folks that I follow on twitter is Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for student debt forgiveness. From the Daily Beast:

According to a Medium post detailing the policy, the debt cancellation would also apply for every person with a household income between $100,000 and $250,000, with the cancellation amount declining a dollar for every three dollars in income above $100,000, so that a person earning $130,000 would have $40,000 in cancellation. It would not cancel debts for people earning more than $250,000.

The immediate reply was from Phillip Klein at the Washington Examiner, who said that this plan was a cash handout to millennials and wouldn’t help Gen Xers who have already paid off that burden. His article then led to more angry tweets.

Whenever I interview a college student or a recent grad, the number one thing that always comes up is the cost of college and the noose of student loan debt. It is the rare family that has enough saved to choose the college of the choice for their kids without the concern about price.

I’ve talked with recent grads with over $100K in student loans. I’ve talked with others who worked three jobs to pay for school. I know people who will never, ever own a home, because they took out too many loans in grad school for a PhD program.

I talked with a student a few weeks ago (for an article that hasn’t been published yet), who had no clue that her family couldn’t afford a four-year college until she got her acceptance letter. Nobody is really sure how much money they’ll receive from a college until that final letter arrives.

This young woman’s family couldn’t contribute anything towards her college education, while colleges expected that she could find $50K per year. She could get about $7K in federal loans, but the rest would come from horrible private loans. But since her parents wouldn’t co-sign for the private loans, the point was moot. She went to a community college for two years before transferring to a local four-year school.

But she was exceptional kid. Most students like her wouldn’t have made it.

Making college affordable must be a big part of any 2020 Democratic platform. Student loan reforms are only one part of the problem and do nothing to stop that process that creates them. There has to be more money for lower-middle class families, easier transfer process between community colleges and four year schools, more social supports on the college campus, more inclusion for people with different learning styles, better pay for the majority of professors who don’t have tenure jobs, and great support for various career goals.

When College Isn’t Enough

college-campus-Harvard.jpgWith a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University, New Jersey’s flagship public college, 22-year-old Rachel Van Dyks expected to have a good job by now. A professional job with a proper salary and benefits would enable her to move out of her grandfather’s house, where she lives with her parents and her brother. Instead, the 2017 graduate works 46 hours per week at two jobs — scooping maple walnut ice cream at the local ice cream parlor and taking orders at a high-end steakhouse — while paying for an associate’s degree in cardiovascular sonography at a for-profit technical school.

Van Dyks is not alone, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. A majority of college graduates require additional education in order to qualify for a good-paying job, Carnevale said — though many might not find that out until after commencement exercises are over. While colleges are expanding their career development offices and providing students with opportunities for internships, few students take advantage of those resources. For those young graduates, the realities of the job market come as a surprise.

More here.

Jobs and Kids

I’m taking a brief hiatus from holiday consumerism to write a brief blog post about college kids and jobs. I finished an article last week on the topic. I’m not sure when it will come out, but I’ll puff it here when it does. In the meantime, let me just pass along advice that I picked up when doing the article. This is advice that I’ve been hounding my own college kid about this past week.

The job outlook for college grads isn’t wonderful, especially for kids who have just concentrated on finishing their degrees without much thought beyond getting the BA and for kids who don’t have parents to grease the wheels of the economy with connections.

I spent a few hours doing keyword searches on the online job boards for college BAs with a liberal arts and no experience. Most of the jobs that turned up were Dunder Mifflin type jobs selling random stuff for about $15 per hour. That might be fine. It’s a way to move up in a company. Research shows that most kids with liberal arts degrees start off in sales positions; some move into Human Resources or marketing. But college grads should know what those kinds of jobs are and be aware that that’s where they’re going to end up with a major in History.

30 percent of kids don’t make it past their first year of college. A huge chunk fail out their first year, or they leave because they can’t handle the independence of a school or they hate the chaos of a dorm. I see this among the kids that graduated with Jonah. Some are honor student kids. One had a big running scholarship to a fancy school. College is tough, and many can’t handle it. They end up at community colleges or trade schools. Two of Jonah’s classmates are now selling stocks at Boiler Room-type places.

I’m hearing anecdotal stories about massive student loan debt. Like $100K to $200K. I think those numbers are super high in the Northeast, because working class families around here make too much to qualify for Pell grants. Then they have to go to grad school, because 65 percent of all jobs now require advanced degrees. And they can’t afford that next step, because they owe too much from undergraduate education.

Internships are the new normal for college students. But internships are for rich kids. Kids who have to work in the summer to help pay for college can’t afford to work for free. And many of those internships at the fancy colleges actually cost money, because they are in foreign countries or in other cities. Families who are struggling to just pay for college can’t take on that extra burden.

Colleges have dumped a ton of money into career development centers, which is great, I suppose. Some are better than others. Some offer real help; others hand the students a pamphlet on writing resumes. And only a small percentage of students are going to the centers, because it’s not required.

Guys are choosing very different majors than girls and are having much different outcomes on the job market.

Students, especially the dudes, are choosing large public colleges over small liberal arts colleges. In some ways, this is a good thing. The large public colleges are cheaper and have more resources. But many students can get lost in the system. The kids who survive the big school experience learn how to manage the system. They learn how to tap into the resources. Others get in the bubble of student life and have little contact with adults who can help them.

Alright, done with the brain dump right now. More later.

 

 

 

 

 

The Liberal Arts Are on Life Support

A couple of weeks ago, I was floating around two pitches. My usual place to publish is backed up with content, so I talked with alternative places. Topic A was quickly snapped up, so Topic B was put on the back burner. Between the Topic A article, research on a Topic Q for another venue, and multiple essays for a third outlet, I’m booked solid for the rest of the month. I have no idea how I’m going to Christmas shop or take care of other mom business this month.

I think I need to hire help, but that’s another blog post.

I’m still going to write about Topic B after the holidays, but I wish I was working on it right now, because it’s the hot topic suddenly. Topic B was about the death of the liberal arts majors.

This chart went viral yesterday.

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This chart came out of research done for the AHA conference, and shows a dramatic drop in the number of history majors since 2008. I could have told you that. Actually, I did tell several editors that just a couple of weeks ago.

(I probably shouldn’t be writing about this here, but – fuck it – I want to talk. Steve will yell at me later for being a big mouth.)

Alright, lots to pull apart here. First of all, 2008 was a huge turning point in the middle class mentality. People lost jobs. A few years later, Steve lost his job, just as my university job was ending. We were scared shitless. And so was everyone else around us. Our area’s prosperity – from contractors to accountants – is very tied to the fortunes of Wall Street. You didn’t have to be a broker to lose your job back then.

Secondly, the obvious. Nobody is majoring in history, English, and Philosophy anymore. Yeah, I could have told you that. My friends at small liberal arts colleges have been teaching empty classes for the past few years. Crickets. So, they’ve been reassigned to teaching freshman seminars or put into administration.

The liberal arts, at 90 percent of the colleges out there, are done. So, all that punditry about the commie college students and the liberal bias of faculty and the attack on free speech is just silly. Most students aren’t women’s studies majors at Wellesley. They are either business majors at a public college, or they’re hustling two jobs while taking a class at the local community college.

Third, let’s talk about majors. This is a taboo topic in academia, but I’m in a MOOD today, so here goes. Some majors are easy, others are medium, and some are hard. You are absolutely not allowed to say that in academic circles, but it’s the truth.

See that exercise science at the topic of that chart? And recreation and leisure studies? Those are the top of the list, because the chart is measuring the rate of change, not an actual number of majors. It doesn’t mean that most kids in college are exercise majors, but it shows that there has been a big uptick in those majors. You know why? (Oh God, I could get killed for saying this…) It’s for kids who ordinarily wouldn’t be going to college or were admitted and are floundering. It’s a way for the colleges to maintain their retention rates. Those majors are easy.

And those majors are a waste of time. Kids who receive majors in those fields, who lack a parent with deep pockets and connections to make sure they get their first job, end up at jobs that don’t require a BA. They end up behind the counter at rental car companies. It’s a terrible scam on those poor kids. I’ve talked with sociologists who study this.

Lastly, this is a very sad chart, because I love the liberal arts. I love Plato and Rousseau and Homer and Bronte and Shakespeare. My undergraduate years, where I roamed freely between art history and English and anthropology classes, were a brain-feast. I would take all those classes again tomorrow. I’m very sorry that the practical minded students (and their pushy parents) have walked away from greatness.