Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is College Debt Worth It?

What you study and where you study it matters, especially if you're going to be sinking into debt while completing a degree. There has been some research that illustrates this:
First, the notion that college graduates have a comparatively low unemployment or underemployment rate is misleading. The table below shows that "low" unemployment isn't so low among recent graduates, though people over 30 with college degrees do have lower unemployment than the national average.

Second, even those with jobs are often not in jobs that require any college education. As you will read below, as many as 40 percent of graduates in the humanities are working in positions that do not require a four-year degree.

Recent College Graduates

Social Science8.937,000
Law and Policy8.134,000
Life Sciences7.732,000
Liberal Arts9.431,000

If you study a performing art, the return on investment simply isn't there unless you are already a special talent. If you're attending an Ivy League or noted arts college, you might do okay, but an art major graduating from a state university? You'll be struggling.

Note: I am posting this to two blogs because the topics of student debt and public rhetoric intersect in multiple ways.

Consider the following article.

Students take Debt 101 and lose out

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/jack-kelly/students-take-debt-101-and-lose-out-650567August 26, 2012 12:22 am
By Jack Kelly / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Real wages for recent college graduates have fallen nearly 5 percent from 2007 to 2011. More than 40 percent of recent college graduates work in jobs that do not require a college education. There are 323,000 waiters and waitresses, 115,000 janitors and 83,000 bartenders with college degrees.

The unemployment rate for Americans aged 18-29 is 50 percent higher than the national average. It's higher among college grads than among young people generally. A majority (53.6 percent) of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed, the AP reported in April.
When colleges and universities report the number of graduates working, those numbers are manipulated. One admissions employee at a public college told me that a sales clerk with a business degree was being counted as employed in her field of study. I'm sure that's a standard, since you can't find any college admitting to a 60 percent career placement rate. A quick skim of websites for colleges in my area shows near-universal success for graduates. For the schools making any claims about graduate success, employment rates range from a mid-80 percent success rate to a school claiming a near perfect employment record among graduates.

Where are the schools with the 50 percent employment success rates? If other schools have graduates landing great jobs in their fields of study, then there must be institutions with lousy success rates.

Of course, success requires graduating. Students aren't graduating at levels you might expect.
Only 60 percent who start college get a degree. More acquire debt. To encourage young people to matriculate who lack the ability or inclination to do college work does them no favors.
I have to admit, I've seen too many students at universities unprepared for the work. That's been true at state teaching universities, research universities, and private universities. We have a serious problem when so many students enter college with high school diplomas but not the skills those diplomas should represent. These students are unlikely to graduate, but they will have lots of debt.

We are offering an increasing number of remedial courses, usually for no credit. Students need these courses, sadly. And don't misunderstand me: some students will be "saved" by the opportunities provided by these courses. However, too many of these students will leave the college campus without a degree.

Students struggling in math or basic English aren't going to be graduating with STEM degrees. Our college students are choosing majors that don't have the best employment prospects because (and this is a generalization) many are unprepared for demanding science and technology degree programs. There are brilliant students in the humanities, so we then need to ask how we can attract more of those students to the STEM fields.
Those with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) have little difficulty finding well-paid work, but only about 15 percent of grads have them. More major in the visual and performing arts than in engineering.
The conclusion of Mr. Kelly's column is a bit harsh, but he might have a point.
A student who borrows $97,000 to obtain an "interdisciplinary degree in religious and women's studies" is chiefly responsible for her plight. But those who offer such a degree are running a con, not a school. Even smart kids do stupid things, because they're kids. Adults who mislead and exploit them have much to answer for.
I wonder what the future holds for the generation graduating during this economic downturn. Debt and what else?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Contemplating Life, Post-Academia

I thought I'd post a link to some blogs and portals that should be of interest to doctoral students and recent graduates.

The best post I've read on Industry vs. Academia is from 2009, by Jonathan Katz. Dr. Katz is a great theorist; I've read his articles on cryptography. As an aside, his recent posts about students not grasping basic concepts were all-too-familiar to instructors in every discipline.


And now, my blog list for those pondering Big Changes in life.

I am (was) an advanced grad student in the social sciences. After a few years of growing dissatisfaction with grad school and academic life and a growing awareness that I would be happier doing something else, I have happily decided to make the move I've wanted to make for a long time ... I'm leaving academia.
This blog was inspired by others who are writing about their transition out of academia or who have already left and feel a positive transformation. After ten years of academic life while pursuing my PhD and teaching in Higher Education in the UK, I too am part of the growing number of post-PhDs who have decided to find happiness outside of the University walls. This blog charts that journey.
Is academia making you miserable?

Are you becoming restless, depressed, apathetic, or cynical? Are you struggling to find a job or finish your degree? Is your teaching feeling rote? Have you lost your enthusiasm for research? Are you resenting your students, your colleagues, your institution, or your discipline?

If so, it's time to escape the ivory tower.
I received my Ph.D. in English recently. A decade ago, I started graduate school as an idealist with lofty goals for research and teaching. I have since become a pragmatist, no longer believing -- given the bleak job market and the structural problems with higher education that have caused it -- that I have a future in the academy. "All the world's a stage," says the Bard, but I don't know what role I am to play in the next act. This blog is an attempt to help figure it out.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Plagiarizing Yourself - When is it okay?

Business writing is based on "reuse" — for legal, regulatory, and efficiency purposes. It is normal to "plagiarize" in professional workplaces. Once company lawyers okay a block of text, you definitely don't want to change it. Federal and state regulations can also dictate wording of a text; change the text and risk a serious fine.

Non-traditional students coming from industry or non-profit work might have been trained to recycle writing. How do you explain that reuse isn't the right approach in a university setting?

While I was trying to explain that original writing helps us learn, a student asked if my writing doesn't get recycled. Yes, it does… and that's hard to explain to a class.

The student asking the question works in the financial industry. Reuse is the norm in such a tightly regulated industry. However, the student saw reuse more from the perspective of efficiency than legal compliance.

"Why would you rewrite what you've already written?"

That's a pretty good question. When you specialize in a field, you do rely on your previous works. Hopefully, you cite them, but you do reuse that you have learned and many of your passages are going to be similar. Admittedly, I struggle to revise and update ideas from paper to paper. Also, there are some things you do reuse, such as citations that are considered foundational to the research.

But, I do sometimes post the same column to more than one blog. I don't hide this reuse; the different blogs also have different readerships. I would not submit the same work to two different clients. When I compiled blog entries into a book, I opened the book with an explanation that it was based on blog entries posted online — and then expanded upon within the book.

Recently, science writer Jonah Lehrer admitted to fabricating and misrepresenting quotes. That's unforgivable for a journalist, especially when it is so easy today to record interviews to ensure accuracy.

Lehrer also "self-plagiarized" portions of columns, recycling text from one publication to another. This poses some questions for me about different writing contexts.

When a writer sells his or her work at "full price" to several publications, that's fraudulent unless the writer clearly explains portions of works might be reused.

If a magazine pays me for a column or article, it should be an original creative work. That's the same rule I'd apply to an academic paper: you write new papers for each course. Recycling term papers is prohibited by most schools because you learn by doing new research.

It's somewhat understandable that a writer would try to recycle, especially if he or she is trying to write for dozens of publications to pay the bills. Sorry, but writing doesn't pay a lot, so writers tend to take on too many projects with too rushed deadlines.

Publishing is a business, so anything that reduces expenses is embraced by the publishers. Newsrooms and the "stables" of writers supported by magazines have declined precipitously since the 1980s. I know freelance rates have stagnated, making it hard to earn a living.

Syndication and press cooperatives have long allowed one column or article to appear in dozens or hundreds of publications. The Associated Press cooperative was established to pool resources among member publications. When a big story happens in a small town, the local newspaper reporter's work is published nationally by other AP newspapers. Seems quite reasonable to me from a business perspective — but there's little reward for the writer.

A different approach is syndication, which sells columns for a minimal fee to hundreds of publications. This approach shares the cost of employing popular columnists. Again, perfectly logical, but not financially the best situation for the author.

Writers don't even get byline credit in some instances.

There has long been a tradition of using "column services" for some newspaper and newsletter publishing. While I have no problem helping someone write a column, it does bother me that columns are sold to business professionals nationally — appearing under dozens of bylines. Is there a difference between doctoring a column for one person and selling a column dozens of times? I hope so, since I help people edit their ideas and publish them.

Writers eager to earn a living do what they can… but it isn't always clearcut ethically.

Students have some good questions about why and how to be original writers. When they learn a "professional writer" sells his or her skills and words, the contradiction is complicated.

And, let's be honest, writers are in business for themselves — selling themselves as much as any other professional sells his or her skills and services.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Creativity and Learning

One of the claims educators make is that we nurture creativity. But, do we truly nurture genuine creativity? The odds are against that, because people have a bias against radical creativity, according to researchers. When we endorse "creativity," it is more likely that we are encouraging students to express themselves in ways and with views we already support.
[Creativity] suffers from an odd sort of paradox. According to psychologist and Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, research shows that even as people explicitly aspire to creativity and strongly endorse it as a fundamental driving force of positive change, they routinely reject creative ideas and show an implicit bias against them under conditions of uncertainty. Subjects in Mueller's study also exhibited a failure to see or acknowledge creativity, even when directly presented with it.
I've explored this same issues with "critical thinking" and "creative problem solving." Too often, what educators mean is that students begin to reach conclusions associated with being educated — not necessarily new solutions or critical analyses. We think our solutions are creative and reflect critical thinking. All people believe their conclusions are special. It is natural to have a self-reinforcing bias.

It is depressing, however, that we cannot see creativity when confronted with it.