Community Colleges in the Trump Era

Earlier this month, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke on the possibilities of community college and the role these institutions can play in ensuring all students have access to pathways of success. 

Unfirtunately, we often hear politicians talking about community colleges, without taking specific actions. While one can hope that Trump’s focus on jobs and manufacturing and the middle class means good things for community colleges, will the actions ultimately follow the words?

This is the question we pose on the most recent edition of TrumpED on BAM Radio Network. So give it a listen!

Is Free College Really a Good Thing?

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced a plan to provide “free” college to all New Yorkers with a family income under $125,000. This isn’t the first time politicians have announced plans for free college, and it likely won’t be the last.

In making the announcement, Governor Cuomo noted that postsecondary education is a necessity in the current global, information economy and that many NYers graduate with “$30,000” in debt to secure a degree. “That is not fair. That is not right,” the New York Post quoted the Empire State governor as saying.

Yes, Cuomo is absolutely right that a postsecondary education is a must for all these days. And while we can get into the discussion on whether such programs end up throwing shade on community colleges and lead more individuals to pursue four-year degrees that don’t open many doors in that information economy, I’ll leave the fight over what “postsecondary education” means for a future post.

Instead, dear ol’ Eduflack wants to take issue with the notion that it isn’t right or fair that individuals take on student debt obtaining a four-year degree. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average graduate of a four-year college (excluding the for-profits) leaves school with $30,100 in debt.  That works out to student loan payments of about $300 a month for the average college graduate.

That’s less than the monthly payment on an average car loan the recent graduate is likely paying. It is likely less than the average rent. And unlike the car and the rent, it is an asset that the graduate will carry with them throughout his or her life.

We can often forget that when we make things “free,” particularly things that one used to pay for, we reduce the perceived value of the item. When it is free, we don’t see to care as much about what we received. It was free, after all, so it is no biggie if we lose it, forget about it, or fail to use it.

When we pay for something, we see value. With a college education, we are forced to make choices. What postsecondary path is of most interest to us. What areas do we have the most skill. Where do we see potential careers. Are we willing to do the work necessary to turn our investment into a tangible product (our degree)?

When we take out loans, take on jobs, or even have families who can pay the tuition, we are less likely to seek that degree in underwater basketweaving and instead choose paths that are aligned with our interests, talents, and future goals. And that is a good thing.

Instead of free college, why not instead focus on college affordability? Why not ask if so many of those universities need the ever-growing endowments they have? Why not ask how colleges and universities are reducing costs to their students, and not just their operating costs? Why not ask when a two-year degree may make far more sense than a four-year degree? Why not ask whether it makes sense for that “free” college to essentially go to pay for remediation? Why not ask how we ensure it takes students four years, and not six or seven, to earn a four-year degree? Why not ask how we ensure college focuses on the student, and not the institution? Why not ask how we ensure a college education is about what is learned, and not just what is taught? Why not?

After World War II, about 5 percent of Americans held a college degree. Today, we are up to about 40 percent. Are those millions and millions of Americans chumps for personally sacrificing, taking on debt, and gaining college degrees when they could have just waited around for someone to give it to them for free?

I don’t mean to be the skunk at the garden party, but if we think free college is the answer to all that ails us, we are going to be severely disappointed. Not only does free college diminish the value of a postsecondary degree, but it also begins to draw further distinctions between where one earned that degree. How long before employers begin asking whether that free degree from the state college is as valuable as the paid-for degree from the private college up on the hill?

Efforts to bring equity to postsecondary education through free college could end up bringing a whole new era of inequity to the discussion.


STEM Priorities, STEM Teacher Ed Investments

Earlier this week, President Obama celebrated the White House Science Fair. As part of an event celebrating all things science, he recognized recent investments in his administration’s STEM initiative, talking about jobs and the impact on the economy.

In its coverage, Tech News World went a little deeper than most, exploring recent STEM progress and where it is headed. In his story, Jack Germain endulged Eduflack, as I pushed a topic near and dear — STEM teacher education.

There is no question that STEM is important to our economic and societal success. But STEM success doesn’t come without a real investment in STEM education. And high-quality STEM education only comes when we have truly excellent STEM teachers leading our classrooms, particularly those classes in high-need schools.

As Germain wrote:

 The United States has experienced a shift from a national analog industrial economy to a global digital information economy.

U.S. social institutions — including education, finance, government, media and health — were created for the former, observed Patrick R. Riccards, director of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. That’s a problem, because Americans live in the latter, in a society that demands we transition from the models of the past to those needed today.

“This is particularly true in education,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“As a sector, we have been reluctant to embrace change, whether in the form of research findings, shifting demographics, technological advances, or similar triggers that demand change in other fields. Even as our methods of old work less and less well than they did previously, we have too often resisted the necessary transitions,” Riccards explained.

“Slowly, though, we are seeing a transformation in public education. This has been particularly true in the ways we prepare children with the science, technology, engineering, and math skills they will need to be college and career ready,” he pointed out.

If we truly see STEM as our future, the focus must be on developing a generation of excellent STEM educators for our schools — particularly our high-need schools, Riccards urged.

All the love in the world for STEM is meaningless, he said, if schools are staffed by ineffective teachers who are not truly versed in the STEM disciplines.

Couldn’t have said it better. The full article is definitely worth a read.

The Most Useless College Majors

We used to joke about those who took classes like “children’s games,” “rocks for jocks,” or even “underwater basket weaving” while in college.  That was then, when college degrees guaranteed gainful employment.  This is now, when a liberal arts degree guarantees very little.

The folks over at The Daily Beast have identified The 13 Most Useless Majors.  The list derives from Anthony Carnevale et al’s recent study, Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings.  The list was comprised looking at factors such as recent graduate employment, experienced graduate employment, recent graduate earnings, experienced graduate earnings, and projected growth in total number of jobs from 2010 to 2020.
So what undergraduate degrees made the dubious baker’s dozen?
1. Fine arts
2. Drama and theatre arts
3. Film, video, and photographic arts
4. Commercial art and graphic design
5. Architecture
6. Philosophy and religious studies
7. English literature and language
8. Journalism
9. Anthropology and archeology
10. Hospitality management
11. Music
12. History
13. Political science and government
Clearly, the arts don’t seem to be doing well in this economy, with art-related majors holding five or six of the spots, depending on how you look at them.  And it seems that the path to being the next Mike Brady, Indiana Jones, or Woodward and Bernstein don’t look too bright these days.
Our second president, John Adams, once said, “I must study politics and war, that my sons have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history, and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Based on Carnevale’s work and the current economy, I don’t think there are many now hoping their kids will be studying poetry and porcelain.  

Jobs and Ed, Ed and Jobs

One has to be living under a rock not to recognize that that education and jobs share a strong bond.  As we look for ways to rebuild our economy and create new jobs, it is clear that reforming our K-12 education systems, ensuring all students have access to the knowledge and skills necessary to perform in our future economy, is a non-negotiable.

Over at National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, this is the question of the week.  On those electronic pages, dear olEduflack opines on both the need for education reform and our failures to address the skills gap we now have.
From National Journal:
It’s shameful that we can’t fill open jobs in an economy like this. And it is deplorable that one’s ability to get a strong public education depends, in large part, on race, family income, or zip code. We have no excuse for not preparing our kids, all of our kids, to meet the demands of a 21st century economy. Education is an economic development strategy – the best one that’s out there. We should be redoubling our efforts to ensure that policy makers see economic development and education as two sides of the same coin, and look to them to guide states, localities, and the nation toward meaningful reforms that will prepare all of our kids for college, career, and a productive life.
Happy reading!

Reconnecting McDowell County, WV

Readers of Eduflack know I often speak of my roots and connections to West Virginia.  I am a proud graduate of Jefferson County High School in Shenandoah Junction, WV (Go, Cougars!)  But I am particularly privileged to have served on the staff of one of the greatest U.S. Senators in our nation’s history, the Honorable Robert C. Byrd.  

Working for Senator Byrd, I was able to see much of what makes West Virginia and the nation great.  I had the ability to travel the Mountain State’s 55 counties, from its beautiful ranges to its research universities, its large cities to its company towns, its river rapids to its coal mines.  Yes, West Virginia has much to be proud of.  But it is also a state with communities ravaged by poverty, poor health, and struggling schools.
Which is I was so taken by an announcement made last week by the American Federation of Teachers.  On Friday, the AFT officially launched “Reconnecting McDowell County,” a “comprehensive, long-term effort to make educational improvements in McDowell County the route to a brighter economic future.”
Reconnecting McDowell County has an impressive list of partners, including WV Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the WV Congressional Delegation, Benedum Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia, College Board, Safe the Children, WV AFL-CIO, and the West Virginia State Police, just to name a few.  
The effort’s Covenant of Commitment is a particularly interesting read.  The effort is focused on six key issues: 1) education; 2) services for students and their families; 3) transportation, technology, and other issues; 4) housing; 5) jobs and economic development; and 6) the McDowell Community.  In the Covenant, the partners note:
We understand that there are no simple solutions — no easy answers or quick fixes.  Together, we are striving to meet these challenges, but we know we won’t accomplish that in a day, a month, or even a year.  We will find ways to measure our progress, and we believe that the changes we propose and implement must be judged by rigorous standards of accountability.  We accept that this will be a long-term endeavor, and we commit to stay engaged until we have achieved our goals of building the support systems the students need and helping the residents of McDowell County to take charge of their desire for a better life ahead.
Yes, I realize that McDowell County is not alone its history, its current challenges, or its desire to change.  Across the nation, we have counties, cities, and communities that face similar struggles.  What makes this interesting is that Reconnecting McDowell is committed to demonstrating the demographics do not equal destiny.  Old industrial towns, even old coal towns, can be reborn in the 21st century.  We can rebuild currently struggling schools around a new culture of improving instruction, greater accountability, and rising student performance.  And we can work together to put all of the conditions — from housing and health to education and jobs — in place for achievement and success.
We should all keep an eye on Reconnecting McDowell, looking at its metrics and watching its progress.  And we should be asking why we aren’t launching similar efforts in other states, in other counties, and in other communities across the nation.  The principles laid forward by Reconnecting McDowell are universal.