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

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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.

Cheating and Coaching, Part 2

So, this is long brain dump. Start at Part 1.

Where was I? Oh yeah, talking about parents and the college process. See the road to college starts long before junior of high school. Kids are groomed at very early age to get into an elite colleges. They are groomed from the first moment that parents buy a home in our town.

The only reason that they move to this town is for the high school, which boasts a private school type education at a public school expense. The trick is just to have enough money to buy a home in this town. And as soon as the kids graduate, sometimes the week after graduation, they put their homes on the market and move elsewhere.

Then there are a million decisions about nursery schools, sports and extracurriculars, ADHD medicines, tutors, summer camps, enrichment activities, and so on. All that is going towards building the type of kid that will someday go to an elite college.

College is the finish line for parenting. I admit that I thought that way, too, at least for Jonah. We never thought Ian was going to go to college, but he’s doing so well in school that we are suddenly having to consider college for him, too. Maybe a specialized college. But that’s another story.

Now, are these parents crazy? Are they evil? Are they rule breakers?

No. Their actions are completely rational. The employment options for people who attend college are limited, and getting worse over time. We’ve all read the headlines that robots are going to replace jobs soon and looked at downward economic graphs.

And they live in this fishbowl with everybody else hiring tutors and coaches. To not participate in these activities, takes enormous courage and faith in the child.

We didn’t do coach Jonah or review his papers or help him study for his history exams, in part because of lack of funds and principle, but also because he wouldn’t let us.

He had a term paper for his AP History class that was the same topic as Steve’s PhD dissertation. I begged him to let Steve at least review major concepts of the paper with him, but he refused. I like to think that he spurned our help over the years because he’s a great kid, but it’s more likely because he was scarred deeply over the years by all the talk from others about his parents with the PhDs.

But other kids aren’t damaged like my son and happily accepted help from their parents. They are biggest victim in this crazy culture. They have been taught that they must sit passively back and let adults do the work for them. They have learned helplessness. Even though parents tell them all day every day that they are perfect human beings, they discover that their parents really think they are stupid. The tutors at the door on Saturday mornings signal that their parents’ lack of confidence in them.

Think about how hard those parents in the scandal worked to hide their cheating schemes from their kids. The kids want to get to college on their own steam. Or not. One of the kids said on her YouTube channel (eyeroll) that she didn’t even want to go to college, but her folks insisted on it.

But it screws up a kid’s mind to tell them that they’re smart and then signal in a hundred different ways, that they really aren’t smart.

And it leads to stress. Oh, the whispered stories that I hear about high school girls who cut themselves and the mental breakdowns at college. Shame on all of us for doing this to young people.

More soon…

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.

Higher Ed Fraud or Caveat Emptor

For-profit colleges did not get much love during the Obama administration. Students who took out huge loans to attend schools like Corinthian College or Minnesota School of Business had their loans forgiven. Under the watch of Betsy DeVos, the department of education has been much less forgiving.

The NYT quotes one woman who took out huge loans to go to an art school.

“It’s just dream-crushing,” said Meaghan Bauer, who owes $45,000 for her time at the New England Institute of Art. The for-profit school, in Brookline, Mass., closed last year and was sued on fraud charges by the state attorney general in July.

This woman took out huge loans to go to an arts school and is shocked because she doesn’t have a job. Really?

Are students who get MFAs at schools like NYU or Rutgers and don’t find work, entitled to loan forgiveness, too? Why are there different rules for for-profit colleges and non-profit, but still cost a lot of money colleges?

How about all those PhDs who don’t have jobs? Can they sue, too?

I cool with that, as long as everyone benefits.